PROVINCETOWN — Once upon a time there was come unto the land a plague of broad proportions, a pestilence that brought death, desolation, and disruption, and caused many in the cities to flee their habitations (those who could, that is) and descend upon the less settled areas of the land to take refuge where there might be more space, fresher air, and relative safety. One such area was known as the Outer Cape.
These refugees were not entirely unknown in this land, but had previously been seen mainly in the balmy summer months, when they frolicked on the beaches and disported themselves on the streets and in the shops, bars, and restaurants. And these people (and their money) were welcomed by the locals and for the most part could not be differentiated from them. Together, the refugees and the locals did their best to achieve lives of normalcy, albeit socially distanced, with masks on their faces, and eating a great deal of take-out food in Styrofoam containers.
In the days we are speaking of, summer turned to fall and fall to winter and those who had fled the city settled in here. There were signs of this in places normally deserted in winter: more cars on the road, more walkers in the street, more flushes reported by the water department, more — many more — real estate transactions.
And so it came to pass, one December day, that Deborah and Dennis, an elderly couple in the main town of the region, ventured forth in the annual ritual of selecting a (somewhat) fresh-cut needle-bearing tree to bring into their home so as to adorn it with ornaments, after the cultural practices of the time. This had actually been the custom of Deborah her entire life, but for Dennis, being originally of the Hebraic persuasion, it had only been going on for a little over 50 years. He was especially motivated this season to secure a goodly tree so as to attract the daughters and grandchildren to brave the pandemic and return to their humble ancestral home.
Their first stop was Ace Hardware on Conwell Street. Much to their surprise, where the year before had been a host of beautiful trees for sale there leaned against the wall just three sickly little trees, barely waist high. In indignation, they high-tailed it over to Land’s End Marine, where last season there was a plentiful supply of trees. In the parking lot was the shocking sight of an empty cage. All of the trees had escaped. Alarmed, they drove out the high road to Bayberry Gardens, where they knew they would pay more for a tree with a pedigree. They were desperate. But there, too, the cupboard was bare. Not a tree to be found.
They were told that there was not a tree to be had all the way to Orleans, and perhaps further.
They sought retribution. But against who or what? In the Gardens, they engaged in a brief discussion: was this climate change — another cataclysm of the time? Had the summer drought affected the supply of trees? No. Demand was up. This was true, they were told, from sea to shining sea. In this year of the plague, everywhere, and in droves, people sought comfort in the scent of pine needles.
Deborah and Dennis rushed back to Ace Hardware and were relieved to find the three sickly trees still there. They chose the least sickly and brought it home.
What to make of a diminished thing? Deborah adorned it, topping it with the traditional teddy bear of her youth with a new bright red bow. They both learned to love the pitiful sprig and celebrated the holiday as best they could. They listened to the traditional music of the season. They defied the short dark days of December as people have done for millennia.
In their hearts, they affirmed the human spirit and wished and prayed for peace and goodwill to all — because, they thought, we are all refugees — so fortunate to have found a haven in this beautiful place.