Timber! Get ready to pick and cut your own tree in a forest

By Carrie G-S

My family farms trees. We farm trees for lumber and for making paper. Our beloved red pine and white pine trees are cut for lumber when they have grown to the end of the their life span. And our other beloved trees — large balsam, white pine and poplar, are also grown until they just can’t grow any further. Then, we replant what the seeds of the older trees have not already replenished. And, in amongst the farmed trees are the dark green trees that make beautiful Christmas trees whose seeds were brought to the soil without the need for human hands.

Two of the great joys of being a steward of the trees in a forest are, enjoying the slow passage of time watching them grow, and the family traditions that develop around the trees and changing of seasons. Our favourite tradition is the selection of a Christmas tree for our family’s cabin in the woods. 

It is more fun to cut a Christmas tree once the winter has settled in deep and dark. Kids, grandparents and parents pile on layers of heavy clothing ready to face the crisp, cold air with joyous anticipation. We take a small chain saw, various bits of appropriate safety equipment to go with the chain saw, a two-metre or so toboggan for helping haul the tree out of the forest to the trail (and for playing with, of course), and a sense of adventure.

Walking through the cold woods along the trails can be a windy experience in winter. Your nose feels just a bit numb, and one quickly begins to contemplate a steaming mug of hot chocolate back at the house.  Except for the wind, the woods are still and quiet, while all the furry little woodland creatures sleep curled up in their homes awaiting the arrival of spring. And when the forest floor is a blanket of white snow, one feels almost as if one is intruding on a special sacred space.

Of course, the kids are more than happy to plow down the forest hills up to their knees in snow, tumbling around as the hunt for the perfect tree begins. As the children approach each tree, there is active discussion about the size of the tree (is it tall enough to fill the room?), about the branches (are there enough to load with sparkling ornaments, baubles and lights?), and most importantly, is there any furry creature nestled in  for the winter in it or around it? That care is taken, because it would be sad to take a creature’s winter home.

Through this process of looking at trees and tumbling around in the deep white snow, it is huge fun to also watch for tracks of woodland furry animals that are not asleep. There are small deep holes made by the white tail deer, there are funny erratic looking tracks made by the cotton tail rabbits as they lope around quietly. But the family’s favourite tracks are the ones no one in the family can identify since tiny little furry rodents made them. These barely-there tracks seem to zip across the trails, skirt around the trees and disappear into an unseen burrow that is warm and snug.

It never loses its spiritual quality to stand amongst dark green evergreen trees in a white covered frozen world. Seeing the green, seeing the yellowed remains of the summer’s flowering plants at the bottom of snow boot tracks, one is forced to remember the promise that is the eventual return of spring. The animals wait for it, the seeds dropped at the end of summer wait for it, and bundled up people wait for it.

Once the snow has been played in, the animal tracks examined and wondered over, trees discussed, it just looms there in front of you — the perfect Christmas tree. The family stands there and stares at its evergreen fullness, contemplating the holiday transformation this natural gift is about to make. The lowest branches are trimmed and the tree is cut down and readied to make its journey into the family cabin to become the home’s centrepiece for the holiday. The easiest way to get a sizeable evergreen tree out of the woods and up to the trail is with the toboggan. The tree is rolled and cajoled onto the family’s favourite winter toy, to be slid up and out of the woods. There are kid daydreams of imagined sled dogs in the traces instead of kids and parents pulling the toboggan laden with its fragrant treasure.

There is always laughter and an abundance of joy as the tree is brought back to the cabin.  With the sun shrouded by the winter white sky, it should feel dark and dreary outside, but it doesn’t. It feels special and sparkly, happy and full of anticipation, as if the entire world is holding its breath.

Once the Christmas tree is in its place of honour in the family’s home, draped with lights and covered with ornaments loaded with memories of Christmases past, it is peaceful to sit in front of a roaring fireplace, sipping hot chocolate, just enjoying the quiet majesty that is the family Christmas tree.  It is a peace that cannot be bought; it is a peace that cannot be easily explained.  It is a peace that is full of love.

Carrie farms trees with her family as a third generation tree farmer in the NorthWoods of Wisconsin in the United States

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