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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Mistletoe Memories

Air Date: Week of

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Commentator Lee Ann Woods remembers the days when she would go out–with her father and a shotgun–to the southern mountains to hunt down misletoe.


CURWOOD: Every year about this time, some folks head to the woods to harvest mistletoe from the treetops to decorate their homes for the holidays. But this year, commentator Lee Ann Woods is settling for an artificial version.

WOODS: I am about to hang some sad looking mistletoe in my house. It came in a cellophane package from a super store, and looks to have been dipped in bright green wax. And as if that wasn't enough, somebody or some factory had attached white plastic berries to it.

You're probably wondering why, if it looks so sad, I bought it in the first place. Truth is, I am desperate. Not desperate for a kiss, mind you. I need mistletoe because of the warm memories I have of hiking through the crisp December woods of the southern mountains to harvest it during the holiday season.

Mistletoe is a parasite that grows in the highest treetops. When my siblings and I were old enough, Papa taught us how to shoot his shotgun and a couple of weeks before Christmas, he'd take us mistletoe hunting. For mistletoe, I gladly toted a gun into the woods and sustained shoulder bruises from the kickback.

This year, Lee Ann Woods bought her misletoe from a store
rather than shooting it down from the treetops.

When harvesting mistletoe, the object is to aim so that you shoot a main stem, then you get a nice big bunch of the stuff. Papa could do this. Not me. Though I target practiced in the yard, about the best I ever did with mistletoe was to shoot bunches smack in the middle and watch tiny individual leaves float to the forest floor.

Even so, I proudly gathered the fallen mistletoe leaves into baggies, tied on red ribbons, and hung the little sacks throughout the house. It is to my mom's credit that she allowed me to do this because she was fastidious about her Christmas decorations, and I am sure that baggies of blasted green bits didn't exactly add elegance to the decor, or encourage lovers to linger.

I do not have bits of mistletoe that I shot out of a tree hanging in my house this year. But I can still spot mistletoe, whether on a backcountry road or driving down the interstate. And those round green bunches high in the trees call me back to a time when I could trot into the woods and gather a symbol of the holidays.

In trying to be true to a fond memory, but lacking the devices to get the real thing, I settled for a store bought version. This year's mistletoe may be waxy and plasticy, and a fake color of green, but it will help me recall those days in the December woods with my sisters and brother and Papa. It was not so much our bounty as it was our time spent together in the woods that brought much of the spirit of the season into our home.

[MUSIC: Kelly Joe Phelps, “Someone to Save Me” LEAD ME ON (Burnside, 1994)]

CURWOOD: Lee Ann Woods is author of “Up This Hill and Down: Thoughts on Life from the Southern Appalachians.” She lives in Asheville, North Carolina.



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