Dec
11

About Christmas Tree Hunting

If you’ve been tagging along for many of the almost 17 years of Fridays we’ve been meeting here, you know how I enjoy wandering the woods for most years’ perfect Christmas tree. This year, we’ve added a twist; in the next day or two, eleven-month-old Grand-Huckling Jonas Laylan Kielhorn will be voting on a tree for the first time.

As you no doubt recall, The Old Man loved our “tree hunt.” He explained to his three sons that we harvested fruit and vegetables and deer and pheasants and ducks so that we could sustain our physical selves through winter. Hunting for, and bringing home, a Christmas tree, he said, was to sustain our spirits through whatever lean times might come. With his construction work, and the tough 1950s, lean times were almost guaranteed by Christmas time. He had precious little education, but he was a wise man.

At some point in December, we would all pile into that old Chevy and head up to the ranch my Uncle Ed and Aunt Evy owned along Little Chumstick Creek, out of Leavenworth. Somewhere on those hillsides, we knew, was our perfect tree. It was as close as The Old Man ever got to true democracy: we each 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 true Christmas tree) would receive a unanimous, if teeth-chattering, “aye!” After a short ceremony, my father would cut the tree.

At the house, cousins and parents would gather at the wood stove, hands wrapped around huge mugs of hot chocolate with marshmallows. Plates held warm chocolate-chip cookies. We 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 the tree. It was our hearth. Around the tree, we heard the biblical stories of Christmas. There, we learned of family Christmas traditions.

Christmas lasted until the tree came down. There were years that was well into January – times when we needed a constant reminder of the spirit of the season.

Years later, in Colorado, I would take my Hucklings and their mom on a too-long drive into the foothills of the Pike National Forest southwest of Denver. In a sinuous line with a hundred other chained-up vehicles, we would snake our way along the designated one-way forest road to a 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 yells of “Up there, dad!” or “I think I see a good one down there, mom!” we would inaugurate the Christmas season.

There, too, our trees were 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 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 vehicle.

One year, the kids asked to keep the tree up until it was a decorated skeleton, and we could easily find all the ornaments. Sometime in March, I insisted that we hire a fire marshal or get it out of the house.

When I returned to Washington, 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 five bucks each, and your family may have two. Pick them up at the Cle Elum Ranger Station, Intermountain Radio Shack, Pioneer Coffee, Mac A Bees or the Sportland Shell Mini Mart. Our Ellensburg Kittitas County Chamber of Commerce has them, too. Most of the past couple decades, even with the Hucklings scattered around America, we have managed a tree hunt.

In the next day or two, Jonas, mom Arcelia, dad Dallas, and Diane and I will each have a vote on our hunting trip to the head of Lake Cle Elum. Given that Jonas votes for most everything by putting it in his mouth, I’m guessing he will vote for taste. Should be an interesting hunt – and we will find a perfect tree.

It always seems right. The tree spans all of the Christmas holiday. It is decorated with the trappings of faith and family ways. It is surrounded and filled with gifts and love. It is the focal point of our celebration.

May your tree be a center of the season’s joy. May its scent carry you to the woods. Whether you find it in a lot, in the woods, or in a box at a local store, may it be a source of family pleasure and togetherness.

Happy holidays.

Written by Jim Huckabay. Posted in Uncategorized

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