A few years back we finally followed through with my wish to go off into the woods to cut down our own Christmas tree.
“It’ll be fun!” I said smiling.
“Think of it as an adventure,” I cajoled.
“We’ll save money,” I smiled, as I played my winning ace.So off I went to the store to buy a twenty-dollar tree cutting permit. What a deal! Twenty bucks for the freshest tree we could get. I could hardly wait. I planned to bring snacks and hot chocolate and to dress extra, extra warm.
Did I mention that it takes two hours to drive to the forest where these trees live? Small detail.
We’d make a day trip out of it. I’d pack a lunch for us, too.
MSH prepared more than I did. He got the chainsaw ready, which I thought was excessive. I figured a small hand saw would serve us well. And he tossed our tent, two sleeping bags and a couple of big backpacks with camping gear into the back seat of our trusty truck. “Just in case,” he said. I scoffed.
Sure there might have been a storm aiming our direction. That’s why we planned on leaving extra early so we’d get back long before the storm made its way over the Sierra’s and across the desert to our neck of the woods. But, MSH loves to “be prepared.” I think he might have been an Eagle Scout in a previous life.
As we neared our forest service approved tree cutting area we saw lots of big trucks with fluffy verdant green trees, branches thick and full and just waiting for hundreds of twinkle lights and candy canes and such. I felt giddy with anticipation. We turned down a few roads and began scouting for that perfect tree. After a half hour or so we wondered if those trucks we saw had cut down every decent Christmas tree left. All we saw were scrawny things, twisted and bare branched.
We figured we needed to get out of the truck and hike around a bit. So we pulled off the main road, turned down a side dirt road and parked. As we got out of the truck the first tentative snowflakes began to fall. “Ambience!” I said.
We saw what looked like a good tree in the distance only to find on getting closer that it was two trees snuggled in close to each other. That happened time and again. After an hour of hiking around we finally shook our heads and picked the least scrawny of the scrawny trees that surrounded us. The chain saw came in handy.
Turns out we’d hiked further from the truck that we thought we had. The hike felt even longer since we dragged a heavy, very fresh tree along the forest floor.
Of course, turning back on the main forest road we, once again, saw trucks loaded with bushy pines and knew we’d taken a wrong turn and should have kept driving another half mile to the next turn-off where everyone else seemed to know they’d find perfect trees. Too late, though. We’d cut and tagged our Charlie Brown tree.For fun we opted to take the scenic route. By scenic, I mean a dirt and gravel road that mostly followed the edge of the Mogollon Rim. Five miles in and far too committed to turn back, the storm kicked in a bit stronger. Winds from the south blew the snow horizontally. The huge Ponderosa pines around us seemed to brace themselves against the force. The further along we got on the Rim Road, the more the snow increased and the wind picked up. Luckily the snow wasn’t sticking to the dirt road.
When we took a little side road for a brief pit stop the truck wouldn’t start up again. Not even a click from the key turning. I pictured us huddled in our little tent for days, hoping someone noticed we weren’t around and would be found before we froze to death. But before I could imagine a great rescue scene or compile a farewell letter to my children MSH figured out a cable had shaken loose on the battery and had tightened it up. The truck started right away. Phew.
Not five minutes after that we had to stop the truck again. This time we stopped to stare in amazement and absolute awe at something we’d never seen.A hawk hovered ten feet away from the edge of the cliff. And by hovered I mean just hung in mid-air, in place, not moving forward or backward, up or down. The wings tipped a bit to compensate now and then, but for the most part the hawk simply hung there as if suspended midair. The updraft on the cliff from the incoming storm provided perfect conditions for this beautiful creature to practice wing control and aerodynamics. Five minutes. Ten minutes. We watched, mesmerized at the skill and wonder of this bird.
Finally the bird either tired out or the wind changed. A small tip of the wings and the hawk floated up and away, slowly disappearing from view.
The storm let up long enough for us to get down off the Rim and into the nearest town just before sundown. We stopped for a warm dinner, took a reading on the storm and safety dictated the rest of the drive should wait until morning. So we checked in to a motel for the night. We enjoyed a late breakfast the next morning as the storm blew through and the sun came out.
Total cost of that scrawny twenty-dollar tree? After gas, dinner, battery cable part, motel and breakfast: One-hundred-ninety-five dollars.
Trekking through the snowy woods, seeing a hawk do a stationery hover on the wind, and quality time with MSH? Priceless.
That’s only the first half of the story. I remember the tree itself being pretty memorable once we got it put up in the house… and how the tree was home to many, uh, creatures?