Christmas trees delight us, but are quickly tossed to the curb after holidays

Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 7, 2011; 9:36 PM

The odor in the breeze is unmistakable. Either someone's thrown a thousand Yankee candles in a bonfire or -

"You can kind of smell it from here," says Jim Rainey, sliding silver sunglasses up his nose, exiting his office in the solid waste management and traffic engineering building, walking deeper into the industrial grounds of the Arlington County trade center off Interstate 395.

And there it is. The heap. The tree heap. Three-thousand seventy-nine Christmas trees. An orgy of conifers, piled high and wide.

Where did Christmas go?

Part of it went here. Trundled in from the curbs of Arlington County.

A strand of tangled tinsel wriggles on a snapped branch. A red bow is stuck on the crown of a tree atop the pile. A single ornament, silver and dodecahedral, peers from behind a trunk near the ground.

They forgot me, it says.

Or, rather: Shhh. I'm not going back to that attic.

Few things go from God to gutter faster than the Christmas tree. First it grows for about seven years on one of the United States' 15,000 Christmas tree farms among 350 million of its brethren. Then, for a matter of weeks, it is the touchstone of home and hearth, the canopy for the baby Jesus, the holder of very specific memories - like Aunt Jan's ceramic angel-harpist ornament that's always a little too heavy for even the sturdiest branch (and that's why it reminds you of her).

Then it's Christmas, and New Year's, and the tree starts to look a little wan, a little out of place - like a scarf in summer - and the love is gone.

First, the denuding, then the curbing.

Fraser firs, forsaken. Balsam pines, spurned. Sad.

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