It's a little known quirk of New York City law that anyone can sell Christmas trees on the street in December. All you need is permission from the owners of the store near your stand. Right after Thanksgiving, emerald forests sprout overnight on city sidewalks as tree sellers lug beautiful firs, balsams and spruces in from the country. The disruption of cold grey concrete with fragrant dark green needles is sudden and miraculous. My simple walk down city sidewalks becomes a soothing and soul-restoring forest bath.
The guardians of these overnight forests are the sidewalk tree guys (and gals), who drive and fly in from all over to tend their little patch of green. More than a few of them are hardy outdoor guides who might take you kayaking or river rafting in remote places in season. Their outdoor skills help them survive this grueling winter camp-out. They spend long freezing hours out in the cold and sleep in nearby parked cars and vans. They work in twos and threes and have sellers on duty all 24-hours, just in case someone needs a tree at 3 am. Would you?
They're super strong and constantly cheerful. Nobody wants to buy their Christmas tree from a Grinch, I guess. But imagine bringing an 8-foot tree up to the fifth floor of a walk-up. Ouch. I have seen majestic cousins of the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree on my corner just waiting to be bought by some penthouse owner with 15-foot ceilings and wrapped up and delivered by hand. It's not an easy job, selling and delivering joy.
Another NYC quirk is that everyone believes their local tree guy is just the best. The city teems with "best guys" on every corner. Articles abound. There are a lot of fun facts about the tree man's perspective in this article and video. A few blocks away, two New Yorkers even made a short documentary about their "best guy" called "Tree Man."
But my corner guy IS the best, hands down. His trees are gorgeous and full, and, like people, come in all shapes and sizes. And his accessories make the outfit. He turns sidewalk drab into fab by creating a party piazza with overhead lights, rows of wonderful trees, lit flying pigs, twinkling white lights, glowing ornaments and bulb-wire presents. For non-tree buyers, he offers whimsical folk art like hand-carved pigs, snowmen, reindeers with branch ears, and even a wood Menorah for sale. A hand-lettered cardboard sign hung on a stripped down fir with branches only at the top says "Canadian Palm Tree." This is a tree guy with humor and imagination, who says he wants city walkers to feel and remember the magic of childhood.
Grateful neighbors honor and reward their tree guys by dropping off gifts of coffee, soup, sandwiches, blankets, music or sometimes even offering a hot shower. Even people who aren't in the market for trees like to stop, chat and help them out. Joy is contagious.
After taking his photo, I saw my tree guy in a whole new light. Check out the stars around him. They weren't there when I took the photo. Now I have physical evidence that there's magic in these trees, their tenders and our sidewalks. You just have to look a little closer...and remember.