Christmas Tree Embargo
was firmly in the sights of Americans, and they could practically
taste the after bite of rum in their eggnog. Only one problem
arose to disturb their perfect season. Everyone had watched Scrooge
and his humbug, and commiserated when the Grinch stole the Who's
Christmas, in the form of presents and the feast, but few of those
avid fans would realize that their own Grinchly neighbour was
about to descend upon them. Few people, wrapped in the comforting
glow of their television season, would realize that their Christmas
was about to be turned completely upside down by Canada's refusal
to send trees.
farmers on the flat plains of the Dakotas stood in their fields
and yelled upon god when they found out from CNN, like everyone
else, that Canada wasn't allowing Christmas trees to cross the
border. In Washington and Oregon, even the most avid environmentalist
began to eye the national forests, and in Virginia, court proceedings
were discussed to take Maine to task, since they thought Canada
was an isolated county of that north east state. In Washington
DC, sleepless politicians made late night desperate phone calls
to first CNN, and then the Canadian embassy. Finally, appeals
were made to the CIA and Homeland Security, a paranoid department
created for exactly these types of threats.
vast nation sleeping under a blanket of almost perpetual snow
and a misleading history, was scarcely aware of the fuss. Only
a few businesses, such as Christmas tree farms and trucking firms,
were even aware that a few strokes of the pen in Ottawa had bereft
them of their deserved Christmas cheer.
bureaucrat in the transportation ministry, who had scrawled a
few lines on the unread papers on his desk before rushing out
to frigid golf courses to work on his promotion, knew nothing
of the stir he had caused. In an almost inadvertent slip of his
pen, Bob Bimbliy had signed away the right to transport lumber
with its bark on. Although that new ruling affected county kitsch
as much as Christmas trees, the holiday business felt the pinch.
Immediately, the CIA contacted the RCMP, who agreed that it was
an affair most crucial, if so many Americans were worried about
it. With the same alacrity they showed when approaching airport
regulations and their concern for secure borders, they began to
illegally search mail and pound on people's doors in the dark
hours of the night. They had learned their lessons well from the
Nazis they'd hired just after the war with Germany.
It was the
local Ottawa police, finally, having delegated the job to a junior
member, who realized that Bob Bimbliy was responsible for the
national shame and the US relations catastrophe.
in the United States, secret border runs were made on Mexican
forests, and extra Mexican border guards had to be brought in
to combat what they saw as theft of their national heritage. When
the US authorities pointed out that Mexico was situated on land
stolen by the Spanish from the local Aboriginal nations, the first
cross border shouting match in many decades began.
que vienen a robar nuestros árboles! Chinga tu madre!"
Enrique, we have a right to those trees and we are going to take
them just like we took New Mexico, Texas, Arizona, Nevada and
take the whole world."
state forests were being decimated as eager entrepreneurs crept
in under the cover of darkness and stole fir branches, reasoning
that the wreaths would sell in the millions. In Chicago and Cincinnati,
public parks were declared off limits, while the Florida governor
was in secret talks with Cuba for the first time in fifty years.
In West Virginia and Delaware gun fights broke out in flower shops,
which had been callous and unthinking enough to stock Norfolk
Island Pine. Many businessmen, a coy gleam in their eye, flew
to South America, following the traditional colonial path to the
desired trees even into the Andes.
By the time
constable Wiggam Simper brought in Bob Bimbliy, the US was in
shambles. The many thousands of malls had no customers, and millions
of citizens, for the first time in their lives, contemplated going
to produce passport stamps made specifically for Americans, such
was their foresight in the time of crisis. Belgium made plaster
replicas of trees, hoping to draw the flagging American dollar
to their shores, and in faraway Thailand, Christmas was studied
in tourism school, its secrets prodded for tourist dollars that
might be made from so unsettled a holiday.
in Akron, Ohio, working alone, if later reports were true, produced
spin off plastic trees, mimicking, he claimed, in every detail,
the originals. Once his rented premises were raided, and his internet
page shut down and his body hauled away, the authorities reported
that the crowd had no choice but to riot. His trees were the only
ones for sale all over America, and given the situation, one could
not expect people to be reasonable.
At first Bob
Bimbliy refused to go to work, citing legislation enacted by the
senate themselves that prevent any government worker from working
more than three days out of ten, or two days consecutively. Although
the authorities were stymied by such a law, especially when they
realised it meant Bob had already worked his allotted 25 days
for the year, a forgotten intern proposed how they might cope.
"We can merely backdate his work allotment, to a time before the
law came to pass, and then back pay him accordingly, and get him
into the office for the ten minutes it takes him to sign the paper."
was congratulated with a clap on the back and told that he would
be receiving notice of an impending coat rack in his office. Backdating
Bob's employment file by some thirty years before he was born,
and then paying him the four hundred thousand for other fees that
would have accrued if he had worked ten minutes some fifty years
earlier, the crowd of gruff Ottawa police, muscle-bound RCMP looking
for children to brutalize, and suit-clad CIA agents, pushed into
parliament where Bob's office was ransacked for the crucial piece
of paper that would bring Christmas back to America.
had outsourced their cleaning staff, like much of the country's
government offices, so Bob's office had long been cleaned up by
Viktoria Bendspeltive, whose English skills were poor although
she had been an athlete, Neuro-surgeon, and Judge in her home
country of Russia. Employing a thoroughness that has kept the
Russian Soyuz in the air long after the American shuttle was grounded,
Viktoria had cleaned up Bob's office and delivered such papers
as were in his outgoing mail to the appropriate cylindrical slots
of the mail offices.
Bob was realizing what had happened to his spotless office, in
the faraway desert of Oklahoma Christians were turning away from
their massive churches and embracing local Aboriginal beliefs.
The Vision Channel began a series on the Defection, as they called
it, and many Aboriginal leaders were shot, as well as a few Arabs
and Punjabis, mistakenly killed by avid Christians who were determined
to see the Christmas season come back to America.
North Carolina, a local radio station called upon a venerable
radio announcer to ask for peace, such were the riots at tissue
stores where green tissue paper could be bought to make a semblance
of a tree. Utica, New York, decided to cede from the union, and
began talks with Quebec, a province intrigued by the possibility
of some thousands of Americans forced to learn an autocratic French
under the truncheon of the language police. In Idaho, roadblocks
were set up to stop all traffic. Even while people marched in
the capital to protest Canada's entry in the UN--not realizing
that Canada had joined since its inception--Idaho racists made
their arguments about all transport being a conspiracy, although
the details of their claim were vague.
CNN and Fox
news began to carry tear-jerking stories of children without trees,
surrounded by heaping piles of presents with nowhere to put them,
and national public radio resuscitated old serials from a simpler
time of fireplaces and witch burnings. Witches, they reminded
everyone, had been burned primarily on fir and pine fires, a massacre
of the innocents that left present day children bereft of witches,
and more crucially trees.
published their Christmas issue with green paper and white print,
with clearly drawn lines on the paper for the making of trees.
Many small magazines ran contests on tree making, encouraging
those with the best trees that they might patent their design
and earn back the many millions that had mistakenly gone to Bill
By the time
Viktoria had been discovered, beaten and searched, and her children
had been thoroughly frightened, many states had declared martial
law. The madness was also seeping across the border. RCMP were
stopping drivers and confiscating tree-shaped air fresheners,
claiming that such representations were anti-American in such
a time of crisis. In British Columbia, the economic impact of
the loss of the tree market was beginning to tell on the lives
of ordinary Vancouverites, and hundreds had to cancel bicycle
maintenance classes and weekly colon cleanses. Placards were made
up and proudly displayed from the windows and backs of SUVs and
Hummers, asking vaguely for something to be done, and demanding
On the prairie,
the American crisis was followed with interest, if lack of understanding.
Treeless as they were, southern Saskatchewan and Manitoba knew
little of the American lack, and as they capered on the frozen
lakes and rivers, they began to sing songs in which the rhyme
was based on the names of trees. Saskatchewan, in a rare show
of solidarity, sent bundles of wheat to represent both camaraderie
and trees, but the shipments were turned back at the border. The
word camaraderie was found to be too close to comrade for the
anti-communist border guards' liking. In Winnipeg, Manitoba, a
massive sculpture of ice in the shape of a Christmas tree, with
a conspicuous lack of presents at its base, began to be chipped
out in front of the legislature. It was such an ambiguous image
that many found in it what they wished, and more than a few Winnipeggers
saw a statement on poverty, although the people from the wealthier
parts of the city sent their children in the night with army surplus
flame throwers. Alberta, remembering their immigrant history as
one-time American citizens, mourned the American loss, and said
they would also go without. Ignoring all legislation meant to
prevent such arbitrary decisions, they immediately began to harvest
the tall spruce and Douglas fir of their parks in order to assuage
their grief with capital.
delighted in what riches might befall them when the borders opened,
and the forests from Kenora to Sudbury and Cochrane were decimated
of their smaller trees to prepare for the financial banquet. Southern
Ontario, fed as they were by Toronto-only news, heard little of
the American plight, and carried on with their art gallery lunches
and their drinking in bars, treasuring the enlightened culture
they fancied was distinctive and profound.
were blighted by their own losses, the fisheries having faded
many years before, the timber gone, and mines closed. They looked
at the American crisis as a child in a candy store might glance
at the wares, knowing any feast to be had was not at their behest
or invite. Frantic attempts to plant mere rootlets, purchased
at great price from a government incentive project, were coddled
and dreamed over. Maybe this time the Maritimes would be in the
news, maybe this time they would get their big break, they said
to themselves, forgetting the heyday of massacre and cod.
When it turned
out that Viktoria had merely filed Bob's report after he'd left
in a rush and forgotten it, the precious paper, which represented
millions in the Canadian public coffers, was delivered to the
FBI. They used the paper to solidify their power over the RCMP
and members of every RCMP detachment were called upon to attend
mandatory training sessions in frisking and body cavity searches.
Standing stiff-legged at attention, the RCMP helped the FBI locate
Bob in the prison where he'd been packing a parachute for nearly
a week, and they forced him to sign the counter bill which released
the border from its Christmas-less horror.
United States broad rejoicing was heard. Twelve thousand cottage
industries were lost overnight as the many hundreds of American
entrepreneurs put a sign on the lawn and advertised a product
which could never hope to supply Christmas to the dreaming millions.
Instead, the American dollars flowed northward as the president
negotiated a trade agreement with Canada which meant the trees
sold for just under what it cost to grow them, cutting and shipping
presumed to be a free service supplied by the selling country.
With great flourish Canadian's trade minister stood with his prime
minister and signed away millions of dollars of Canadian hopes
with their golden pens, dooming millions to penury and flooding
the borders with trees.
mall security who worked at the borders, accustomed to harassing
as they were, looked on in blank horror as they were only allowed
to beat one trucker in twenty, and the trees were invulnerable
to fingering. In the many cities of America, as each homeowner
glanced through the security peephole in their door and joyfully
accepted the Canadian government-subsidized tree, they were so
full of excitement that they forgot to lock their doors against
their equally paranoid neighbours. Thus, for the first time since
the nation's founding, neighbours spent time with each other,
discovered the simple pleasure that can come from an in-house
target range and making crank phone calls.
Americans little realized that they'd crushed a million hopes
in their ignored neighbours to the north. The Maritimers, in their
eternal and well-grounded fatalism, saw that the Christmas tree
market had gone the way of all the other schemes, Hibernia, the
Bricklin, and toad sales. Lapsing back into their accustomed poverty,
many Maritimers blamed the church, and others faraway Ottawa.
In rural Quebec,
which had stood against the annexation of their country--as they
saw it--with America, the reopening of the border was celebrated
with recordings of hockey night in Canada and running the ice
on the St Lawrence river. The urban Quebecois, from the racist
reform party holdouts in west island Montreal to the autocratic
separatists in old Quebec and Rivičre-du-Loup, felt that an opportunity
had slipped away from them and they compensated by raising taxes
and taking away the baby bonus which encouraged white Quebecois
to have children.
Ontario, those who had proudly watched as their trees were shipped
away and their landscape denuded, financial ruin soon followed.
The disadvantageous bargain struck by Ottawa meant that what little
money that was to filter to the northern communities lodged in
Toronto, where high-priced Bay street lawyers ate it for luncheons
and drank it over four martini evenings.
On the prairie,
Manitoba and Saskatchewan had tried to hold themselves above the
petty frivolity that was American Christmas. Caught in the quagmire
of their many religions, celebrating nothing except the birthdays
of strange religious leaders, the people on the prairie watched
their tiny television sets as distant arguments over trees, which
many of them had only seen in pictures, took precedence over pork
belly futures and police brutality rates.
feeling more allied than ever with their American compatriots,
whole forests were cleared by a hidden oil agenda, although the
effort was ostensibly meant to send trees to the US. Processing
the trees into black liquor at secret border plants, Albertans
offered the trees as a burnable hydrocarbon. Before long the fallout
of their thoughtful gift was seen pouring through the skies and
choking the stratosphere with new pollutants. Everywhere the toxins
declared that Albertan generosity was appreciated by the greedy
American power plants.
was a divided land over the issue. In the remote backwoods, where
yahoos danced to the sour tune of whooping and potato cannons,
the opening of the border was celebrated and loads of marijuana
shaped like Christmas trees flowed across to Montana and Washington
state. In the cities, where a night of clubbing frequently required
several complete outfits and activists were so covered in piercings
that they were often melted alive for the scrap silver, the call
came to close the border. Standing alone against the rest of Canada,
urban British Columbia declared Canada to be the only nation that
could thwart the transnational evil of globalization. Drinking
Starbucks coffee as they declared themselves against the free
trade act, which had done so much to enrich American companies
at the cost of the Canadian standard of living, only urban British
Columbia stood against the reopened border.
from the rest of Canada was typical. Maritimers said they would
no longer go to British Columbia to seek work, a threat that many
knew to be empty, and Quebec longed for the simpler days of colonization.
Many took to the deep snows of the north seeking out a glorified
past and perishing of scurvy and rickets. The prairie people said
they'd stand with their western counterparts, except Alberta,
which promptly attacked Yoho national park, tearing down many
of their signs and leaving hundreds of skiers stranded and directionless.
British Columbia, however, the reaction was immediate and fierce.
The yahoos gassed up their giant big-wheeled trucks for the first
time in years and set out to attack Vancouver and, if they could
find the causeway to Vancouver Island, Victoria as well. Stocking
up on liquorice, swish, and wieners, they set out in a vast caravan
for the western cities. Unfortunately, the distance from the logging
roads and their beer supply told on their morale, and many turned
back before they crested the passes which separated them from
the prairie, their sense of direction allied with their timid
and tenuous reasoning ability.
Only the January
thaw, coming early and catching Boxing Day napping, ended the
crisis. All over Canada and the US, the Christmas trees which
had been so recently avidly desired were pitched over bridges
and into alleys. Some communities heaped them and made huge public
bonfires, using the opportunity to talk about Easter eggs and
rabbit meat. In the rising Red River, trees were sent back north
from Fargo and Grand Forks, tinsel weakly glistening from their
tops and bobbing in the current until they washed up on the shore
of the Winnipeg floodway. There prairie people poked at the mud
encrusted representations of Christmas in confusion, their knowledge
of their American neighbours still wanting.
the Jasper and Banff passes were closed, and since no one knew
of Peace River country and the Crowsnest, cross country traffic
was effectively closed. Only those intrepid souls who braved the
border trickled through, and most of them suffered trauma for
their temerity in trying the open border. Talks between Quebec
and Utica broke down and even cigarettes, the sole income of cross-border
reserves, slowed to a mere hundred packs a day. Many Montrealers,
addicted to cheap cigarette smoke in their grocery store aisles,
had to be hospitalized.
Edward Island, Anne's house was reassembled for the expected sudden
rush of tourism, and on the Rock, moose were driven away from
the streets of St John's with stones. Nova Scotia, secretly allying
itself with Maine, found its ferry transport impossible in the
north Atlantic storms, and their one-sided relationship broke
down until summer and the possibility of a weak Canadian dollar
repairing it. The residents of New Brunswick, the forgotten province,
surrounded by suddenly sprouting forest of tiny trees began to
dream of a return of the forestry industry, and even while Irving
was mowing trees, New Brunswickers whiled away the sudden warmth
by imagining that this latest windfall would be the big one.
a carbon tax that they could not afford to pay, Alberta dug up
Dinosaur Provincial Park, hoping for tar below the world heritage
site. In the greatly-criticized process, they inadvertently found
a species of dinosaur that had remained previously undiscovered,
and Alberta was once again on the map. Moving the disinterred
bones to a site closer to Calgary, where the tar sands attempts
didn't hide the fossil's natural beauty, Alberta touted this most
recent addition to their tourism industry and contribution to
science, even while the South Saskatchewan River ran arsenic from
the mines over the southern grain fields of their neighbours.
settled back into an uneasy truce between the backwoods, right-wing,
fanatically religious, truck-driving yahoos and the overdressed,
tofu-eating, cyclists of the cities. Drawing up a series of confusing
signs which obscured where the cities actually were, the urban
yuppies paraded their superiority even while their police watched
the Coquihalla for the next migrant wave of tobacco chewing hicks
whose huge trucks would drive right over the smart cars and rickshaws
In the far
north, on the edge of the known world, a handful of Dené and Inuit
watched on their televisions as the drama unfolded and then packed
itself away in the remote southern corridors of power and abuse.
Shaking their heads over the travails of the sun-eaters, they
listened to the howling wind that rose when the televisions were
shut off. Santa Claus was buried to his neck in snow, the reindeers
had been eaten when the government food allowance was cut, and
the elves, dressed only in green tights, had run away onto the
ice, their frigid bodies splayed in horrible postures of despair.
Christmas was as far away as summer, and gifts an ignorant joke.