The Great Treasure Hunt!

Sunday, the 3rd, was one of the most wonderful days of my life! The weekend following Thanksgiving is always long anticipated in our family. It is the day we go and get our Christmas tree. It is a day of togetherness and bonding that we experience no other time of year. Our tree is a symbol of life and freedom through Christ and the celebration of this whole season of His birth. It is more significant than ever as we go to the mountains we love and cut our own tree out of the National Forest. It is just a grand adventure! A Treasure Hunt of sorts.

This Sunday dawned sunny, crisp and beautiful. The snow still clinging to the pine boughs from the previous days’ snowfall. After church, we gathered around a warm and filling brunch discussing the day’s events. This family loves gathering for breakfast any time of day! The anticipation was high enough that our mountain loving dog, Abby, got excited as well without being told what was happening. She just knew an adventure was brewing and she would be a part. No one goes to the mountains without Abby and somehow she knows when we are going hiking. I am still not convinced that she doesn’t actually understand human conversation!

Christmas Tree.jpgArmed with our saw, warm gear, cord to secure our ‘prize’, we headed off to Woodland Park and the Pikes Peak Ranger Mobile Office to buy our permit. As we wind our way through the Ute Valley Pass, we are met with tree-trimmed vehicle after vehicle coming down the Pass. Ah, no wonder attendance was so low in church today; everyone was up on the mountain! This constant, and I do mean constant, flow of trees down the mountain, builds the excitement and gives a passing thought, will our perfect tree still be there or is it already on the way down the mountain to some else’s home… Silly, Girl! I chide myself. There are so many trees in the forest there has to be a beauty still on the mountain for us! This is not like going to the corner Boy Scout tree lot.

Smokey_Bear.jpgSmokey the Bear, Kristina and I pose for a photo as Matt buys our $10 permit. The Forest Service allows the cutting of smaller trees with a permit in several forests across the state. This decreases the danger of forest fires spreading rapidly on the forest floor. The tree-cutting program is a Forest Service management project, as well as, a blessing to families in search of the perfect tree and a special memory. Groups come up together and make a day of it. Lawn chairs, sleds, coolers – a Christmas tailgate party! Truly, it has a party atmosphere!

Permit and picture in hand, we are off into the snowy forest! Rampart Range Road travels through this part of Pikes Peak National Forest leading through the heart of the marked cutting area. It is a winding, snowy road packed down by all the merry makers. The traffic today is not heavy going in, just coming out. The variation of tree varieties and size is amazing! We travel for several miles into the cutting area and find a spot to park. While we are bundling up in warm gear, a man greets us coming out one of the trails and quips, ‘they’re all gone’. We laugh at his silliness as we head off on our hunt. This year we have chosen an area to search that has quite a few gulches. With the snow 4-6 inches deep in the level places, hiking is a bit more challenging in the gulches. I wish I had brought my snowshoes! The cooler weather has brought icy snow and sliding down the gulches becomes the easiest way to ‘hike’.

The Colorado sun is warm and invigorating as we work our way through several gulches. The trees are all huge, too small, misshapen, or sparse. An hour into this adventure, we are wondering if the gentleman we met on the trail was serious. Then we, again, remind ourselves that we are not on a tree lot in the city and move to another part of the forest. This area has a wide variety of trees. It is not just finding the perfect shaped tree but the right variety. Last year, we got a gorgeous Engelmann Spruce not knowing that they don’t hold their needles well. We can attest to that as it started dropping them the day after we put it up and it became a needle-dropping machine that was nearly naked by Christmas Day. Picture that one! Charlie Brown’s tree, 7 feet tall – presents under it and the needles all piled on the ground and the presents! We were not going to be caught like that again this year. We were looking for a heartier tree.

Down another ridge and across a creek, we find the perfect tree. It is tall but we can take the bottom off. Matt and Kristina work together to fell the tree and off we go to the Jeep. Kristina and I are hauling the tree down the gully and realize that we have hiked a long way from the Jeep. An alternate, much closer route is chosen and we head across a ridge to the Forest Road. Kristina, Abby and I wait while Matt hikes the mile or so back to get the Jeep, returning to get us amid all the other families loading their trees. There is a gaiety in the air as the kids and dogs bound about in the snow while their family Christmas tree is secured on their vehicle for the trip home. Matt is grateful that he has studied ‘the knot book’ recently!

Our trip is not complete; a warm cup of refreshment at Starbucks in Woodland Park is in order as we make our way down through Ute Pass to our home. Today, they are out of white mocha, and several other things we tried to order but we don’t mind, it is a perfect day and we are not going to let anything change that. We drive reflecting on the day, its beauty, the warmth of fellowship, and other Christmas tree adventures from the past. Laughter warms us as we tell those remembered stories of Christmases past.

tall_tree.jpgUpon arriving home and unloading, we realize that the tree that looked a bit tall in the forest is a giant next to our garage and front door! Amid laughter Matt and Kristina decide the tree should be shortened from THE TOP!! I try to explain that the extra ALWAYS comes off the bottom. The tree would look sparse if cut off the bottom they tell me and so I leave them to cut while I make room for the tree in the dining room.

Our treasured tree comes in the front door in all its full beauty. Matt and Kristina decided to make a fresh cut for the tree to drink and cut the rest off the TOP inside the house. I laugh but realize it is possibly the best choice and Kristina assures me we can find a pretty bauble to adorn the top. Snip, snip, a 4 foot section is cut off the top! The tree stands up straight in her stand -regal and beautiful even without her top! (we did find a bauble!)

As we are decorating the tree, we realize that ‘the top’ is a perfect ‘tree’ for Kristina’s first apartment. She doesn’t have room for a big tree but this is perfect at almost 4 feet. We grab a pot out of the backyard, buy a strand of lights, take the ornaments Kristina has collected over the years and head to her house to decorate her tree. It is a great time and another great memory. Merry Christmas to all! Josh we missed you! The day wasn’t complete without you.