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Once the children in the family are grown and gone, one White River valley tradition seems to go by the wayside. The hunt for the perfect tree led everyone out to the Piceance Basin or up the White River to find the perfect Christmas tree. It also was a great way to keep the kids busy on a weekend before the holiday.
Although most memories are painted with alpenglow of a chilly high country outing, some of the more memorable trips were more like the fiascos pictured in those stock Christmas holiday comedies. Digging out the truck, chopping down the tree (with an implement resembling a bread knife rather than an ax), hiking an extra few miles away from the car in waist-deep snow to find the “perfect tree.” These are all familiar to keepers of the old tradition.
After three decades performing this annual rite, the rotating, silver-spangled trees with the recorded Christmas music are gaining some appeal. Some of the last family excursions with adults bickering over the necessary specifications tarnished the tradition somewhat. I must admit I longed for the days that perfection was measured by how few bald spots were created by incorrect branch placement or if the tree was tall enough to barely graze the ceiling and short enough to put the requisite star or angel on the top. Of course, this meant that the old time-honored solution had to be employed — whack off the top six inches.
I grew up in a family whose hunt for the perfect tree led to a quick holiday outing a few days before Christmas. This meant hopping in the car, driving five minutes away to the local nursery lot, and pointing out possible selections to the Santa’s helper. This was usually the nurseryman who had donned an elf’s hat or Santa’s hat for the occasion. Sometimes the fights between my siblings and I resulted in the tree of my mother’s dreams, as she resorted to selecting her first choice simply to end the arguments. She claimed the 15-foot ceilings of our house required the tallest, fullest tree on the lot. The $35 she forked out for the sensible 14-foot specimen one year cut back on her gift-giving.
Walking past this year’s community Christmas tree lot on Sulphur Creek, I discovered the tree of everyone’s dreams. It was not only well-proportioned, there were no empty spaces between the branches. There was only one problem. Upon closer inspection, it revealed itself to be less that the ideal tree reminiscent of Christmases past. Although it was perfect, the tree’s diminutive stature lent itself for display in a dollhouse. Christmas trees, it seems, continue to come in all sizes and the hunt for the perfect tree will remain a yearly family tradition.