All dressed in her best baubles and bells, the Christmas tree rowed out onto the still, black lake. She dipped a branch into the water, found it icy cold, and a shiver traveled up her trunk. She rowed on, farther from land than she had ever been. A family of geese on the far shore were honking and nipping at the frosty grass, occasionally glancing up at the Christmas tree in the rowboat, an odd sight this time of year, or any time of year.
Teetering over the water, a leafless elm tree watched the Christmas tree paddling her way along the lake. He called out to the festive fir, ‘What are you doing?’
The Christmas tree, startled by the elm’s echoey, wooden voice, jumped, and the rowboat rocked on the water. She gripped the sides of the boat, steadying it, afraid she was going to topple overboard.
‘I’m sorry!’ the elm apologized. ‘I didn’t mean to scare you!’
‘Almost knocked me over!’ the Christmas tree shouted, the rowboat now steady, the paddles splashing once more in the lake.
The leafless elm creaked in the winter wind. He asked, again, ‘What are you doing?’
‘I’m rowing out to the deepest part of the lake,’ answered the Christmas tree.
‘Why?’ said the elm. ‘I only ask because it’s a bit strange seeing a lovely tree such as yourself out on the lake on a blustery December morning.’
‘Perhaps ask the geese why they’re here, too,’ replied the ornamented evergreen. ‘They should be south by now, hmm?’
‘I didn’t mean to impose.’ The elm went silent.
The Christmas tree stopped rowing and placed the oars at the rear of the boat. She mumbled to herself, ‘Plenty deep here.’
A great wind from the north swept across the lake, shaking the Christmas tree’s baubles and jingling her many bells.
‘I’m going to sink myself in the lake—’ the Christmas tree confessed.
‘Now don’t do that,’ interrupted the elm.
‘—until I lay at the bottom, in the silt,’ she said.
The bare branches of the elm rattled in the wind. ‘Why are you doing this?’ he asked.
On the far shore, the family of geese honked together and searched the ground for soft grass to eat. The ember sun glowed just above the horizon, painting pinks and reds on the silver morning clouds. The Christmas tree listened to the geese, looked up into the sky; the colors like a dream she’d never had.
‘I didn’t know the truth,’ the Christmas tree told the curious elm. ‘I thought I’d be kept forever. Safe with a loving family til the end of my days.’ She rustled her ornaments, her evergreen needles rising like tiny daggers on every branch. ‘I didn’t know they’d toss me once the holiday went. I thought I’d be their Valentine tree, their Easter tree… I thought I’d be poolside come July.’ The Christmas tree paused and recalled an August storm on the tree farm where she grew. The rain fell heavy and soaked the ground, it nourished her, filling and quenching every fiber within her trunk and limbs. She said to the elm tree, ‘I cannot go on. And besides, I’m weaker every day without my roots.’
Unsure of what to say, the elm said, ‘I’m sorry,’ and he truly meant it. What more could he offer? ‘I’m terribly sorry.’
‘As am I.’ The Christmas tree glanced over the bow, the rowboat listing with her weight. The black lake reflected her gold and silver baubles and bells, but there was nothing to see within its depths. All was hidden. Down there, in the silt, all was trapped.
She looked back at the leafless elm tree. Her ornaments shimmered from the daylight onto the water. The elm went to speak, to offer something more, he didn’t know what, but the Christmas tree leapt into the lake.
And there she floated, facing the sky. She wiggled and shook and tried to force herself down into the black lake. No matter how she tried, the Christmas tree couldn’t sink. She only floated on the surface, the grey morning gazing down.
The elm tree, relieved, again went to speak, but from the far shore, the geese took to the air, honking, crying, hurrahing, circling above the evergreen on the water. ‘A Christmas miracle!’ they cheered. ‘A Christmas miracle! Bless our feathers!’
The Christmas tree floated back toward the rowboat and bumped into its stern. She groaned, and the elm tree, once more, creaked in the wind. The geese hurried off, still calling out the miracle of the morning, echoing it in every direction.
The Christmas tree scrambled her way back onto the boat. She sat shivering, baubles chattering, bells ringing.
‘I’m sorry,’ said the elm tree.
The Christmas tree scoffed and, one by one, tore the ornaments from her branches, casting them onto the lake. She reached for the star upon her highest branch, then stopped and left it there. She picked up the oars and turned the boat toward the farther shore. The oars tapped the floating bells, the buoyant baubles, pushing them out of the way as she rowed. The Christmas tree made her across the black lake.
As she neared the far shore, the water grew shallower and the rowboat ran aground, coming to a soft but sudden halt in the sand. The beach was littered with the dark green droppings of geese, which the Christmas tree maneuvered around, making her way past the beach and into the forest.
Among the infinite trees, some bare and awaiting the bees of spring, others alive and thriving in the winter frost, here the Christmas tree chose to vanish, here she dug her trunk into the freezing soil. Searching for roots, she planted herself under a canopy of evergreen needles, and soon she was asleep, and soon the day ended, the night grew. And soon a dream of colors came but left in a hurry. The night wind swirled through the wood and the Christmas tree’s star blew off her highest branch.
Come morning, a squirrel ran off with the star and lost it somewhere along the way.