Christmas Tree Lights

The Tree By the Road

            I stand at the end of the driveway and peer towards the northwest down the gravel road that wanders through our property. Dusk is encroaching. Tiny little colored lights twinkle from the evergreen tree that grows proudly amongst others that border the road. Placing Christmas lights on this tree has become a tradition for my husband and me. It doesn’t hurt that we have a bucket truck for electrical work that makes this task possible. The decorated tree provides a cheerful sight on a country road while our neighbors travel through the brown winter landscape.

            Each year for the past twenty years, I have unrolled 350’ of electrical wire each fall. I begin at the outlet by the outside motion detector light, trek across the short distance of yard to the woods, and then trip and stumble 100 feet through the underbrush to the hiking path. Every step I take seems to result in more and more little brown weed seed pods plastered on my clothing. Not only are they annoying in the clothing, but I am also spreading them all over the landscape. A sharp right on the trail leads me another 100 feet before diving again into the tangled underbrush, all the while unrolling that big heavy roll of wire that I lug with me. After numerous other vines conspire to trip me, I arrive at the designated tree breathless and exhausted.

Each year, Gordon and I talk about running permanent conduit to our special tree because each winter, little critters nibble at the insulation on the wire. It must be really tasty. These defects are repaired with black electrician’s tape wrapped around the bare spots. I have tried stringing as much of the wire as possible high up through the tops of bushes, so it is not laying on the ground. That has decreased the number of nude spots but has not eliminated them.

This year, we lit our tree a couple of weeks before Thanksgiving. Our personal policy has been not to light the tree until after Thanksgiving, but this year has been so dismal with the global pandemic restrictions that we needed some early Christmas cheer. About a week after our first lighting, the day began with snow and later turned into a cold drenching rain. The Ground Fault Interrupter (GFI) on the pole dutifully popped and the lights went dark. At first, we thought, it is just shorted out from the water. Give it a few days to dry out. On the first sunny day, the GFI is reset. Within ten minutes, it trips again. Oh no!! I push away the niggling little worry in the back of my head. Last January, the lights had stopped working and I thought I had fixed the problem while taking the wire down in the spring. Did I wrap some bare wires together? I find it strange that it worked for a week but now refuses to stay operational. Numerous attempts to reset the GFI result in the same ping within a few minutes.

  On a subsequent sunny afternoon, I set out to do some sleuthing. I first remove the timer from the circuit. Then I unhook one string of Christmas lights. Then I unhook the other. Finally, I unhook both strings of lights. I plug the cord in after each trial attempting to determine wherein lie the problem. The same tripping of the GFI is the result no matter what I do. The only conclusion possible is that the wire itself is shorting out somewhere. I sigh. Time to start over. I do not look forward to re-rolling the heavy wire so soon after unrolling it but there is nothing else to do. Together, we decide it is time to get serious about a change.

The next Saturday, Gordon comes home with 350 feet of 1/2 inch PVC pipe in ten-foot sections. It is a magnificent day for our project. The sun shines brightly, the wind is calm, and the temperature hovers around 40 degrees. Spread out on the lawn, we glue together ten 10-foot sections of PVC into three 100-foot ones. Now we are ready to begin. The first section is laid from the outlet around the edge of the wood. I stumble and trip through the thick underbrush guiding the end of the pipe over down tree limbs and around bushes as my hubby pushes from the other end. The next section is pushed over the forest floor around additional obstacles to the trail. Our last section transverses the segment from the trail to the designated tree. A few 10 foot sections are added where necessary and we are ready for the wire pulling part of the process.

I am glad I am married to an electrician who has all the tools and knowledge of such things. He runs his wire guiding snake up the first section of pipe and secures it to wire with good old-fashioned electrician’s tape. As he pulls from the other end, my job is simply to guide the three strands of wire into the pipe, so it doesn’t get hung up. Because the snake is only a little over 100 feet long, we repeat this process three times. In just a little over two hours, we have seamlessly installed a professional wiring job right through the middle of the woods. All that is left to do is finish the wiring on both ends and dig a small trench for the pipe under the yard area and across the trail in the woods. The ground is damp and cold but requires little effort to stomp a shovel into it. I dig the trench while Hubby puts a professional touch with a bonafide weatherproof outlet on one end and a plug on the other.

Then, it is time for the acid test. Gordon plugs in the timer and connects the circuit. Through the trees, we see a gloriously lit Christmas tree. Merry Christmas everyone.

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