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Years ago, after moving to this part of the west, we began the old White River tradition of cutting down our own Christmas tree. Upriver friends introduced us to their family’s version — hopping on their snow machines and heading into the forest near their house. It was a great day. The little kids played in the snow, the adults had great fun selecting one that fit their perfect tree specifications. Hot chocolate topped the whole thing off.
Throughout the years, we replayed a version of that first Christmas in the valley, and rather than get a permit to cut a tree down upriver, we usually got one from the Forest Service for the Piceance Basin. The scene was different, as the surrounding forest land didn’t so much look like anything with which we were familiar. We took the pickup, but didn’t need four wheel drive, and we were dressed for fall, rather than winter. It was 40 degrees one year. We wore sweatshirts, no hats and gloves, and the kids ran around in the beds of dry needles. The thermos of hot chocolate remained unopened the entire trip. Scrubby, sparse, vegetation dotted the high country, and the Pinons seemed to stand alone rather than in a thick forest. Our perfect tree looked less than that, with wide spaces between the branches, and a definite tilt to the left.
Unfortunately, that was the same trip we watched helplessly as the family dog headed off into the wild blue yonder chasing a snowshoe hare. The kids and I were sure she was gone for good, as we felt as if we had searched and called her name for hours (it was 30 minutes at most). She turned up a while later with little awareness of how she almost ruined Christmas as we were slowly driving down the dirt road,.
Once we cut it down, hauled it home, and stood it up to fill our small living room, the tree had transformed into the “best Christmas tree ever,” and we vowed to uphold the yearly tradition. We did a fair job of that, as our eldest wrote in a college composition class freshman year that one of her strongest memories of growing up in our little town was the annual tree-cutting expedition.
Unfortunately, after the children grew up, we seemed to forgo this ritual, grabbing one from the local Scouting program’s tree lot. The most memorable non-tree cutting year occurred when the kids came home to find a “used” tree. Forgetting to get the Forest Service Permit, we headed up the river anyway, to see if we could find one that sprouted close to the road. No such luck. A good friend, the kindergarten teacher at the time, offered the use of the fully decorated tree from her room, so the family grudgingly crossed the street, and hauled it home to put up in time for Christmas eve. O, Christmas Tree, o Christmas Tree (even a borrowed one), how lovely were your branches!