by Karen Roberts
is a writer and artist living in Kansas, USA, who also happens to work as a Nurse Practitioner. She stumbled on to Soul Food a few years ago and first toured Lemuria with Le Enchanteur in 2005. Since then she has been in and out of the kingdom, and finds it to be a magical place of infinite welcome and possibility. She is a near-Solstice baby, having been born on December 23rd, and despite loving Solstice, really feels she got gypped on the birthday thing! As a health care professional, she feels compelled to say that creative work in general, and Soul Food in particular, are healing in ways that most medicines only dream of.
Growing up on a farm, you got as much as you could from the land. We had seen fancy artificial trees in town, most notably a silver one with blue lights and matching baubles. Man, it was mod. But we couldn’t convince my parents of the value of such a tree, and so once again in early December, we walked through the fields.
We had our pick of scrubby cedars. No soft white or Douglas pines, no firs or balsams, just Eastern Red Cedars lined up along the fencerow like soldiers, catching the cold Kansas wind. Every house has a line of them situated on the north of the property for a windbreak. Cedars relieve the monotony of gently rolling cultivated land, halting the eye, marking the property line and giving shelter to wildlife.
The Eastern Red Cedar is the only native evergreen in Kansas, but once it falls outside of its neat, farmer-approved lines, it becomes quite a nuisance. The little blue berries, which decorated my mudpies and grass “salads” as a child, are spread by birds and other wildlife, successfully germinating in places no one wants them—pastures, fields, feedlots. The list of instructions for ridding one’s property of rogue cedars includes chopping and then burning—twice. They don’t go down without a fight.
Late in the afternoon we would agree on a tree, one that had stepped out of line and stood solitary and defiant in a field or pasture. My dad would lie down on the snowy ground and reach under the tree like a farmwife looking for eggs under a hen. He’d cut it down with a handsaw and release the smell of the wood. The smell is harsh, ragged. It’s the smell of your brain’s closet being lined with fresh planks, the smell of a place that will hold all memories filed under “Childhood Christmas” forever and ever. We’d drag the tree back to the pickup and then stuff it through the large living room window. The reddish wood oozed sticky sap, and the needles were rough and scratchy, welting up our skin and falling in a circular stencil on the floor. Cedars are rather a dull brownish-green but they have a lovely shape, branches gracefully upturned like a smile. Mom strung the big multi-colored lights, and Dad straightened the tree about 12 times. My sister and I hung all of our ornaments, handmade and collected, and reminisced as each one emerged from the tissue paper. Then tinsel, garlands of it, and finally icicles, meant to be applied individually, but ultimately thrown on by the handful when we tired of the job. Presents appeared over the coming days.
The house smelled everywhere of cedar. Of Christmas. The tree stood in the unheated room all day, waiting for us to rush in with a cloud of frosty breath to look for new packages to shake. Each night we’d light a fire and lie beneath it. It stayed up until after the New Year, when Dad dragged it out past the garden and burnt it, returning it to the land.
The scent of cedar in a cold room—on the rare occasion when I encounter it—reminds me of those days, days when the Christmas tree wasn’t in a Rubbermaid bin under the stairs, or in a parking lot outside the grocer, but in the next field over, just an hour’s walk from the house.