The window is drafty. Cooling weather creeps through the aged pane like an intruder, although not unwelcomed. Cupping a favourite coffee mug between two hands Beth, still in her pyjamas, stands at the front window. Behind her the wood stove consumes fuel enthusiastically, the excessive heat inspires Beth to appreciate the chill . It is friday morning and she is building a list in her head. With already plenty to do her gaze falls to the cedar hedge outside. Add that to the list she thinks. The natural porch railing has been allowed to grow wild. Its cedar overgrowth obscures her view of the ribbon tree. Just a seedling more than a decade ago, the tree has grown up magnificent. Each holiday season the tree becomes a beacon, lit with twinkle lights, drawing family and friends up Milkweed lane. She dug the lights out of storage last night and it is the first item on her “to do” list. When I’m finished my coffee she thinks, for now she’ll meditate on both upcoming and past celebrations. Lifting the chipped cup to her lips Beth sips cold coffee in a warm room.
Young Aurora exits the school bus and bounds up Milkweed Lane. With dogs at her side the girl skips up the gravel drive ready for a weekend of food, family and fun. Aurora expects Mums to have the holiday tree strung with lights. Although there are many ribbon balsams thriving on the property the one decorated with coloured twinkle lights has been strategically placed. At christmas-time the buds will bloom into streamers of red, a sensational sight which can be seen through any window. And one which Aurora has always known.
The story of the first ribbon tree has been told and retold many times. How Scarlett and her mother discovered the tree. How a path was marked from house to tree so no one should get lost again. It became a route often traveled. Studying the odd evergreen, witnessing the buds unfold into petals resembling ribbon. Prompting the name “ribbon tree.” Years later, Mr. Weald in his own studies, will deduce the ribbon trees begin to bud during the second week of October, bloom throughout the holiday season, then disappear by the first week of January.
It was his grief which led Mr. Weald to study the ribbon tree. A year had gone by since the discovery of the ribbon tree when unfortunately Mrs. Weald became ill. For a time the family believed she might recover but by October they were fortunate enough to celebrate one last thanksgiving with their matriarch. Mr. Weald held it together long enough to put his wife to rest. Then it was his turn to become lost.
Overwhelmed with despair he became adrift. Daily wanderings without aim. Head down, unable to look ahead his feet carried him on staggered steps. Bleary eyed, he could not see where he was going and that was fine with him. One cold day his wandering feet finally tripped over an exposed root and he surrendered to the fall.
The heartbroken Man gave up. Resolving to blend into the wet forest floor without protest he closed his eyes.
How long he was there he did not know, but no matter how much he wanted to give in and go to his wife it was not to be. The world woke him and with great effort he endeavored to stand. Rubbing wet eyes with wet sleeves, he looked ahead for the first time since the loss of his beloved. Before him stood a familiar sight. Scanning the area he looked to sit on the fallen beech trunk. His inability to locate the natural bench confused him. He looked again upon the ribbon tree and then again for the beech. The absence of the deceased elephant tree suggested to him that this might not be the same ribbon tree.
Mr. Weald studies this second coniferous anomaly. Here as well are crimson buds sprinkled along branches of short evergreen needles. And just like the original ribbon tree, this fir also waves a red sash at half mast.
A memory jumps to the front of his brain. Josh and Joey’s tree. So long ago, the children being so small, had tied the half sash to the base never to found in time for Christmas. The memory stirs something within him and he is suddenly motivated to get back to life. Turning to leave he is struck by another impulse to collect pine cones. Beneath the tree the ground is littered with them. Long narrow cones with tips of gold, as if someone brushed them with paint. curious. It is when his pockets are full and the moon is high above that he notices he and this ribbon tree are surrounded by thick dense cedar. How did he get in here?
It was her Mother’s passing which prompted Beth’s move into the homestead. She needlessly worried that her father might need her. Mr. Weald was fine, he found fulfillment cultivating the ribbon trees. With help from Billy who had since purchased a farm of his own, the two worked on propagating these extraordinary balsams. At the time there was talk of selling the trees. Growing a business of growing ribbon trees, but it was all talk. Mr. Weald found a second life in the trees and was often seen around town with one or more planters in the back of his pick-up ready to gift to anyone who might be interested. At christmas time he had Beth fashion wreaths of natural ribbon boughs and golden pine cones. These too he would gift to neighbors and friends. Mr. Weald became known as “old red ribbon Weald.” Also, there was no longer any point to selling his wares as once discussed. By now all of Juniper Valley and several neighboring townships had exploding populations of this festive tree. Come christmas-time, when the trees are in full bloom, the woods became a festival of flags. It had even become a holiday tradition for some out-of -towners to take long drives along quiet county roads to marvel in the display. And beneath the “Juniper Valley” sign posted along roads leading into town had been added “Home of the red ribbon woods.”
Beth opens the front door just in time to let Aurora and the dogs tumble through. Both kid and canine are covered with milkweed seeds. Plucking the fluff, she tells Aurora to make a wish and sets the seeds to the breeze. Soon Scarlett and her husband will be home from work and tomorrow they will go to the fair, meeting up with the rest of the family. Saturday evening will be a dinner out at corner cafe. And Sunday, as always, is the main event. All siblings and their offspring will assemble at the Homestead for dinner and stay the night. Aurora hugs her Mums. With Mrs. Weald gone Beth has become the Chrysanthemum of the family. Even her brothers kids call her Mums. “Did you put up the twinkle lights Mums?” “I sure did, but I’ll need to prune the hedge so you can admire them from inside the house.”
Beth collects the clippers and her coat. Glancing out the window she is surprised to see the entire ribbon tree lit up and on display without obstruction. “You don’t have to chop the bushes Mums.” Aurora states. “I can see it fine.” Her granddaughter is enjoying the view from the couch, upside-down and sipping from a juice box.
Things change and they don’t. The family gathers as they always have. Partaking in a usual feast with some new additions. Same wild apple pie but also pasta and sauce for the vegetarians. Homestead is relaxed. Happily expanding to embrace everyone. Even the hedge has taken care of itself. The Weald family chats and reminisces and yes, sometimes disagrees, but they always come together. The cousins have gathered by front the window and are teaching little Aurora a song. It is a song about moonlight and magic trees. A song which has always been in their lives. For the Weald offspring a forest of holiday trees waving red ribbon… is ordinary.