Sadly but not shockingly, the year is rounding out with a Christmas tree shortage. Really 2020?!
Fortunately, we harvest our tree from the Chugach National Forest each year, which has 5.5 million acres of spruce to share. Access roads and pullouts weren’t plowed like usual, but eventually we found a spot to safely stash the truck while we wandered into the woods.
It was an uncharacteristically warm winter day, so the roads were mostly dry and it was a balmy 40o when we parked. Good news, right?
The warm temps softened the top layer of snow, so we had to post-hole our way through, one arduous step at a time. We sunk to our thighs with nearly every step. My mind kept drifting to the dusty snowshoes hanging in our crawlspace back home, which would have come in quite handy. Sigh.
The kids are agile and nimble, so they didn’t sink nearly as often. Or nearly as deep. We tried to keep up, but they are active teens and we are… not.
After copious amounts of huffing, puffing, and cursing, Clark exclaimed, “THIS MAY BE HOW I DIE!!!”
We. Were. Done.
We yelled ahead to the kids, encouraging them to continue on their own and pick out whatever tree they wanted. “GO SAVE CHRISTMAS!!!” we screamed. They yelled something back, but we really couldn’t hear because they were downwind. That, and the whole middle-aged hearing thing.
So there we stood: both together and alone, knee deep in snow, halfway between the truck and our future Christmas tree. I would periodically scream, “ARE YOU GUYS OKAY?” or “DID YOU FIND A TREE YET?” but never once did I understood their garbled responses. At one point we thought we heard Sam yell, “I FOUND ONE!” so Clark cupped his hands around his mouth and used his loudest, boomiest voice and emphatically screamed, “CUT! IT! DOWN!”
The dogs kept running back and forth between us, chasing snowshoe hares and vacuuming up pellets of poop along the way. Gross. If I had paper and a pen I would have tied a message to one of their collars asking what the heck was going on in the woods up ahead.
We remained planted in our little snow holes for nearly an hour, wondering how the kids were doing. Had they actually found a tree? Would they remember to double check that it wasn’t actually two trees, growing side-by-side? Did they hear our blessing to cut it down? Were they taking turns with the saw?
I was worried, but Clark was confident. “We’ve trained them for this,” he reassured me.
I trusted him for at least five whole minutes before bellowing, “EVERYTHING OKAY?!?” once again.
Imagine my shock when I actually heard Maggie’s response: “YEP! WE’RE COMIN’ OUT!”
I would have fainted with relief had I not been so securely stabilized by the deep snow.
Minutes later the kids emerged, lugging the most enormous tree our family has ever harvested. They found a different path out that was partially compacted by snowmachines, which made for slightly easier walking.
See them in the this photo?
On the drive home they relayed every detail. Apparently Sam took first shift with the saw, which became pinched halfway through the trunk. Maggie was comfortably lying in the snow nearby, but got up to release the tension. Her “little” push caused the spruce to topple straight to the ground. In the end, it took just over two minutes to fell the tree. Record time. At least they kept with tradition and yelled “TIMBER!!!” (not that we could hear them, of course).
As Clark (Griswold) would say, the tree was a bit “full.” Fortunately, with some trimming it turned into one of our best trees ever:
Not surprisingly, the kids are especially proud of and attached to this year’s tree.
“It’s a really good tree, isn’t it?”
“Doesn’t the tree look nice in the window when we drive up the road?”
“Mom, why aren’t you working in the living room so you can enjoy the tree?”
I had an epiphany (or should I say treepiphany?) after this year’s Christmas tree excursion. I hated not being there to help select, cut down, and haul out our tree, but I guess it’s the natural progression of things. When we started this tradition, the kids were so little we had to carry them half the time, in addition to the tree. Soon they grew strong enough to slowly trek alongside us, and before long their little gloved hands took turns with the saw. Hauling the tree out is always a heavy, prickly job, but they’ve been taking shifts with that duty for years now. As parents, we’ve slowly transitioned from doers and teachers to supervisors and observers.
This year we weren’t even there. We stood on the periphery, holding our breath, hoping they remembered everything we taught them. We couldn’t, and shouldn’t, rescue them.
I suppose this is the next phase of parenting?
They aren’t ready to launch quite yet, and I’m not ready either. Thankfully, letting go doesn’t happen all at once, but rather throughout an entire childhood, one gloved finger at a time as tiny footsteps grow in the snow.
I miss those tiny footprints.
But how wonderful it was to watch them emerge from the woods together, with their heads held high.
Merry Christmas 2020.