Every year, on the day after Thanksgiving, my family engages in the same great American holiday ritual. We get up early, brew up a pot of coffee, and get geared up for the rough and tumble adventure before us. This year, we knew that we needed more room than in years past, so we added Ryan’s folks’ pickup truck to my family’s Jeep Grand Wagoneer. And then, with everyone psyched up and ready to do battle in search of that perfect find, we hopped onto ID-21 and headed up into the mountains to bag our trees.
Hunting the free-range Christmas tree has been a Hoffman (and now Baker) family tradition for pretty much my entire life, although there were years in there when I was a wee thing when I think my family went the simpler, safer route towards piney bliss. (“Piney bliss” is probably one of those phrases that the chapter could turn into a feminine hygeine reference.) I don’t remember much about tree hunting until I was in the first/second grade range. At the time, we lived in Colorado Springs, and I had a baby sister. When you live in Colo Sprgs, tree hunting can be pretty extreme. We used to go up near Rampart Reservoir and tromp through drifts up snow up to our waists (well, mine, anyway), never flinching when that perfect Christmas tree was at the bottom of a steep incline – or at least holding off on the flinching until time to carry it back up said incline.
For the past eleven years, we’ve been in Boise. Idaho is both more wild and less wild than Colorado, in terms of mountains and tree hunting. Idaho’s mountains are (forgive me) puny little buggers, and you can’t get a good lungful of ice-thin oxygen in this state to save your life. (For the first several years I lived here, I felt like I couldn’t breathe because the air was so thick.) Idaho, like much of the world, has experience climate changes in the past decade, and consequently we get less snow. On the other hand, Idaho is less touched by human hands, less developed. It is entirely possible to go up into the Idaho mountains and find yourself on a bit of terrain that no one has seen for generations, if ever.
We’re low-tech tree hunters. Some hunters use snowmobiles, ATVs, GPS, and any number of other outdoorsmenly acronyms. We’ve been known to use a plastic sled with particularly heavy trees. We use manual saws, not chain saws, and despite thinking every year that we ought to change our idle ways, we don’t use radios or walkie talkies. The most high-tech tools we bring are cameras.
This year we ended up off the main highway just above Idaho City and somewhat west of Atlanta (the Idaho version, not the Georgia version, although we were rather west of it as well). The city truck didn’t hold up as well on the packed snow-covered roads as we might have liked, but we made it to a likely looking spot in one piece and pulled over. The snow was crispy, perhaps six inches deep, and it was just cold enough for ski clothes but not cold enough to be unpleasant.
Paisley, along for her first tree-hunting expedition, was decked out in a hand-me-down striped sweater and was anxious for her first encounter with snow.
We found our first tree relatively quickly – a nice development, given that many years we’ve searched for hours before sighting our prey. We’d basically just picked the right place; we were practically surrounded by a herd of young fir trees of approximately appropriate height and body. Instead of trying to relocate, we headed up into the hills to see if that perfect tree might be hanging around just barely out of sight.
Up into the hills… and up… and up… and up…
I don’t know exactly where everyone else ended up, but Meredith and I found ourselves halfway up the mountain where the herd had thinned out a bit. She had trekked up there solo, and I’d zeroed in on her from a different slope. At one point she called out to me, but I didn’t hear her, leading her to wonder if the rustling in the bushes was coming from a sister or a bear. Once we paired up, we began checking out a number of potential tannenbaums. Somewhere – the base of the mountain, or another slope – Ryan was calling out to us, wondering if we’d found anything. Sound carries like nothing else on those snowy, isolated mountainsides… of course, with all the cliffs and rocks and trees, you never know exactly where that sound is coming from.
Dad made his way up to where Mer and I were, and shortly thereafter we found the other tree. It’s a real beaut, too. (I think that picture is actually the first tree, but shhhh.)
Now, it’s part of the family tradition that we get our picture next to the tree before bagging it, which meant that Ryan had to climb the mountain to where we were. He zipped Paisley into his coat (she’s such a quiet dog that she’ll totally put up with that) and made his way uphill. Meredith and I had managed to get ourselves into a pretty difficult spot, and it took Ryan a while to navigate the ice, buried bushes, and pockets of deep snow. Finally, he made it to the top and collapsed (really, you can’t blame him. Tree hunting is some serious cardio.)
We cut down the tree and then began figuring out how to get back down the mountain with it. I’m a regular old mountain goat and am pretty darn good at getting around treacherous mountain terrain – even with my poor vision – so we zipped Paisley into my coat because I didn’t need my hands as much.
Consequently, there are no pictures on my camera of the trip down the hill. Needless to say, it was an adventure from start to finish – people sliding, dropping the tree, falling on their rumps, falling on their not-rumps, slipping, and in general trying, despite all appearances to the contrary, not to break their legs. I quickly discovered that the best way for me to get down the hill was to scoot most the way on my seat (macho, I know
Meredith, Aaron, Dad, and Ryan had reached a flat spot, and I was close behind.
And that was when I plummeted thirty feet, straight down, to my inevitable DOOM (doom, doom, doom).
Okay, so maybe it wasn’t thirty feet. And maybe there wasn’t doom at the bottom. (Ryan suggested jagged rocks, pirates, and piranhas. In reality, it was a snarl of branches and fallen saplings.) It was terrifying, though. My rump hit a slick spot and off I went, screaming holy terror all the way. Keep in mind, I don’t really even sled since a scary tubing accident in middle school. As I shot down the hill, I somehow had time to think two things:
- If you hit those branches feet-first, you’re either going to break an ankle or flip onto the road, breaking more than ankles – including your dog.
- If you dig in your heels to stop, you’re going to end up somersaulting down the hill instead of just sliding.
I don’t actually remember turning, but when I hit the bottom I had managed to turn around enough to hit the branches with the side of my arm and shoulder. My immediate, and perfectly logical, reaction was to start laughing hysterically – a condition which did not stop for the next ten minutes.
Picture would seem to indicate that I hit neck-first, which is not the case. It would also seem to indicate that the branches weren’t quite as deadly as I earlier described, which is perhaps the case. But from the top of the hill at a zillion miles per hour, they looked pretty ominous. Paisley was shaking and didn’t stop for a long time – I think my screaming scared her. It definitely scared my mom, until she heard me start laughing!
It’s considered good luck to have a nest (but not an empty nest) in your Christmas tree. Many years ago, my parents actually cut down a Christmas tree only to discvoer that it had a nest in it – obviously extremely good luck. Ryan found a nest yesterday – not in our tree, but in one close by – and so now we can have a little bit of good luck ourselves.
We tied the trees to our vehicles, enjoyed a lunch of Thanksgiving leftovers…
Took a few more pictures of our puppy’s first Christmas tree hunting adventure…
Got badly stuck in our city truck, towed up the hill by the Jeep, and headed back down the mountain just in time to start the holiday season off right.