“We got up too late. We’re not going to have enough time.” This wasn’t going to be as easy as we thought.
“It will be ok. We only need one tree.”
I stewed as we continue to drive up the windy, dirt road. At 3 o’clock, we only had around two hours until the sun set.
“When I went to get my own tree in Oregon, it took me over three hours” I chimed in.
“Look, the forest is getting thicker now. Let’s just drive up the road a little more and then we can look around.”
Two pick-up truck passed us. I doubted they were looking for Christmas trees, since they were dressed in camouflage.
“Look, there’s one down there. Let me take a look.”
For some reason, I’d worn jeans with my boots. As I stepped through the two feet of snow, I began to regret that decision.
“I should have brought trekking poles. It’s kind of steep here.” I said.
Finally, I made it to the fir tree. It looked short, but with plenty of limbs. I circled around the lower part.
“It’s kind of flat on this side, and it’s a little short. Maybe we should keep looking.”
“Let’s split up, I’ll look up above the road and you can look down there.” Bryon said.
Lots of pine trees — Lodgepole pines. They are beautiful trees, but I was a purist. I wanted a fir tree or at least something like that — a Douglas-fir would be perfect.
I spied another one, taller than the first one. It wasn’t enormously busy, but looked pretty even.
“Bryon? Come look at this one.”
“It looks pretty even in terms of branches, it’s taller, but not too busy. That could work.”
But like a woman looking for wedding dresses, I wasn’t ready to say it was “the one.”
“I’m just going to look over here a little bit, just to see if there is anything else.”
The sun was sinking on the horizon as time the day marched on towards darkness. The clock was ticking.
Try as I might, I couldn’t find anything else that seemed like it was even a contender.
“I’m not having any luck up here. What do you think?”
I knew if it was up to Bryon, he would have just taken the one tree and been done with it. But me, I needed to “shop” around.
But I knew we were running out of sunlight, and I really didn’t want to do this another day. The drive was more than an hour, and we only had so many days off together.
The notion of cutting your own Christmas tree seems so romantic. What could be better than tromping around in the snow, and then find that perfect tree?
The reality is a bit different. Trees in the national forest aren’t grown for perfect symmetry. The terrain in the Rocky Mountains is also steep and the snow is deep. You don’t know where the logs and rocks are. At one point, I got my boot lodged between a log and a rock. Even after you cut the tree, you’ve got to drag it through the snow up the steep hill, which is more tiring than you can believe.
“Hold on, I’ve got to change arms. My feet keep slipping in the snow. I’m going to have to kick step my way up.”
Then came tying it to the tree. We’d specifically brought Bryon’s car because it had a roof rack. It took 20 minutes to tether the tree to the top of the car, before we were finally heading home.
Once we got the tree up, the smell overtook me. The smell of the fresh-cut tree, the smell of Christmas.
If you want to try your hand, the are several national forest areas that offer permits. The nearest to the Front Range is the Sulphur Ranger District on the Arapaho National Forest. You can buy the $20 permit at several places in the Winter Park/Fraser area.
I can’t guarantee you’ll find the perfect tree, but I do promise the experience will be memorable.