Tuesday, December 18, 2012


Every working day, on my commute to and from the time-punching machine, I pass the following sign perched atop a warehouse that towers over the sound barrier of Highway 76.

Kindy’s Christmas Factory Outlet.

I’ve been looking for a place like this.

Every tree-blogger worth their salt has to tackle the Christmas tree…but how?  Where to go?

I needed an angle.

Maybe it’s this Kindy’s.  Maybe this sign really is a sign.

I checked the Kindy’s website and it looked encouraging…fine photos of bright homes decked out in colorful patterns of blinking lights…a boy perched on his father’s shoulders planting the ornamental star on the top branch…a handsome, slim family nestled around the illuminated conifer…plus promises of real live trees, photographed in a snowy lot, each tree shining green under a light dusting of downy frost.

Kindy’s has been around since 1980…the retail outlet for the Brite Star Manufacturing Company located in South Philly…and, according to its website, it is the premier stop for all things Christmas…the Kindy’s shopping experience [is] a fun-filled family holiday tradition.

This could be the place.

Look, I’m one hardened, sarcastic scalawag of a citybilly.  I’m a rogue and I’m a rounder and, yet, around this time every year, I just say hark that. 

I yearn to be swept away by the holidays.

T’is the season and I want to feel it…the spirit, the glee, the mirth.  I want to wash away my cynicism with good, old-fashioned holiday cheer.  I know my weather and I know my Wheel so I know not to expect a white Christmas, though that would be lovely…but I want all the rest.

I want to feel part of something...to feel connected...hard to do while living in this urban grid...hard to do, at this time of year, while fighting traffic, fighting crowds, fighting lines to the registers.  

I want that warm glow in the bottom of my belly…I want to turn into a happy stooge…heedless of the wind and weather…I want peace and joy on Turtle Island…I want to deck the halls…I want to sing along. 

I want to be jolly.

And so…with a seasonal sense of optimism, under a typical sky of the Long Snow Moon…scudding trails of storm-clouds twisting inside-out, revealing their dark and rainy hearts…I traveled through the mean streets to the Kindy’s Christmas Factory Outlet.

Ho, ho, ho.


Kindy’s is located on 20th Street, south of the mini-mall landscape of Oregon Avenue and right before the Highway 76 overpass, across the street from a Septa bus depot…

…inside an oppressive warehouse that, I guess, used to broadcast Philadelphia’s home of classic rock, 102.9 FM, WMGK.

I’m almost there…just a quick skip through the weedy, pocky parking lot…a spirited dash up the concrete loading ramp…

…one light leap through the heavy, plastic panes of an entrance…

…and buoyantly bouncing myself into the winter wonderland of Kindy’s Christmas Factory Outlet.


Ah…so this is what it’s like to be happy.

My uncanny sense of direction kicked in, steering me through the retail grid of stacked aisles and shelves, under the miles and miles of industrial fluorescent light fixtures and towards the back of the warehouse into the Tree Room.

Here, you can go hunting through the vast gallery for all different types of artificial trees.

Identifying an artificial tree is easy…though it does take practice…and you have to know what to look for.

Identification can be difficult if you just look at the conifer fruits…


…because these actually could be real cones.  I have to admit, I couldn’t tell.  They look and feel very much like real cones.

The bark of these trees can also be misleading.


No, in order to accurately identify an artificial tree…in order to find one of its distinct characteristics…your best bet is to take a good look at its needles.


That’s not a leaf, not a needle.  That’s paper.

Sometimes, an artificial tree will have smaller strips of brown paper twisted around the green paper in order to mimic the woody pegs that real needles sometimes grow from.


And don’t be fooled by the identifying nomenclature.  Most of the Kindy trees here are labeled as the Charles Pine.


According to my Dendrology Library, there is no such tree as the Charles Pine.

According to the Internet, there is a Charlie Pine, which turns out to be the most popular brand of artificial trees.

Don’t lose faith.  Don’t let these artificial trees ruin the holiday spirit.

Make your way out of the gallery of faux trees, past the lawn ornament display, towards the south-facing windows, and you’ll hunt down some real, live, genuine Christmas trees.

These are firs…a conspicuous feature of most forests…native to cool, big-sky landscapes rimmed with mountains and hills, rolling with valleys and river-bends, dotted with lakes and fjords, running with antelope and deer, protected by bear and moose...

…almost the entire Northern Hemisphere is its home…from the icy, northern latitudes of the taiga and the yukon to the vast woodlands that forest the roots of the Himalayas, the Alps, the Rockies and the mighty river systems of Turtle Island...

…this is the grand fir, the noble fir…or in the Latin language, the Abies…but I always prefer the German translation of the word fir…the tannenbaum.


The fir trees have distinct needles, although they can be confused very easily with the needles of the spruces.

Here are the differences.

Spruces usually have long, sharp, rough needles that grow all around its thick branches and that point away from the trunk of the tree. 

The fir needles are different.  They tend to grow in just two rows of a flat spray, sometimes compared to a comb.  They are not as rough as spruce needles, more blunt than sharp, with silvery white strata lines on the undersides.


Inside Kindy’s, you can also find species of the douglas-firs.

These have even softer needles, not prickly at all, with sharp buds and slender twigs that develop into a more easy-going, languid style of branching and leafing.


Most firs grown for Christmas trees are harvested after eight to twelve years on the farm.  In order to survive their uprooting, their transport, and then their final environment of a toasty, warm home, most fir trees need three good frosts in a season before they end up in a warehouse like this. 

Three good frosts will keep the tree from drying out and dropping its needles all over the carpet and all over the presents…not a marketable trait for a Christmas tree.

It was good to see real trees inside Kindy’s…just like they promised…but this was definitely not going to take up the entire time I had for tree-hunting on this December day.

So, I decided to take a walk…a winter saunter...and, in my head, I quickly mapped out a route…down Moyamensing Avenue, turn around at Broad Street and then walk back up Oregon Avenue where my car was parked…see what the tree-hunting’s like here in South Philly.


From 20th Street to Broad Street, Moyamensing is a very picture-perfect, very stately avenue.

It must be nice…in the late spring, through the hot summer, and into the golden autumn months…to drive down the wide lanes of Moyamensing under the shady, leafy arches of these sycamores and ginkgoes.

The winter can be a little discouraging, no doubt, but this is still a good season for tree-hunting…even for deciduous trees.

In fact, without the leaves and the fruits as a distraction, an observant eye can still find some distinctive characteristics…something worth watching.

Walking east down Moyamensing, I can watch the marching parade of sycamore after sycamore after sycamore…catching the colors of their painted barks…


…each layer a different color…its constant exfoliation the very reason why the sycamore makes such a stout and healthy street tree…that camouflaged motley of olive, beige, khaki, brown and dull silver…

…and, right before hitting Broad Street, I caught two sycamores with just enough open space to grow into its distinct, statuesque form…

…taller than the street lights, bending from curbside to parkside, a fountain under the swirling sky.

On the other side of the street, I noticed yet another strange aspect to the ginkgo.

The barks of the younger ginkgoes have these bright white, curvy trenches racing up and down their trunks.

It reminds me of a map of ski trails.

As the tree ages, as the trunk widens and grows, its color gets darker and mossier…and the older bark grows thicker into dusty plates, turning those shallow trenches into deep furrows.

The ginkgo tree doesn't stand around idle.  Only a few weeks down the line from losing all of its leaves, the ginkgoes right now are already budding…

…each year adding a new layer of growth to those strange, prehistoric stubs…already working towards the upcoming show of leaves for spring 2013.


Back in the early summer, while hunting for the very first urban fruits, I described a tree as a machine…a collection of moving parts.

The moving is a little slow here in the winter but the trees are still working.  Even in their dormancy, their working is visible and distinctive.

And, actually, t’is the season right now…during these bare-bone days of the Long Snow Moon…walking west up Oregon Avenue…when I can watch their greatest work…their life’s work…the way they’ve managed to survive here on the mean streets.

I can see it…in the silhouettes of their leafless shapes…the way they’ve had to bend and twist and coil their trunks and branches…



…the way they’ve had to grow around our street signs, our utility poles, our drooping wires, our traffic machines…


…this is their hardest work.

Watch it in action…trees hammering away…their own daily grind...trying to pave the most efficient path to the sunlight and the rain...the stressful ways some trees have to grow in order to survive down here on the streets.

Tree-hunting in the winter?

You bet. 

Barks, buds and trunks…the shape of an individual tree…these things are worth watching and worth catching.  It’s a good show.

Plus, you never know when you’ll run into something rare and special, something completely out of the blue.

Like this…a flowering cherry tree.

Let me tell you something.  Nowhere…not in any field guide, not in any book in my Dendrology Library…absolutely nowhere will you read of this happening.

Not a distinctive characteristic.

From the Dendrology Library...cultivars [of the Japanese cherry tree] flower in the early spring…developed for spectacular spring flowers…flowers small, grow in clusters like apple, early spring March – June…


…and yet, here they are, now.

This cannot be denied.

Cherry flowers in December. 

And yet, we shouldn’t treat this strange timing and this rare flowering as some sort of enigma or puzzle.  There is no mystery here.

Why is this cherry flowering now?


Because it’s a tree.

It’s a living thing.

And all living things have a distinct biological characteristic called variance.

Down here on the mean streets of America, we call it rugged individualism.

Living things vary.  It’s what we do and, if we’re lucky or if we’re blessed, those variances are our best moments, our fondest memories, our happiest times.

This should come as no surprise.

Sometimes, in order to survive and in order to flower, we must go against the grain.

1 comment:

  1. Jon Spruce a christian? I never would have guessed!