Who among us city dwellers hasn't lamented the rising cost of Christmas trees?

Who among us city dwellers hasn't longed for the days when you could take ax in hand and prowl through the woods looking for the perfect, and free, specimen?

Who among us city dwellers is enough of a creep to steal onto a suburban yard in the dead of night and satisfy both longings by chopping down an ornamental tree?

Somewhere out there is such a grinch who stole Sam and Mary Scolnik's 12-foot blue spruce from the front yard of their Kensington home, leaving naught but a three-foot stump where once stood a glorious example of the species Picea pungens.

"I hope his conscience is bothering him," said a distraught Mary Scolnik yesterday with a bitterness that is understandable even in this season of goodwill and charity.

Perhaps feeling the need to share her misery with someone, Scolnik called The Washington Post yesterday to unload her tale. In the annals of crime, it probably doesn't amount to much -- Scolnik never even thought to call the police -- but at Christmas, it seems poignant enough. Obviously, mean-spiritedness knows no holidays.

The Scolniks' blue spruce was planted about 20 years ago by their son, Louis, who as a teen-ager had an avid interest in horticulture. Almost all the landscaping touches in the Scolniks' yard on Calvert Place are the result of his handiwork, including a Japanese garden out back.

Louis Scolnik is grown and on his own now, but the fruits of his labors live on. All but that blue spruce.

"It was a beautiful tree," said Mary Scolnik. "Someone knew what they were picking. We were horrified to think that anyone would do this, especially to use as a Christmas tree."

"I think it's rotten, just rotten," she said.