Christmas trees are a must for celebrating the holidays! Real trees are the best choice if you want a traditional holiday feel. Pines, spruces, and firs look amazing, but also smell wonderful. What would Christmas be without a real tree?
Cutting your own tree is a fun, family activity that provides lots of holiday memories. On the surface, this sounds fun and easy, but…. to cut a tree, you need to go to a place where trees live. If it is on a tree farm, you are golden. These commercial farms are usually somewhat level and most of the trees are winners at first sight. Once the tree is cut, a tractor guy rolls by, takes your newly cut tree, and off to “Santa’s workshop” you go. There you pay for the tree, and enjoy cookies and hot chocolate while listening to Christmas music.
REAL “MOUNTAIN MAN” TREE CUTTING is a different sport altogether. This season’s tree cutting day was scheduled on the same weekend as the local gun show. Montana Grant, and an all-Mountain- Girl crew, one of which is 2 months pregnant, completed the mission this year.
Trekking to the tree harvest areas also means a 4-wheel drive rig. Once you have your $5.00 national forest permit, the adventure can begin. What a deal, right?
So, off to the mountains we go. Of course, the dogs, dressed in their warm coats, come too. A sidearm, just in case the Big Bad Wolf, grizzly bears, or mountain lions get too curious, or see the dogs as dinner. The truck is full of heavily dressed tree cutters, dogs, and gear. The higher we go into the mountains, the deeper the snow. The narrow, slick roads are getting worse. This means that you’ve gone high enough. Time to park and go tree hunting.
The “tree hunt” requires a mountain trek, most likely in snow. You will need a small, safe, sharp saw. The folding hunting saws work great. Winter boots with decent socks that keep your feet dry are a must. Gloves are important to keep your hands warm and to protect your hands from sap and stickers. Walking sticks help you to fall more gently when snagging your feet onto hidden logs and branches.
When the tree trek begins, the perfect tree is elusive. “Too wide, too fat, the side is scrawny, too tall, too short…” After a few hundred yards, the trees start looking better. Suddenly that tall, fat, scrawny tree next to the truck, is looking better and better.
Going downhill is a bad idea when beginning your search for a tree. Downhill means uphill drags! Start searching uphill so gravity can be your friend. Our crew, of course, liked the downhill trees better. After finding several likely candidates, the cutting begins. Pulling the tree away from the cut is a good idea. This prevents the saw from pinching and getting stuck. There is no easy way to cut a tree. You need to get down into the snow, under the tree, and begin. Don’t mind the flushing grouse and dogs that want to supervise your cutting.
TIMBER!!! Now the tree is down, and all are happy. A few more trees fill out our tags. Now is the time when the tree trekkers understand the uphill search, downhill drag theory. Dragging a tree or two uphill in the snow, in heavy boots, with cold feet, calling for the dogs…get the picture?
“Buck, Bella, LaLa, Stay close!” Only Angus, the wiener dog, is listening. He is right in our tracks. I am not sure if this is because he is a good listener or because his legs are 5 inches long and we are in 8 inches deep in snow. His “junk” must be freezing! Montana Lin gets tired of holding poor Angus, takes off her scarf and makes a small nest in one of the trees we are dragging. Angus is placed into the nest and the tree is now 15 lbs. heavier. Montana Amanda and Montana Jessie are dragging the tree, with their tired passenger onboard, slowly uphill. Angus is loving life as he rides in his tree sled. What looked like a small tree in the forest, now appears to be a candidate for the White House lawn. The rest of the dogs are now covering the countryside.
Parkas, shirts, scarfs, and gloves begin to unbutton and are gradually removed. Sweat and stink begins to overpower the wonderful pine scented trees. Toes and feet are wet and cold. “How far is the truck?”, “Buying a tree is easier”, “Where are the dogs?” … 50 yards, 50 yards, 50 more, onward! “What was that noise?” “I think I heard a truck! That is where we parked.” Only 50 yards to go!
VICTORY!!!! Now we need to turn the truck around and load up. The only problem is that the narrow and slick roads make it tough to turn around. So up the mountain I go, looking for a place to turn around. Every pull-off is stacked with snowmobilers, 4-wheeler rigs, and trailers. As the snow deepens, traction is getting worse. Finally, a successful 20-point turn is made, and I maneuver down the hill slipping and sliding, luckily avoiding the ditches and banks.
FINALLY!!! The trees, dogs, and gear are loaded. “Where’s Angus?”, He is still asleep in the tree nest. Hot chocolate is poured and down the mountain we go. The truck smells of a wonderful aromatic blend of wet dogs, sweaty tree trekkers, pine, cocoa, and oh, someone was drinking a beer.
So, now the trees are home, and all is well. WRONG!!! Now comes the time to place the 12-foot tree into the 8-foot room. A stand is made, lights need to be hung and, hold on… “The lights are not in the right place, they need to be hung again”, “The tree needs to go over here.”, “Why won’t these lights turn on?”
Every Montana Mountain Man who has cut their own Christmas tree, knows this story well. Those $50 trees in the mall parking lot are sounding a little better each season!
Merry Christmas, and pass me another beer!
For more Montana Grant, visit his blog at www.montanagrantfishing.com.