Smooching tree remedy for troubled world

I was revved up to write a holly-jolly-ho-ho Christmas column, but like you, my heart is leaden from recent senseless evil, and the horror it left in its wake. The pain is deep, like a sharp plow slicing through soft earth, leaving a gaping scar that we fear might never heal. An act of such inhumanity is beyond comprehension for the rational mind, and we struggle to right a ship that we fear is sinking fast. What is happening to our society that finds us falling so far into the primordial pit? How much lower can we go?

Media outlets have dished up a nonstop string of sensationalized news filled with gory details. Politicians are pondering legislation that will never fix the problem. Psychoanalysts are analyzing. Rage-aholics are ranting. The world spins and another day is gone.

Christmas is five days away, and I wish to my core that I could brighten the holiday scene. As I pondered this task, I took the Schlueterville setters for a dark, peaceful walk around Lake Hastings. A slight breeze was just cold enough to snap at my face, and the dogs lurched in happy oblivion, their retractable leashes whipping from my hands like alien tentacles. A thumbnail moon kept me company, and stars peeped between cotton candy clouds dancing across an ink black sky. Houses lining the lake were adorned in Christmas lights, which mirrored the water as outstretched fingers of blue, green and red. Canada geese had settled in for the night, sending up a racket only nature could understand.

The three of us paused for a moment to take it all in; me transfixed by dancing water lights, and the setters eyeballing geese.

“I miss the smooching tree,” I said aloud, and furred heads turned in my direction as though waiting a command. “The world needs a smooching tree.”

The memory washed over me as a flood. I stumbled upon the smooching tree many Christmas seasons ago, on a brutally cold night while walking a different set of Schlueterville hounds. It was a giant pine along 12th Street, on the south border of Highland Park. There was an opening in its backside that reminded me of the trap door of a pair of long johns — a cave-like place insulated with thick-needled branches. I stepped inside and was immediately enchanted. The wires from the lights strung this way and that, and the lights cast glowing auras through their heavy-bough perches, bathing the rough-barked trunk in kaleidoscopic splendor. A recent snow sent a shower of sparkling flakes that dusted my coat sleeves. The squeak of boots in frigid snow was muffled inside the beautiful cocoon. I stood there for several minutes, until the dogs grew restless and whined for home.

The next night I returned, with Hunka Burnin’ Hubby in tow, eager to show him my newfound wonder. The temps hovered around zero, and I’m sure he thought I’d lost my marbles as I shoved him into a tree. But he soon understood the weird appeal, and we fell silent as we took it all in.

And then I planted a great big kiss on him, complete with an embarrassing “smack!” And from then on it was known as the smooching tree.

We revisited the tree for a yuletide smooch — every year at Christmastime — until it lost its magic when the city pulled the plug on the lights. I miss it still.

If I had one wish for you, in these troubled days before Christmas, it would be for you to find a secret, special somewhere that welcomes you like the smooching tree — a place that allows you to escape the troubles of the world if for only a few lovely moments. It’s a place where you might perhaps dream big, happy dreams, find the hope of peace, send up a prayer or two, or plant a sloppy smooch on the face of someone you love. The world needs sheltered, miraculous places such as these.

In spite of the times, or perhaps especially because of them, have a Merry Splendid Christmas, everyone.

Tamera Schlueter

Tam Schlueter adopts a "strike-fast-and-keep-them-laughing" approach to writing. Her column appears every Thursday in the Hastings Tribune, and showcases the wonder of family, dogs, muscle cars, and folks with blue collars and no-nonsense attitudes.

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