O Covid Tree, O Covid Tree

Your existence amuses us;

O Covid Tree, O Covid Tree

Your ornaments delight us.

Being silly was the point.

We were barely a month into the global coronavirus pandemic when my husband and I needed a distraction from life-or-death issues, which at our ages and medical conditions is no exaggeration.  

He was the one with the bright idea of bringing inside the remains of a broad-leaved maple tree in our backyard. He sawed a few more inches off the top and wedged the trunk into our Christmas tree stand. We agreed it looked more like a saguaro cactus then shapely evergreen.

Lucy would declare it the Charliest Brown Christmas tree she ever saw.

My husband strung red, white and blue lights from top to bottom. I dug out an expired N95 mask from the garage and an empty toilet paper roll from the trash can and …. “Covid Tree” was created on March 25, 2020, at 11:48 a.m., according to the time stamp on my phone photo.

In my original Facebook post, I introduced it as Quarantine Tree. But nobody besides me called it that. I labeled it Day 19 of the lockdown in Washington state. (For the record, Gov. Jay Inslee issued a stay at home order just two days prior.)

My Facebook friends and family declared it a masterpiece of awesomeness. And they cheered every post. Like when we announced jolly old St. Coronas, patron saint of pandemics, had left a case of Corona Extra Mexican lager under the tree.  

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On April 10, we hung Easter decorations and placed plush bunnies at the base to commemorate the upcoming holiday. We added a rainbow flag during Gay Pride Month, a Black Lives Matter sign following the death of George Floyd, a French flag for Bastille Day, a map of Cougar Mountain documenting my husband’s quest to hike every trail in the nearby park. My wedding garter belt symbolized our son’s wedding. I gave Halloween and Day of the Dead decorations primo spots in October.

On Sept. 23, I covered the tree with the darkest sheet we owned in honor of the 200,000 Americans who died from COVID-19. Now that we have surpassed 300,000 dead Americans, I am at a loss on how to commemorate the enormity of this tragedy.

My mother was the first to send us a memento for the tree. She has been coloring book markers to pass the time. She gave us one with a butterfly and green foliage print. I added colorful leis and flowers to create a Maypole vibe. I replaced the bunnies with a menagerie of animals congregating at the blue washcloth watering hole.

In July I thanked my nephew’s two children for contributing original artwork: A horse in a pasture on one index card and big truck labeled “grave digger” on another. (The kid gets it.) My mother suggested hanging string from the two branches to the trunk to create hanging spaces. (Note to self: Keep more branches next time.)

My husband said: “The more crap we put on it, the better it looks!”

Others agreed. Maybe the Smithsonian might be interested. Spectacular. Chaotic but fun. Going Baroque.

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A former co-worker who winters in Mexico donated a shell to add. “It’s kinda like a charm bracelet,” she remarked about the tree.

Indeed.

We’ve been lucky. We know people who have contracted COVID-19 but not died from it. While nurses, doctors and other essential workers have become heroes, we have turned into hermits. We have a hard time keeping track of the days. As Violet, the dowager Countess of Grantham on “Downton Abbey” said, “What is a ‘weekend?’ ”

On Nov. 24, we decided to skip buying our traditional Douglas fir Christmas tree and started over — before Thanksgiving even — with Covid Tree. Many more lights. Actual Christmas ornaments with a few holdovers. Traditional tree skirt and Santa Express train around the bottom. We couldn’t muster enthusiasm for more.

Our vertical time capsule has helped us mark the passage of time. And, it has created connections when isolation and loss — of what were our everyday comings and goings, of shared facts, of community — deepens every day.

We have used dark humor to lighten the doomscrolling on social media as our Facebook friends joined in. We have turned to our Covid Tree to help.

It reminds me of one of the more famous quotes of Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore, found in the fifth Harry Potter book:

“Happiness can be found in the darkest of times if one only remembers to turn on the light.”