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A Christmas Dirge
December 15, 2007 11:19 AM   Subscribe

"Don't tether her branches to the chair or kitchenette..." (mp3) This weekend many of us will buy Christmas trees. MeFi fave Nellie McKay humorously, sweetly, but a dash of "you aught to know" musically urges us not to. She's also has thoughts on dogs and zombies. And humorless feminists (at 1 minute into interview).
posted by tula (24 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

 
I like McKay, and I never buy Christmas trees, but aren't most trees grown/farmed just for Christmas? Seems like if people stopped buying them, they'd just stop planting them, so there'd be fewer trees in the world, not more.
posted by willnot at 11:34 AM on December 15, 2007 [2 favorites]


My in-laws had a u-cut-'em Christmas tree farm that they stopped selling out of twenty years ago. Now, as the exurb subdivisions of Birmingham clear-cut forests and level the hills, their little Christmas tree farm is one of the last "woods" left in the area.

The one argument against Christmas tree farms is that they're perpetually new growth and are often non-native trees. OTOH, is it really that much worse than metal-and-plastic artificial trees?
posted by dw at 11:58 AM on December 15, 2007


Forget the trees, how did I miss out on Nellie McKay until now? Yes, some of her lyrics are as subtle as an explosion in a Michael Bay movie, but more than half of her songs I'm listening to now have an incredible mix of style and substance, musical complexity, cynacism and humor. And the ones that don't work are honorable failures.
posted by wendell at 12:08 PM on December 15, 2007


Not all Christmas trees hurt the environment. National Forests regularly thin out young pines, which helps prevent wildfires (talk about carbon emissions!) and allows other native flora to get a chance to grow. If you happen to live reasonably close to a National Forest, look into this, and you could end up buying locally, too; all in all, a fairly guilt-free experience. When Christmas is over, turn your tree into mulch and use it in your (or your community's) garden.
posted by CrunchyGods at 12:19 PM on December 15, 2007


You aught to know it's "ought".
posted by emelenjr at 12:59 PM on December 15, 2007


You aught to know it's "ought".
But does that apply during the "Aughties"?
posted by wendell at 1:09 PM on December 15, 2007


Thanks for correcting my speeling.
posted by tula at 1:24 PM on December 15, 2007


Being anti-natural Christmas tree makes about as much sense to me as being anti-corn stalk or anti-beet. Christmas tree farms maintain open space, help slow global warming, and allow family agriculture businesses to survive. The lifespan from growth to cutting is about eight years, plus or minus depending on species, and they are usually replanted as soon as they are cut. They are definitely a crop, and as these things go, a fairly healthy, low-maintenance, low-polluting, and low-agricultural-chemical consuming one. The provide wildlife habitat. They form an important part of some skimpy Northern economies, especially here in VT, NH, Maine, and Maritime Canada, and put food on tables. Having watched suburbanization roll right through the former farmland of my childhood state, I'm all in favor of a healthy cash crop that keeps land producing oxygen and slows development.
posted by Miko at 3:51 PM on December 15, 2007


There are people who are anti-natural Xmas tree? Weird. Seconding everything Miko said.
posted by desuetude at 4:28 PM on December 15, 2007


None of yer fancy-dancy farmed christmas trees for me, no sir: I went and cut me into some old-growth forest for my tree this year! Sure, climbing up the twenty-foot trunk was a little inconvenient for decoratin' purposes, but it leaves plenty of room for the presents!
posted by ook at 4:53 PM on December 15, 2007


I'm all in favor of a healthy cash crop that keeps land producing oxygen and slows development.

You make a good argument, but you slipped one false one in there. There can no more be a net production of oxygen than there can be a net decrease in CO2 due to Christmas trees. (Unless you count the sheer of christmas biomass that's just sitting out there, but that must be more or less constant.)
posted by DU at 6:28 PM on December 15, 2007


Also, pitting natural-cut against artificial trees is a false dichotomy. You could do what my wife and I did our first few years together: Buy a tiny, live tree. Decorate it in a pot. Do that for 2 or 3 years until it is too big to keep inside. Plant it outside, buy another and start again.

There's still a mom-and-pop economy and still no toxic fake trees being created but now the number of trees is net increasing.
posted by DU at 6:30 PM on December 15, 2007


A beautiful song. McKay has a talent for not repeating herself or using cliched rhymes.

Unfortunately, some of her songs end up seeming too clever by half, and having bought her double CD a year or so ago, I've yet to give it another listen. Maybe I like a little cliche and repetition in my music, I don't know.
posted by kozad at 8:51 PM on December 15, 2007


DU, can you explain what you're saying about net CO2 better?

Even if that's not an important factor, the others are strong enough reasons that I wouldn't change my opinion. Buying a live tree doesn't work for us renters and city dwellers, anyway, even if I thought they were a significantly more responsible choice. I'm not sure they are, resource-extraction-and-reuse-wise.
posted by Miko at 9:20 PM on December 15, 2007


I actually really agree with her. Every year from January to March I get to walk around and see thousands of dead trees thrown out on the curb for the garbage trucks. We cut the tree, and then we THROW IT AWAY.

Can we really afford to grow millions of trees with the intention of throwing them away? Every year??
posted by hermitosis at 8:04 AM on December 16, 2007


Can we really afford to grow millions of trees with the intention of throwing them away? Every year??

In many municipalities, they're not "thrown away." They're mulched, composted, turned into fish habitat in artificial lakes. Even in cases where they are "thrown away," you're sinking that carbon into a lanfdill and out of the air. It's not a great thing to do, but there is a benefit to taking that carbon out of the ecosystem.

What Miko said -- Christmas trees are a crop, just like beets or wheat or tulips. I mean, we grow billions of cut flowers with the intention of throwing them away, and I don't hear McKay or others telling us to stop buying her roses.

Christmas trees are farmed and grown by family operations. They aren't cut from old growth in national forests.
posted by dw at 10:11 AM on December 16, 2007


Yep - chances are, if you call your municipality and ask what they do with the trees that are picked up, they'll tell you they get chipped and mulched for use in public works. Ours do, though we have to take them to the dump ourselves. We're also entitled to go pick up as much finished mulch as we want for free.

In a society rife with waste, Christmas trees strike me as one of the least harmful elements, because their impact as a cash crop is such a positive one. Why not spend that energy on combating all the paper wrapping and plastic packaging you're throwing out right next to the tree - the products of extractive industries that aren't putting anything back and are enriching corporations and doing permanent and irreversible environmental damage? Where does that stuff come from? What happens to that at the landfill, or hundreds of years from now? Do you know? How much comparitive waste is that?
posted by Miko at 10:16 AM on December 16, 2007


Are you people listening to these songs? The Christmas tree is a metaphor for her own used-for-a-month-and-discarded-relationship, for crying out loud.
posted by rokusan at 5:33 PM on December 16, 2007


Thanks rokusan for understanding the subtext. To take McKay's songs only literally is to ignore her fantastic dark wit.
posted by tula at 6:23 PM on December 16, 2007


Nah, I didn't even listen to the songs. I was reacting to the first couple posts.
posted by Miko at 6:41 PM on December 16, 2007


DU, can you explain what you're saying about net CO2 better?

Growing a consumed crop has no net effect on CO2. That's because while it absorbs the CO2 during the grow phase, it is recreated during the rotting/consumption (even if by bacteria) phase. Basically, you split some CO2 into C and O2 for a few years, then put them back together, with the end result being bupkus. (This is the same argument that people use to show that ethanol is "carbon neutral" (modulo a few nits). You are still burning a carbon-based fuel, but since the fuel sucked carbon out of the air during production the net change is nothing.)

By contrast, permanently increasing the total number of trees results in a permanent reduction in CO2.

Buying a live tree doesn't work for us renters and city dwellers...

We were renters dwelling in a city when we bought the tree. The entire thing was only about 3 feet tall, at least half of which was the pot. It was a little Charlie Brownish, but is the height of the tree really what Xmas is about?

We put it out on the balcony during the off season.
posted by DU at 6:54 AM on December 17, 2007


Yeah, I still just don't see the point. In the grand scheme of things, more good than harm is done by raising trees. Whatever you may gain is offset due to the fact that if you reuse your tree for a few years, you're not buying another tree annually. If everyone did that the farms would suffer more.

The analogy to cut flowers is excellent. To carry this to its logical extreme, you'd buy a rosebush instead of a dozen roses.
posted by Miko at 7:22 AM on December 17, 2007


In the grand scheme of things, more good than harm is done by raising trees.

Agreed. I am advocating raising trees.

Whatever you may gain is offset due to the fact that if you reuse your tree for a few years, you're not buying another tree annually. If everyone did that the farms would suffer more.

So this is the old "sound environmental practices hurt small business" argument? Businesses need to fit themselves into responsible human society, not vice versa.

To carry this to its logical extreme, you'd buy a rosebush instead of a dozen roses.

I don't know if it I'd call it an "extreme", but yes, that's exactly what I'd do. I've never bought a dozen roses and I probably never will (largely due to, not despite, my wife). It's a ridiculous waste on many levels, especially when I *do* have a rosebush in my yard.
posted by DU at 8:17 AM on December 17, 2007


OK. So do you eat vegetable crops?
posted by Miko at 7:02 PM on December 18, 2007


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