Sunday, November 29, 2015

Christmas Tree Hunt

Mark starts into the forest to find our Christmas tree.
November 29, 2015

This morning Sarah, Chris, Mark, Chris's mom Brenda, and I made the 45-minute drive in Brenda's truck into the area of Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest where we would track and hunt down our wily prey: the elusive Christmas tree in its natural habitat!

Beautiful scenery all around us.

The snow wasn't as deep as we'd been warned it might be. It was only about 3-4 inches near the road, deeper as you hiked into the trees where it was probably closer to a foot deep, but not too bad. I've waded through hip-deep snow, which leaves you feeling like you've run a marathon (not that I'd know anything about that...), so this was doable.

The further we hiked in, the deeper the snow became.

Even the temperature was bearable, as long as you were bundled up in a heavy jacket with gloves. It was 33 degrees and sunny when we started into the woods at 10:00, but there was also a biting wind. All around me the trees were groaning and creaking as they rocked in the wind. I tried to capture the sound in the video below, but not as clearly as I'd hoped.

Wind in the Woods

I spy my tree in the distance, just right of the group of aspens.

The others went to the right, parallel to the road, but I headed straight in. I told Mark you have to go in deep to find the best trees, where fewer people have ventured, but I guess he didn't believe me. If it weren't for my bad knee, I'd have hiked in a mile or more, but each step was painful and so I didn't dare go as far as I'd have liked. Footing in deep snow is treacherous, because you don't really know what's underneath. I would put my foot down, thinking I was stable, and then it would crunch downward six or eight inches, twisting my knee just enough to hurt. It was slow going.

Mark cuts down my chosen tree.

Eventually, everyone started wondering where I was and Mark started worrying that I got stuck alone somewhere with a wrenched knee, so he started back to where he'd last seen me. I heard him yell something from way off, so I yelled back, "Hey!" Then he found my tracks and followed them right to me.

Mark and our tree. I hope I picked a good one.

And so we "bagged' our Christmas tree for this year. Chris and Sarah had found their tree, and Brenda did, as well, so we hauled our three trees back to the road. Mark and I ended up with a different type of pine than the others. I like theirs better, actually, with fuller needles and stronger branches, although they had to settle for trees with bigger bare spots than ours. Ours will need some work, but I guess we'll see how it looks after we get it trimmed and decorated. Maybe we'll be pleasantly surprised...

Looking back from the road after we hiked out.

In the end, we spent about one and a half hours in the forest, searching and cutting and hauling. It's a lot of work, but it's also a lot of fun, especially with family and friends. It's cheaper, too. For a $15 permit and some gas, we got a tree that would have cost nearly $50 at Walmart.

The tree hunters with their prey! Chris, Sarah, Mark, and Mary.

On our way back to the road, I told Sarah this will probably be my last Christmas Tree Hunt. Even if the doctors finally diagnose and fix my knee, there will always be something else at my age to slow me down. I'll be 62 next Christmas, and it just gets a little bit harder every year.

Chris, Sarah, and Brenda with their trees.

By next Christmas my baby will have graduated high school and moved on. Maybe then, with an empty nest, it will be time to buy myself a fake, pre-lighted tree, just tall enough to sit on a table and just strong enough to hold a few favorite ornaments.

Loading three trees into the back of Brenda's pickup.

I will miss the fun of stalking my own Christmas tree, but I have plenty of memories over the years to cherish. As it's been said, everything in its season. And I'm so grateful for the many beautiful Christmas seasons I've shared these traditions with the people I love.

Sunrise Ski Resort, owned and operated by White Mountain Apache Tribe,
is located on the other side of the highway from where we found our trees.

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