SUV hauling fresh-cut Christmas tree

Snaking up the switchbacks in front of me, each car seemed to have a singular but unifying purpose.  One that was quickly identifiable by the contents strapped to its roof rack.  The pines and first that adorned the tops of SUVs, pick up trucks, and yes, even an occasional sedan belied the time of year.  For these folks, the day after Thanksgiving didn’t signify Black Friday, but Green Friday – the day to “shop” the forest in Grand County to find the one, perfect Christmas Tree courtesy of the U.S. Forest Service. I spy a Texas license plate on an SUV carting a beautiful Douglas-fir — are they really going to haul that tree back to Texas?

On certain public forest land throughout Colorado, for a small fee of $10 or so, you can traipse the woods and cut your own tree down.  For city dwellers, that can spend upwards of $100 for a Christmas tree off a lot, that probably seems like quite the bargain. But the work involved in finding, cutting and hauling your own tree is more than meets the eye as we found out our first Christmas in Colorado.

Living near Grand Junction, we found out about the Christmas tree permit program through the Forest Service for the Grand Mesa.  While friends and other relatives opt for the artificial Christmas tree, I’ve always been something of a purist – preferring the sight and more importantly, the smell of a “real” Christmas tree.  So the thought of hiking in the woods and cutting our own tree not only seemed alluring, but downright romantic.

Emboldened with saws and gloves, we made our way up to the 11,000-foot Grand Mesa.  It seemed the quintessential vision of Christmas, straight out of the tv commercials, trees capped in snow from a recent snowstorm and blue skies above.  We parked the car and started towards a clump of trees that looked promising.  And we encountered our first problem..

That recent snow had left two feet of fresh in the forest – deep snow that we had not anticipated as we left our very dry and snowless house 6000 feet below.  We had no snowshoes, and didn’t even have on proper snow boots.  I was literally wading through snow up past my knees, panting from the exertion at this altitude, sweat dripping off my brow.

With all the snow on the trees, it’s difficult to discern their shape or even how tall they are given the amount of snow on the ground.  We spy a tree that looks appropriately full on all sides, and decide to go for it.  Trying to get in through its branches and work the saw through its trunk is no easy endeavor either.  The teeth keep catching and the branches keep poking me.  Sap is sticking to my gloves as I try to hold the tree, while Bryon saws.  Mercifully the tree finally falls with snow crusted to its branches, and we drag it back to the car, with the weight of it taxing my shoulders with each and every step.

As we load it onto the top of the car, we suddenly realize something as the snow sheds off its branches.  We have seemingly found the only double-trunked Christmas tree in the forest.  It literally forks into two twin towers from the base up.  Too tired to abandon it and go find another, we take it home.

Setting up our own version of a “Charlie Brown” Christmas tree, we stick it in the stand, and realize it is much too tall for our 10-foot ceilings.  We lop another two feet off the top, and stick it in the stand, tethering the dual trunks together with twin every couple of feet on the tree.  The whole things seems rather hilarious at this point — such a simple idea of cutting our own tree in the forest, and we can’t even get that right…  We manage to “camouflage” its defects with lots of tinsel garland, lights and ornaments, somehow salvaging this rather odd symbol of our first Colorado Christmas.

These days, the task is easier.  With two acres of property surrounding our house, we have an ample supply to choose from and we’ve managed to actually choose trees with a single trunk.  But that smell of a fresh-cut tree still gets me every time….