Here in the Evergreen state, cutting your own Christmas tree is something I believe everyone ought to do at least once. It’s much like how everyone in California should try surfing at least once and those in Tennessee should catch a country concert. For my family and I Christmas tree hunting is an annual tradition.
Yesterday my family and I met for our annual tradition and came home with four trees that cost less than one would at the lot and a few stories worth so much more! After twenty some years of hunting, I have harvested many “wild” Christmas trees and have learned a few tips and tricks I think are worth sharing.
1) Plan early and buy a permit: Yup, you gotta buy a permit to cut a tree in the forest. Sure, there are people out there who disobey the rules and cut down trees all willy nilly, but for those who choose to obey rules, get a permit. I buy ours at the Enumclaw Forest Service Office. You can also go to the REI in Seattle or Alderwood if you prefer. The permit are $10 each (which when compared to a $60 tree from a lot is a great bargain)! For more information on permits and rules and regulations check out the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest Christmas Tree Cutting Guide.
2) Gather Your Supplies: At the very least you will need a saw (a sharp one is always better) and something to secure your tree to your vehicle. Additionally, you might consider bringing a thermos full of your favorite hot beverage (try this ymmy caramel apple cider recipe) to keep you warm and treats to keep you happy! Treats also come in handy when bringing kids (Belinda and I were always easily bribed to keep trudging through the snow with the promise of a few Oreos). Yesterday I saw a couple dragging their tree on a tarp and was a little confused as to why they didn’t just pick it up, but I guess a tarp might be necessary for some folks (although I still can’t figure out why). And lastly, your favorite Christmas music soundtrack is absolutely necessary!
3) Dress appropriately: Remember you are going to the mountains. On any day the weather can go from sunny to rainy to a downright snow storm. No matter what it looks like at home I always wear waterproof pants and jacket. I also always wear my snowshoes and bring gloves and a hat. Yesterday I told everyone the report said no snow so some of us (Kate) thought they could get by with just jeans and then tried to blame me when they were jeans were soaking wet and pasted to their skin. Just because snow isn’t in the forecast doesn’t mean waterproof clothes aren’t necessary. We also always make sure to bring hand warmers!
4) Bring a change of clothes: Christmas tree hunting is not for the fair weather hunter. Even if you get lucky and it is sunny (I can’t remember a time when that has happened) it will still be cold, the trees will still be wet, and the ground will either be muddy or snowy. If there is snow on the ground, and you aren’t a total fuddy duddy, it is likely you will romp around in the snow a bit and will get wet. No matter how high you crank the heat, driving the 40 plus miles home in soaking clothes is never fun so bring a change of clothes and wear under garments that allow you to change without showing the other Christmas tree hunters your “goods”!
5) Be Realistic: I think it’s important to remember that when you cut a “wild” tree it will not be perfect. Our Forest Rangers do not spend hundreds of hours pruning the trees so they are full and perfectly shaped for your viewing pleasure. The trees you get in the wild are more sparce which I like because it allows me to show off all my ornaments. They also may not be perfectly straight. And often times they have more than one tree growing on the same stump. This year three of the four trees we picked have at least three trees growing from the stump which means we don’t have to pick between a star or angel tree topper – we get both! For some reason Ross and I can never agree on a tree easily. I like the “character” of mountain trees and their imperfections while Ross likes to search for the perfect tree. We are quickly gaining the reputation of the annoying couple who can’t agree and has to hike all over kingdom come for the perfect tree only to pick one that’s closest to their car because they finally get tired and agree to compromise, which brings me to my next point.
6) Remember you have to carry the tree to your truck: There isn’t a lot attendant that will help you carry your tree…it’s up to you and whoever you bring with you, which means choose your tree wisely. If it’s a big tree try to find one close to the road or bring lots of friends. If it’s smaller make sure you look at how big the trunk is because that is where most of the weight is. And as a rule of thumb we avoid searching for trees on the side of a cliff!
7) Consider the height of your ceilings: one my best friends growing up, Annie, was also an avid tree hunter and in her family every tree had to be inspected by her father Ken. The inspection always included a height analysis where he would stand next to the tree, look up put his hand next to the top of his head and say out loud, “well I’m about six feet”! Even though we gave him a hard time I give him credit for being careful to not bite off more than he could chew when it came to getting a tree in the house!
8) Take Lots of Pictures: Sure it takes way more time and energy cutting down a “wild” tree, but the memories you make will more than make up for it so be sure to capture them on film (or flash drive)! I have years worth of Christmas tree hunting pictures that I love to revisit each year. As a child driving to the mountains, hiking through knee deep snow and selecting our Christmas tree was a tradition I looked forward to every year. Now as an adult I still try to make sure I make time in all the hustle and bustle of the Christmas season to make a trip to the mountains with my family and hunt for the perfect Christmas tree. It is a tradition I now get to share with Kate and she has made her own tradition of posing for a picture of cutting down her tree with an extra determined face. Below are some of the pictures I took from our hunt yesterday and I would love to hear about your Christmas tree traditions in the comment section!