Burning down the tree
A bonfire of reds, whites and evergreens (and e-mails)
By Tim Protzman firstname.lastname@example.org
One of my favorite after-holiday traditions was the burning of the Christmas trees.
The pile started to grow after New Year’s. By Three Kings Day it was four and five trees high. In cold weather, residents dragged their trees out on the ice; in warmer times they piled them on the lake shore. The lake was left over from before World War II, when the community was a summer resort for rich people. In my day (30 years ago) all the cottages had been converted to year-round homes. They were not luxurious and some of the town’s poorest and most eccentric lived there, but, boy, did they know how to celebrate!
Kids would ride snowmobiles and lasso the trees and drag them to the lake. Cars would fill the parking lot next to the strip of sand that served as a beach. The first row would leave their headlights on. Someone would crank up a radio. The older ladies would set up a table of food. A coffee urn, marshmallows, hot dogs and a big casserole of creamed chicken — the kind that goes into a pot pie, but without the crust. This was Mrs. B’s specialty. Whether it was a baptism, confirmation, wedding, graduation or funeral she baked a huge porcelain-lined cooker full of creamed chicken with toasted white bread cubes on top as garnish/extender. Mrs. B had eight kids.
On the night of the fire, members of the volunteer fire company would join in, and someone, usually Warren Pease (I swear that’s his name) would start the blaze with a charcoal lighter and a blow torch. Once the blaze was going people would ice skate, watch the fire or sneak off to have a cigarette and kiss their girlfriends. It was a happy innocent time when kids were naughty, not malicious, and the neighborhood mothers would scream at you if you did something wrong like they were screaming at their own kids and your mother would back them to the hilt.
It’s been 17 years since the last bonfire. First, Environmental Protection squelched the on-the-ice fire. Bad for the lake. Then the neighborhood changed. The land got too valuable and the town got too toney. Today most of the cottages are gone, replaced by half-million-dollars homes whose residents don’t want their views spoiled by a pile of burnt-out trees. No skating anymore either; the insurance is too high.
This year, in honor of those old Secret Lake winter bonfires, I’ll make a symbolic bonfire of the old e-mails in my Inbox.
First, for Mike: I do recycle plastic bottles from time to time, but if it’s between 12 glass wine bottles and a Joy Dishwashing Liquid container, the glass gets top priority.
Lisa: what wine did you finally get?
Vicki: Your e-mail got dragged to the curb, not because of your wine, but because it was so poorly written and formatted. Presentation counts. I once lost out in the final round of interviews because I’d misspelled my name on my résumé. Thoroughness counts.
Blythe: I’d love to taste wine with the winemaker, but a lunchtime meeting won’t work. I have a day job and they frown on my operating heavy machinery after imbibing.
Vincent: I’ll get around to you one day. Meanwhile I’m intrigued by your novelty and gift wine bags. I love the idea of having a wine bag with “Warning: Re-Gifted Wine Inside” or “Alcohol … It’s Cheaper than Therapy” written on the side. (Visit www.winebagwizards.com to see the full product line.)
And that girl from Switzerland: Was your name Heidi? Did you send your Hooksett friends that case of wine? I guess I’ll never know.
Here are the wines I tasted and dragged to the lake over the holidays.
Calera Vineyards 2000 Mills Vineyard Mt Harlan Pinot Noir, $37.99. Even though we know the exact longitude and latitude where the grapes were grown, they died in vain. Too young for a “dumb” period and too old to be called impudent, this wine was a disappointment for its lack of fruit, structure and bouquet.
2000 La Tour l’Aspic, $22.99. A vin ordinaire from Pauillac with no outstanding features.
2003 Smoking Loon Syrah, $7.99. The best of a very mediocre run of wines. From California.
Louis Latour 2003 Pinot Noir. Like the Giants, it starts off heading toward the end zone but never gets there. Unfortunately for this wine there’s no wildcard.
2002 Sanford Santa Rita Hills Pinot Noir, $35.69. Underpowered like one of those kit cars with the Mini Cooper engine.
Terra Unica 1998 Reserva, $9.99. From the Manchuela region next to the hot, hot Jumilla region. Nuanced with cinnamon, tar and dried cranberry flavors. Had this on Christmas.
2004 Nine Stone Australian Shiraz, $9.99. This one restored my faith in Oz wine. Deep flavored but one-dimensional with peat, blackberry, smoke and cassis flavors.
1995 A. F. Gros Vosne-Romanee, $44.95. Took this to a dinner party and was humiliated. Limited depth, nearly flavorless with an annoying tannic edge. From Burgundy. The name sums it up.
2003 Costa De Oro Santa Maria Valley Pinot Noir, $24.99. Tannins like cotton balls, fruit backwards to not at all. Like drinking watered grape juice. California.
Benzinger 2001 California Merlot, $15.49. A pleasure to sip even though it had some flaws like not enough structure. Great fruit, harmonious tannins and nice bouquet.
Joseph Drouhin Nouveau Beaujolais, $11.99. Made from gamay grapes grown in the Beaujolais region of Burgundy, this wine is mostly a fun, fruity little quaff with no structure or aging capability, but a pleasant refreshing flavor.
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