Holidays in the Hills

Holidays in the Hills

by Mark Blackwell

The Temperature is falling and the wood smoke is risin’. The firewood is all split and stacked. All the forgotten lawn implements have been hunted down and put away. The snow shovel has been located and ensconced in a place of honor and convenience on the front porch. Halloween has come and gone and the Jack-o’-lantern is resting comfortably in the compost pile. Now it’s time to start gearin’ up for the Holidays—Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Thanksgving in the hills is always good for men-folk. It’s all about hikin’ and eatin’. As soon as I hear the pots and pans start a-rattlin’ in the kitchen, I make my excuses and take a hike. After checkin’ on the ready firewood stock, I whistle up the pup and we a ramble off down in the woods. I think about how fitting it would be if I had taken the twelve gauge down in the holler a week or two ago and picked off a wild turkey, just like our forefathers did.

But then I think about how much the hunting license costs and the game bird stamp and the camouflage outfit and the turkey calls and the time off work to get over the cold I caught. That wild turkey is gonna wind up costing about $600. So, it’s a Butterball again this year.

However, it’s never too early to scout out a likely evergreen for a Christmas tree. And stalking the wily pine is exactly the kind of hunting I do best. After a few hours of searching out various evergreen habitats I know it’s time to head back home again when the aroma of punkin pie perks up ol’ Jasper’s nose. It’s funny how he can smell food before I can. It’s even funnier how our out-of-town guests can smell it and beat us both to the table.

It is precisely the smells of Thanksgiving that worry me—the fragrance of persimmon pudding intermingled with the bouquet of the turkey and dressing. The aroma of the punkin pie and fresh rolls seems to create an unnatural indoor atmospheric pressure system. Every year I worry about the integrity of the cabin, thinking that the volatility of this amalgamation of fragrances could cause a wall to blow out. And every year, after we’ve all partaken of the feast I worry about the integrity of the furniture. Worries aside, Thanksgiving is a holiday of the senses. It is a feast not only for the belly but the eyes, the nose, the taste buds, and even the yen for sociability, all get sated before the evening sets.

That’s Thanksgiving—Christmas is now less than thirty days away and every radio and TV and print advertisement is screaming that fact at you. But up here on the ridge, I have an antidote to the poison panic spread by these shock troops of Christmas capitalism. I don’t watch TV, listen to the radio, or look at a newspaper until December twenty-third.

It is generally just a few days before Christmas that I shed my smug aura of indifference and join the howling masses yearning to get the perfect something for everyone. Christmas is that time of year when we all get a little taste of what it’s like to be a politician, spreading cheer amongst your constituents. I wonder how my wife would like a new highway project this year. Maybe I could get a nuclear power plant for the kids. First I’ve got to remember where I scouted out that pine tree back in the woods at Thanksgiving.

When everything works out the way it’s supposed to (about every fifteen or twenty years) my wife and I like to make a special evening of decorating the tree.

You want a good tree, not too big, not too small and one that has not been in close proximity to a startled skunk (it really happened). When it’s really, really cold outside there’s not much detectable odor but when the tree begins to defrost in your living room, then you have a problem.

After you find the perfect tree then you need the perfect bottle of wine. That would be something less than ten dollars but that doesn’t have a generic label.

Now all you need is a few strings of reliable Christmas tree lights. If you ever wondered what business Ebenezer Scrooge was involved in it was probably Christmas tree lights. Nothing puts the “bah” in “bah, humbug” like Christmas tree lights. No matter how carefully you put ‘em away last year, when you take them out this season they have tied themselves into a semblance of the Gordian knot. And, one out of ten bulbs is burnt out even though they were all working last year? But that’s OK, I have to go to town anyway to buy the presents I put off getting for the last three weeks. By the time I get home with the new lights and the presents, the wine has been drunk, my wife is passed out and I get to decorate the tree by myself.

Then there are those outside lights. It makes the little cabin up here on the ridge a welcoming sight for the hardy souls who venture this far back in the woods. It should be no trouble to string some lights around the eaves and across the porch—except that the people who make outside Christmas lights are the same people who make the inside lights.

Things get pretty stressful around this time of year. I need a break.

I could just load up my wife in the pickup truck, leave ol’ Jasper to guard the estate, and head into Nashville. It’s a real pretty little village this time of year. Other folks have strung up lights and decorated things up. There’s a slew a great places to relax and have a meal served to you. I could shop around and pick up some presents made by hand by my neighbors. There might even be some Christmas entertainment to take my mind off my worries. There is more than one way to do the Holidays in the Hills.