It’s true…before you head to the nearest supermarket tree lot to drop $30-$70 (or more) here you go, free trees. With a little time before work or after skiing, a free on-line permit, a good eye, and an axe, you are on your way to starting this Christmas season with a smile and a few more $’s in your ski pants (I love how even boarders call them that, ya skiing!).
Not that there’s anything wrong with the other trees…the ones in tree farms and grocery store lots tied with twine, supporting the Boy Scouts or some other cause…unless of course they were farmed, pruned to the right shape (sort of), cut down too soon, wrapped, frozen, unwrapped, thawed, painted (yes that green stuff on the dead needles is paint and your tree will shortly become the nations greatest fire hazard), not to mention hauled on some 18 wheel, diesel belching flat-bed from anywhere North, East or worst of all South (aka. south of the border). OK, who am I kidding? Of course there is something wrong with that. When did we start letting the, “holiday”, signs in the mall and the Boy Scouts decide when or if it’s OK or how to celebrate Christmas? This is your chance to take it back or better yet, bring it home.
This year, before you plug-in, “A Charlie Brown Christmas”, and make the best of your store-bought tree, make him proud. Click on the net (for BC residents see below – for others, contact your local forest service or hydro provider) and start the holiday season with a tree you can really love and an adventure you can share (men read; ‘brag about’)until next year when you do it all again like I am about to now (in case you didn’t know that was coming).
We packed the kids into their snow suits and piled into the Chevy yesterday with a permit and an ax and went on our first family Christmas tree hunt. I knew better,I can say that now, and against my better judgement we headed straight for the obvious – the easiest access hydro line off Whistler’s west side road – and drove in up the gravel past the cars neatly parked on the asphalt shoulder with what looked like a perfectly good excuse to me to lock in my 4×4 for less than 100 yards…because I can (if you live in Whistler, even if you have never cut your own tree, you know the place). We braved the snowpack, windchill and freezing temperatures, lured by the warmth of the afternoon sun, and shook and prodded pines of all sorts searching for the soon to be newest member of the family. We inspected Juniper, Fir, a few shaggy Spruce here and there (that’s about the limit of my pine knowledge) and I scrambled with my five-year old son over frozen snow and up and down scree slopes looking for ‘the one’ while Mama took the baby back to the truck for warm ups.
Christmas tree hunting lesson number one learned; in Whistler, and likely in your town, if there is an access road the remaining (key word) trees will either have 3 trunks grown together (funny how that happens under the power lines) or be blessed with a thick beautiful row of branches…on one side…their only sure method of adaptation to avoid being chopped by the years of perennial Christmas tree hunters that flock to the most obvious local. Survival of the undesired…interesting concept. Did I say lesson learned? Almost.
We piled back in the truck, rosy cheeks glowing, still determined to find ‘the one’. Next stop, access road not far North closed for winter. We pulled up on the shoulder and with a quick look at the frozen faces after stop number one I decided to have a go myself. I scrambled over the ditch, climbed (literally) a couple short rocky pitches (note to self – you bought these slippery snow boots in 1991 dummy), found a half-frozen pond, thought to myself, “that’s why no-one comes up here”, hopped a little stream and bushwacked the Alders in a circle back to the truck empty handed…we move on.
Closer to home, where the hydro lines cross the road and the shoulder is actually wide enough to park, the Northwest wind was calling me up another bank. This time the approach was snow-covered with no sign of wind scoured rocks, surrounded by thick, green stands of pine. The scene was like a tree farm for Christmas tree hunters…only firmly planted on a 40-50 degree slope more suited to skiing than tree hunting. Steep was an understatement and the discussion about who wanted to come (“no”) was short. My wife and the rosy cheeked kids settled in and I was off again. There was a clearing (sort of) to the North I scrambled up, found a couple huge pine cones which I left as trail markers, zig zagged, traversed, saw signs of a trail, and reached a plateau high above the road with a magnificent view of the lake and Blackcomb Mountain…wow! I made a quick survey West then on the circle back spotted a thick stand of Spruce directly under one of the towers…damn, 3 trunks…and then, just a few steps further down the bank, just out of view from the flat, I saw her, the one.
Meanwhile…I was oblivious to time, at least that is what I gathered from the sound of the horn that was echoing up the bank. I had no idea how long I had been out and I prayed it was not a sign that my son had to go (you know…number two) because I was not coming down without this tree.
I lifted the bottom branches and in a handful of swings (and another flurry of honking from below) I was through. Some say a saw is easier, gives you a straighter cut, blah, blah, blah…you know you want to use the axe. It’s an unspoken right of manhood, swinging an axe – like George Washington taking down that apple tree in his yard back east or the challenge of Rapa Nui on Easter Island (not that girls, er, women can’t swing an ax…more power…and sorry about the not so subtle shot at the ancient forestry practices of the native South Pacific Island tribes – imagine the guy who cut down the last tree on the island…DUDE!).
She, our Christmas tree, was coming home. Over my shoulder, back up across the flat, down the path, one pine cone missing? pocket the other, and bounding down the snowy bank I went like the proud father I am bringing home my baby girl. A quick speed check after a short slide reminded me how steep the drop to the road was and as I jumped down the last ridge and crossed the ditch I saw my wife’s smiling face in the open window of the truck camera in hand…and for you men out there, what could make you a better husband and/or dad than that? Eight feet of Fir, all green (naturally), lots of branches, the scent of pine, leather work gloves, ax in hand…you get the picture.
In Whistler, BC, go to… http://www.for.gov.bc.ca/dsq/ …and let your Christmas adventure begin.