“It’s a perfect day for tree searching, Pino,” I said as I grabbed his halter.
“Yes, I agree,” his donkey ears said. Even though I don’t rank days by perfection, they are all worthy of something, Pino thought to himself.
We set off into The Wood. December had been warm, but crisp, leaving the ground perfect for walking without slipping.
I saw a perfect tree — tall, full at the base, and formed well, with no real gaping holes at its side.
“It’s too tall,” Mr. Dunn said from behind us, holding his saw.
It was the first time I had rigged up a makeshift hay twine harness on Pino, nothing fancy, so I didn’t want to go very far this first time out.
Suddenly, Pino stopped. When Pino stops it can be for many reasons, but I could tell by his ears pricking forward, his stopping had meaning to our mission.
“Do you see one?” I asked him. His ears pricked backward to me, then forward again as he stared at a tree.
I walked to a little misshapen, crooked tree, one that would never be in a Christmas pageant.
“It’s the right height,” Mr. Dunn said. “But it’s not very full. Should we look a bit longer?”
We started walking again, but Pino didn’t budge. I turned again to look at the little tree, and with a fresh perspective could see the charm of her crooked, sparse branches.
Pino was quiet, and we both stood looking at the little tree.
“We want this one,” I told Mr. Dunn, and we tied the tree to Pino’s harness.
Donkey-hauling Christmas trees is not something one does in a rush. And when we finally made it to the house, I leaned the tree up against the porch, leaving Pino there too while I ran inside to get something. I returned to find Pino staring into the little misfit tree, his ears pricked toward it. He was clearly deep in conversation with her.
“You are a beautiful little tree,” Pino said.
“I’m surprised you picked me. I’m crooked and ill kept,” the tree said.
“You are as perfect as an old redwood,” Pino said. “You had a purpose to hold the birds, and now you will hold the Christmas lights. We will see them from the barn on clear nights. Thank you.”
I led Pino back to his mates. When I returned, Mr. Dunn had the tree up and was hanging the lights. I placed white doves at her top and hung glistening fruit on her branches. The little tree spoke clearly to me as I finished: “Thank you for noticing me.”
Most of us are like this little tree, not necessarily the tallest or the prettiest, or the most perfect. We little trees are outshone at any dance, or feel invisible as we just try to do our best, even if we are surrounded by taller and louder trees.
We turned on the tree lights and they sparkled inside, and outside to the barn.
And I heard the donkeys bray.
(Katherine Dunn, of Apifera Farm in Bremen, is an artist and writer. Apifera, a nonprofit, takes in elderly and special-needs animals and shares them with elder people. Learn more at katherinedunn.us.)