“So, Tom,” they wonder. “Does your wife hike?”

I patiently explain Melissa has a bum knee on one side and an iffy foot on the other, so while we can barely bear to be apart for the few hours it takes to walk through the woods, hiking multiple miles on rough terrain isn’t an option for her.

We now have an even more persuasive explanation the next time this comes up, but first we need a little back story on a seemingly unrelated topic: Christmas trees. We stopped buying natural ones about 13 years ago after I cut one down at a tree farm one December back in Illinois and from that point on I couldn’t stand the idea of killing a perfectly good tree to decorate my home for the holidays. Since then we’ve always had synthetic ones (which, I concede, are probably far more problematic, environmentwise, because of the manufacturing, than cutting a tree grown to be harvested).

A few years later we moved to the Bay Area, which for all its greatness in all things does have one side effect: it drives people’s allergies crazy. I don’t have many, but Melissa has lots, some of which manifest themselves not in sniffles or sneezes but in lung-swelling nightmares that compare unfavorably to a bull elk sitting on one’s chest.

Since I’ve been hiking, Melissa’s been building up strength to walk greater distances, so I figured what the heck, let’s check out the wonderful Redwood Trail at Big Basin Redwoods State Park. It’s six-tenths of a mile, completely flat, full of the most amazing trees on this planet of ours. About 100 yards in, I hear the first cough. By the time we’re done Melissa can barely walk upright and breathe at the same time.

“I never imagined there’d be pollen up here,” I say. This is when Melissa recalls:

“I’ve always been allergic to Christmas trees.”

So, Melissa has some kind of pine allergy and I’ve just dragged her through a grove of pine behemoths that are among the largest of their kind in our solar system. Not exactly a medal performance in the Husband Olympics, if you get my drift.

But at least I’ll always have a good story to tell the folks who wonder why my wife doesn’t hike.