SOME YEARS AGO, WHEN I WAS IN

college, perpetually broke and finally old enough to have my own Christmas, I was shocked to discover that the accouterments of the season were so horrifyingly expensive. Lights, ornaments and the tree to hang them on came to more than a monthly car payment -- more than I could afford.

The lights I got from a friend's parents, and the decorations I got by throwing a party and demanding that each guest bring an ornament. But the tree, well, I had to actually buy the thing. That was irksome. A tree, after all, wasn't reusable like the other stuff. A lifetime of buying Douglas firs could make a year's worth of car payments look cheap. The solution: I would simply grow my own trees from now on.

I remembered hearing once that the government gives away trees in an effort to increase forest land. The local Department of Agriculture agent wasn't too impressed with the forest potential of my backyard in downtown Silver Spring, but when I admitted I simply wanted to grow my own Christmas trees, he came up with six white pine seedlings.

After the planting, I promptly forgot all about the trees until the following December, when it was time for my first harvest. Unfortunately, these particular pines appeared to be a dwarf variety because none of the seedlings seemed to have grown a bit.

The agriculture agent's advice: fertilize and prune. Each time I pruned, a branch would split into two branches, and the two, if pruned, would split into four. And on and on.

I pruned like mad, but come the second December, the branches were fuller, but the trees weren't much higher. I was finally motivated to fertilize, though. And, of course, I pruned like crazy.

As the third Christmas rolled around, I discovered that I probably shouldn't have pruned the tops of the trees. They had indeed split in two and now looked more like fuzzy green rabbits with two ears sticking up. This was going to take longer than I thought. Nevertheless, I fertilized and pruned like crazy.

And then, before the fourth Christmas arrived, I moved away. First to Missouri, then Rochester, N.Y., then Miami. Yet each year, when I had to buy a Christmas tree, I envisioned the grand and glorious pines in that old yard.

Many Christmases later, about 10 years after I'd moved out, I was at my mother's house in Silver Spring, and something made me drive the three miles to look in on my trees. My old house was a freshly crumbled heap, demolished to make room for a Metro parking garage. I went around to the back, where a bulldozer was pushing around a lot of red clay.

"What happened to my trees?" I asked the driver. "There were six Christmas trees right here," I said, pointing to the spot.

"No," he said, shaking his head. "There were some shrubs there, but there weren't any Christmas trees."