Everybody Has a Story: Tree almost dragged duo over the edge

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The first time I visited Vancouver to meet my fiancé's mother, Sharon, it didn't go well. Mark and I accidentally stood her up for dinner, and she yelled at us. But that's another story.

When we came back a few months later at Christmas, I really wanted the time to end differently. Plus, we were excited to leave the smoggy, warm weather of Southern California and enjoy the holidays Northwest-style. Our agenda included an excursion to a Christmas tree farm on the edge of the city. No shopping in an impersonal, dirty strip mall parking lot for us this year! We would glean a fresh tree from the source.

On a Sunday, Mark, Sharon and I buckled into our rental and enjoyed a leisurely drive to the country under a cloudless, happy sky. At the farm, our boots scuffed across the fields while the tender winter sun warmed our backs. It was rare weather for December.

Once we picked the perfect noble fir tree -- with ideal symmetrical spacing between the branches and plush needles -- Mark stuffed it into the trunk and secured it loosely with rope.

Our mission had been accomplished quickly, and we realized we had daylight hours left to burn.

"It's such a beautiful day," Sharon said, "we should take Holly to the Vista House at Crown Point," on the Oregon side of the Columbia River Gorge.

Mark agreed. "It should be a great view for miles," he added.

We piled back in the car and continued east. As we climbed the hills, Mark had to keep a firm grip on the wheel. The wind had begun to gust sharply. We might have reconsidered our plans, but we felt safe in the sturdy Volvo sedan.

At the summit, we were the only visitors. Mark was able to park parallel to the overlook so we could stay safely in the car. Miles of majestic evergreen hills were framed between the blue sky and the glassy Columbia.

Our admiration and awe were interrupted when the wind picked up another few notches and the car swayed roughly. The trunk hinges gave an anguished groan as they were forced completely open with a cruel blast of wind.

I turned around to look out the rear window and saw our Christmas tree float from the car and hover over the rock wall next to the cliff.

Without thinking, I jumped out. The wind's piercing fury stung me to my bones. But I didn't have time to care because the tree was close to disappearing into the wide mouth of the Columbia River Gorge.

I leaned over the wall and confronted the vertigo-inducing drop while grabbing the top half of the tree's trunk. All 6 feet of its branches were sodden with the weight of the wind. It felt like the drag of jumping into a pool with your clothes on.

Sharon appeared by my side and grabbed the bottom of its trunk. The wind made a deep, ferocious pull. Sharon screamed as we braced our feet on the rock wall and barely held on. I envisioned us being sucked over the precipice. I weighed only 120 pounds, and Sharon is all of 4 foot 11. When I tried to yell that we should let go, the wind silenced me by slapping my hair into my eyes and mouth. The bullying force should have made me panic, but it just made me determined to hang on.

After a few seconds, the wind relented, and we shakily hoisted the noble over the wall. Mark ran out and helped us carry it back to the car. As he secured the trunk, Sharon and I gratefully slid into the welcoming leather interior with toasty seat warmers.

I learned later that wind gusts reached 90 mph that day. It was crazy to have done what I did.

Why did I do it? Did my guilt about getting off on the wrong foot with Sharon cause me to act rashly? Maybe. Sometimes the desire to belong makes one do foolish things. Who knows?

I do know it created a bonding experience. As we drove home, we nervously laughed about our adventure, but sat mostly in silence while we reflected on our shared experience.

Back at Sharon's home, we lovingly placed our rescue in its stand in the front room. We sat down and admired its unadorned, fragrant beauty while we were rewarded by the kiss of hot cocoa with marshmallows.

Everybody Has a Story welcomes nonfiction contributions, 1,000 words maximum, and relevant photographs. Email is the best way to send materials so we don't have to retype your words or borrow original photos. Send to: neighbors@columbian.com or P.O. Box 180, Vancouver WA 98666. Call Scott Hewitt, 360-735-4525, with questions.