All about Christmas Tree Hunting

The Old Man, my father, loved our “tree hunt.” He explained to his three sons that we hunted deer so that we could sustain our physical selves through winter, but our Christmas tree hunt was to sustain our spirits through whatever lean times might come. He had precious little education, and he was a wise man; with his construction work, and the tough 1950s, lean times were almost guaranteed by every Christmas.

At some point in December, we=d head up to Uncle Ed and Aunt Evy=s place on the Little Chumstick, out of Leavenworth. Somewhere on those hillsides, we knew, was the year=s tree. It was as close as The Old Man ever got to democracy; we all had a vote, and only a unanimous vote would get a tree cut. We would stand before tree after tree, and split each ballot. Over a few hours, of course, the split on the ballots would grow narrower, as my younger siblings grew weary of democracy. Finally, some ideal young Douglas fir (in his opinion, the only genuine and true Christmas tree) would receive a unanimous, if teeth-chattering, “aye!” After a short ceremony, in which he would thank God for our family and outing and the tree for its gift of holiday cheer, my father would cut the tree.

Back at the Little Chumstick house, cousins and parents would gather at the wood stove. Hands were wrapped around huge mugs of hot chocolate with marshmallows. Plates held warm chocolate-chip cookies. Once we had filled our bellies with sweet holiday memories, and grownups had had enough kid noise, we boys dozed our way back to East Wenatchee, warm and full of the promise of Christmas.

No matter how few presents or how little money, there was always our hand-harvested tree. It was our hearth. It was around the tree that we heard the biblical stories of Christmas. There, we learned of family Christmas traditions. There, we learned how our parents had lived as youngsters, and how some small gift (often seeming almost insignificant to us) had held joy for our parents through years and years. Our tree was a special place.

Christmas never truly ended until the tree came down. There were years it lasted well into January – years when we needed a constant reminder of the spirit of the season.

Years later, from Denver, I would take my Hucklings and their mom on a too-long drive into the Pike National Forest foothills southwest of the metro area. In a congo line of hundreds of other chained-up vehicles, we would snake our way along the designated one-way trail to some draw or hillside which we knew held the perfect tree. Somewhere around two hours out of our driveway, we=d pull off the trail and pile into the snow. With excited yells of “Up there, dad!” or “I think I see a good one down there, mom!” we would inaugurate the Christmas season.

In that Colorado forest, our trees were also Doug firs – always with a flat side, sparse limbs, or some other flaw which made them perfect. The balloting still took as long and the younger kids always gave in first. The unanimous tree was always cut after a ceremony, and the Hucklings worked together to get it back to our rig. The hot chocolate was as perfectly rich and creamy as in my youth, the cookies were always perfect, and the kids always conked out as soon as I fired up the rig. One year, the kids asked to keep the tree up until it was a decorated skeleton. (This was so that “we would be able to find all the ornaments,” as I recall.) At some point, I insisted that we hire a fire marshal or get it out of the house.

When I returned to Washington (and Paradise) in 1993, I returned also to my annual Christmas tree hunt. Our Wenatchee National Forest is loaded with perfect young Douglas firs (and others, if you prefer). Permits are still, interestingly, just five bucks per tree, and your family may have two. Pick them up, along with maps and instructions, at our Kittitas County Chamber of Commerce office, Cle Elum Ranger Station (509-852-1100, ext. 1), Intermountain Radio Shack, Pioneer Coffee and Mac A Bees. Sportland Shell Mini Mart south of Roslyn, and The Teanaway Outpost on Teanaway Road, also.

Over the last couple decades, even with the Hucklings grown and away, we have managed several tree hunts. On our last Christmas tree hunt in the Upper County, we found two perfect trees five minutes from the Jeep, side by side. In what was likely record time, the vote was unanimous.

This year, a Seattle-area friend got me thinking about kids and Christmas trees and cold and snow and hot chocolate and traditions. It is timeless and important. The tree spans the whole of Christmas. It is decorated with the trappings of faith and family ways. It is surrounded and filled with gifts. It is the focal point of our celebrations.

May your tree be a center of the season=s joy. May its look and scent carry you to the woods – even if it is man-made. Whether you find it in a lot, in the woods, or in a storage box, may it be a source of family pleasure and togetherness.

Happy holidays.

Written by Jim Huckabay. Posted in Uncategorized

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