after my grandmother died, my father planted a tree. He chose a blue
spruce. A coniferous evergreen known for its steely hue, the blue
spruce looks like it’s bathed in moonlight, even in full sun.
It radiates a soft, dusky blue aura that sets it apart from your typical
When he planted
it in our front yard astride the short path leading up to our home,
it was only about three feet tall. No bigger than your average toddler.
When Christmas came around, as it is wont to do every year towards
the end of December, he strung it with Christmas lights. What better
way to beat back the dark than with a tree that is ever and always
green, and flashes bright from deep inside the night? I remember when
it was smaller, but my memories cast it at an unreliable scale. In
my mind it feels like it has always been taller than me, but how much
taller I couldn’t say. It rises and falls like a piston, expands
and contracts as if its needles were fashioned of temperature sensitive
The blue spruce invariably
dons lights at Christmas. I don’t think the lights ever come
down, truthfully. In its time it has also housed some particularly
distressing wolf spiders, and most recently its shadowy boughs cradled
a perfect paper wasp’s nest, which had been dutifully masticated
and regurgitated with lengths of Christmas lights embedded in the
nests’ interior. Did the wasps celebrate Christmas? They had
their Christmas tree, the twinkling lights, the ultimate handmade
ornament that was also their home. How dazzling must it have been,
amid their buzzy caroling? Did they exchange gifts, or are all benefactions
customarily reserved for the queen? Now is when I pull you aside,
whisper in your ear that paper wasps usually leave their nests empty
by fall, and even if they don’t they inevitably die off during
the first winter freeze, but I won’t hold it against you if
you stuff your ears and continue imagining the paper wasps’
The blue spruce grows
and grows. Not like a child, whose shoes suddenly don’t fit
even though they’re brand new. Not like a building accumulating
bricks with each passing day, its height measured in uniform inches.
Not like a flower, unfurling petals and leaves like a prima ballerina
allongé. The blue spruce grows patiently, quietly—or
does it? Was it ever any size other than the size it is right now?
Is it growing, or is it just breathing, steadily, expanding like lungs?
There might be no better living monument to someone who has passed
as a thing that keeps breathing, growing, pushing deep into the earth
while reaching up for the sky, stretched but never taut, flexible
and alive. Try to breathe in for a whole year. Don’t hold your
breath. Now try to breathe in for five years. Ten. Fifteen. That’s
what the blue spruce does—has been doing. We can’t see
it happening but I promise you it’s growing. It gets taller
and taller, wider but never so wide as to rudely intrude on our walkway.
The path to the house is open. My father continues stringing it with
lights, or at this point hires a man with a cherry picker to reach
the crown and drape the lights down. If you look out our second floor
bathroom window, there it is, at eye level, threatening to overtake
the roof. I took a cab home after Thanksgiving and when the car turned
the corner onto our street, the driver asked, “Which one is
your house?” I laughed. It was nighttime and the street was
dark, but the blue spruce shone like a beacon at the end of the block,
the biggest, brightest thing for miles. “It’s the one
with the tree,” I said. I think if you can say something as
vague and nondescript as “It’s the one with the tree”
and be completely understood, you probably have a pretty magical thing
spruces can grow to be about 75 feet tall, adding an inch or two every
year. Our blue spruce is now about as tall as our two-story house,
so approximately 30-ish feet, give or take any number of feet as I’m
not good with metrics nor do I know the height of our two-story house.
They can live to anywhere between 40 and 200 years. I’m banking
on forever. There’s a 9,560-year-old Norway spruce in Sweden
named Old Tjikko who assures me it’s possible, but he’ll
have to report back when he gets there.
blue spruce reminds me that things always change. To the stubborn
and fearful I’m truly sorry—there is no other way. Don’t
think of it as change. Change is an illusion. It’s really just
growth. Same you, bigger horizon. Same you, but now you can see over
the tops of the trees, straight down to the ocean, past the ocean
to a distant shore dotted with skyscrapers you’re sure to rival
and a sky that’s starting to feel a bit sheepish.
we all be like the blue spruce this holiday season, tenaciously growing
and draped head to toe in radiance. Standing tall, watching over loved
ones, and unafraid to light up the night.