In this next Holiday Perspective guest post, we hear from Halifax-based photographer and visual artist, Eliot Wright. He shares what he misses most from Christmases growing up in Newfoundland.
Former Montague Gold Mines Site, NS, 2013
The Family Tree
By Eliot Wright
Growing up in Newfoundland, I never once bought a Christmas tree.
I don’t remember how young I was when I cut my first tree, but I expect I wasn’t much older than four. Who did the cutting—whether it was my father or I—well, it didn’t really matter; it was the hunt and the connection to nature that was most important. I expect it was dad who did the cutting in those early years, and it was I who was left to bushwhack our way through the snowy woods. I revel in the family story of my mother collecting me from my father’s house at age two, only to find me “playing” with an axe in the back yard. Sounds frightening, but I’m sure the reality was much less alarming than the tale. Nonetheless, I have felt accustomed with such tools from an early age.
The Christmas tree hunt became a yearly ritual. Family members would place orders a few weeks before Christmas, specifying crucial details like height, width, bushiness, and symmetry. Then dad and I would collect our saw and a couple of axes, hop into the pickup and drive out to our spot. At this point I’d like to clarify that I grew up a Townie—for those not accustomed to Newfoundland language, that means I was from the city of St. John’s, as opposed to a rural area, which would have made me a Bayman—so, it wasn’t as if my backyard was filled with potential Christmas trees. Over the years our spot changed as the city and surrounding area developed, but every year we’d drive a number of kilometers out of town to a quiet section of crown land and begin our hunt.
There is something unbelievably relaxing about standing in a snow-covered forest, with only the sounds of the wind blowing and the occasional creaking tree. If you haven’t ventured to Newfoundland before, it is a place renowned for its wind, which can occasionally interrupt the tranquility. But it rarely bothered us. Bundled up warm, dad and I would hunt for a couple hours, meticulously selecting trees for their respective features. Usually we’d collect about three trees, drag them back to the truck and tie ‘em down, hoping they’d make it back into town safely. Once, a tree did break free from the truck on the highway, but was rescued before serious incident.
Every family has their own ritual when it comes to tree decoration. In my family there were many antique ornaments and handmade things that adorned ours. I always enjoy Christmas trees all gussied up with lights, decorations and such, but there is something missing if I don’t go out into the woods and cut it myself.
Urchin and Tree, Port Kirwan, NL, 2010
Eliot Wright is a visual artist and photographer currently living in Halifax NS. One of his latest projects is The NS Industrial Project in collaboration with Liz van Allen. Together they are artistically documenting historical industrial sites across the province through photographs and jewellery. To see Wright’s other work and find out more, please visit www.eliotwright.ca. You can also find him on Twitter: @Eliot_Wright