By David O. Williams
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November 28, 2007 — Any good hunter will tell you they’re in it for the thrill of the chase, and so it is with my family’s annual pursuit of the perfect Christmas tree.
We eschew faultless lot trees grown on farms in the Pacific Northwest the way a hunter disdains steroid-infused beef. Only wild trees will do, and only wild tales of search and survival will suffice.
So every year in early December we set out in our four-wheel-drive, the kids impossibly bundled in snowsuits, boots and hats and our SUV loaded with saws, ropes, snowshoes and our $10 tag from the Forest Service. The hunt is on.
We drive needlessly far away – because, again, the quest is what it’s all about – and we find some marginally plowed Forest Service access road that winds scenically into the woods but also carries the threat of becoming hopelessly mired in snow up to our axels.
• Bring plenty of snacks. Make it an outdoor outing, complete with a picnic. A thermos of hot chocolate is a must.
• Bring snowshoes for running around and saucers for sliding down nearby hills while you do the hard work of finding the perfect tree.
• Involve the kids in the hunt and the harvest. Teach them about forest health and selecting a tree from an overgrown area where it won’t thrive anyway.
• Let the older kids help with the sawing (no chainsaws and no trees larger than six inches in diameter), or at least have them shovel snow away from the base.
• Don’t get your vehicle stuck. It’ll be the most expensive tree you’ve ever had.
• Don’t expect perfection from a wild tree.
Above all have fun, and always get a $10 Forest Service cutting permit. Call the Minturn Ranger District of the U.S. Forest Service at (970) 827-5715 for more information.
We usually park somewhere just prior to that happening and then all pile out of the truck in an avalanche of gear and half-eaten graham crackers. Thus begins the “bonding with nature” portion of the great tree hunt.
Once we’ve all strapped on showshoes, cross-country skis, baby backpacks and whatever other method of conveyance seemed logical in the warmth of the living room, we head off up the road at least a half mile or so.
Because why would you take a perfectly good tree a mere 100 feet from the truck when you can traipse through thigh-deep snow for hours on end? And besides, where’s the thrill in a quick and easy kill so close to your vehicle?
Which leads us to the great unstated rule of the annual Christmas tree hunt: there is always a better tree just around the next bend in the road or in the next clearing over. Never settle.
This can lead to hours of wandering with frozen children whining about the thermos of hot chocolate you left in the truck, but they must learn the importance of the hunt.
Having finally found “the perfect tree” – you’ll know because somewhere a chorus will sing and shafts of sunlight will illuminate your chosen conifer – approach with the right degree of reverence, then drop your prey with the hacksaw you’ve been lugging for the last mile and a half.
It will all be worth it once you’ve dragged your trophy out of the woods, lashed it to the roof of your vehicle and plunked it in a stand in a prominent position in your living room.
After loving decoration, you and your family will easily be able to overlook your tree’s many flaws (Charlie Brown would have rejected some of ours over the years) and warmly reminisce about the thrill of the chase.
Either that or your spouse will send you to the tree lot to plunk down at least a hundred bucks on a more perfect tree.
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