The tree stands in a corner of the room, majestic in its solitude. It brings with it a wildness: the sharp tang of winter air, the soft contours of evergreen foliage. This tiny piece of northern forest seems doubly incongruous in a home in the Shallow South, its firred limbs a striking contrast against the tangle of leafless branches outside the backdrop of windows.
A horticulture professor has discovered that Fraser fir can be grown even here, at the extreme limits of its climate zone, if the soil conditions are ideal. Six days ago, this tree stood in a field of its fellows, just a couple rolling country miles down the road from here.
For the first week of Advent, it remains unadorned in our house, reminding us that life is always there, waiting, even when the world seems flat and grey. As the tree adjusts to the indoor temperature and humidity, we spend the week admiring the elegant beauty of its shape, getting to know the curve of its branches and the spiky softness of its needles.
This Sunday we will weave lighted strands through those branches, and the tree will sparkle as the night sky above the North Pole itself. But for now it is a shadowy and mysterious presence in darkness, a slim figure of patience in the light, exuding a faint air of balsam that I always associate with wonder.