I am up early on Friday morning, 4:30ish, thinking about the start of the break, listening to the wind push down from the north. It’s cold, seven degrees outside. Some students have left already, the majority are leaving today, and a few will be around for holiday tournaments, finding their way home this weekend. In the early dark, with coffee and the dog on the sofa next to me, I look at the tree.
It’s purchased this year, locally but sourced from a farm up north in Colebrook where a family has been in the tree business for seven generations. It’s trimmed the way farmed trees are, shaped to pretty up a living room, and it does just that even though it is sparsely decorated. I didn’t fetch it out of the woods myself, but I have done that in the past, walked across flat fields in Maine with my father, gone out the back door with my own family and a bow saw, and over the last three decades been a part of Christmas tree hunts with the married-into family. The latter have been sprawling affairs in National Forest lands, usually with numbers ranging from 15 to close to 30. Those hunts are strongly opinionated affairs, rife with the potential for lost children in dark woods and dogs upending the elderly. All are memorable. Some trees I have simply gone out and purchased, prompted to do so out of a strange sense of obligation: every tree needs a home.
This year’s tree will be what I call a “two-timer.” It’s been up here in Andover for about a week. Undoubtedly you saw pictures of it last week on these pages when we hosted the open house for song and Santa. Many Proctor students passed through the house, and close to 40 faculty and staff children got to catch a glimpse of Santa, who bore remarkable and strong resemblance to Nate who used to work in the kitchen. Tomorrow morning, Saturday, I will bring down the boxes from the attic and we will undecorate the tree, packing away ornaments and lights. I will uncouple the tree from the stand and carry it out the back door and around to the truck. In Sandwich, NH, it will come out of the truck, be hauled inside, shedding a few more needles in the process, and it will couple to another tree stand. It will be freshly watered and different boxes and different light strands will be brought down from the attic. It’s a two timer.
In the early dark I like to plug the tree in before any other lights are turned on. I like to see the tree all starred up in the darkness. I like to trace my eyes over the lights and play a game with that living room starscape. I don’t wish on them. The light from the stars we see in the night light sky is light from the past, traveling to reach us across years, eons. It’s archival light. I like to see the individual lights on the tree in the same way - as archival. I stop at each one and search for a memory from the past year - school, family, life memories. Light memories. A recent one, from just yesterday? Aurora, Liv, and Mason singing in assembly. The memories string out and loop so easily: names, moments, memories of this community and family. It’s the light we travel with, the light that comforts us, and the light that we make and can share with others.
I love this early morning time with the tree in the December darkness. I hope all have the best of time with families over the holidays, that you see some of the light that is coming to you from without, and you find and share the light that is within.
Mike Henriques P'11, P'15
Proctor Academy Head of School