Last Saturday afternoon my daughter Charlotte and I set off on our Expedition Evergreen Quest. Along with snowshoes, water and a folding saw, the car was loaded with fresh-baked molasses cookies, hot chocolate and coffee. We were huntin’ trees, and our goals were: 1) don’t get stuck; 2) don’t get lost; 3) have fun; and 4) bring home a tree to decorate for Christmas.
Our tree-stash intel from several trusted sources meant we had choices. We opted for Seedhouse, a road that runs northeast along the Elk River, just north of the tiny town of Clark. It snowed on and off as we drove along the road, just us and the low mountains, with lots of trees to choose from.
After a couple of side-road explorations and turnarounds, we ended up in an empty little lot just off Seedhouse. We grabbed snowshoes and packs, excited to get out for a hike in the snow in search of our tree.
Still struggling to actually get my snowshoes on (apparently my feet had grown?), a great big pick-up truck raced into the lot. The driver jumped out - boots, no snowshoes - and did a sort of trot/post-hole jig to several different trees nearest the lot, while the passenger/director of operations yelled from the truck. They were like the SWAT Christmas Tree team: get in, grab the tree, get out. I was happy they left as quickly as they showed up.
Charlotte and I took turns breaking trail through the deep snow. Since my binding straps didn’t fit around my giant-sized feet, I came out of my snowshoes multiple times, prompting much hilarity and silliness. We tracked through a little gully, looped around a small meadow, tumbled over logs, and eventually dropped down near the river to just settle for a bit and look around.
It was quiet, with the gentle sound of the water making its way underneath and between generous pillows of snow. The air was clear and cool, with the slight scent of spruce and pine. Charlotte was wondering what the huge trees at the river’s edge had seen in their long lifetime. She has taught me so much with her thought-provoking awareness of the world.
We made our way back towards our potential trees, and then we made our decision. In keeping with learning from the amazing book Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer, we chose carefully. The trees are living beings. How would removing the tree we cut benefit or harm the surroundings? How could we be respectful of this gift?
The tree we chose had two smaller trees near it that might do better by removing this one. We asked the tree’s permission to cut it. The thing is, neither of us knew how to understand an answer. Then I noticed that some of the limbs had yellow needles close to the trunk and that the tree felt very dry. I felt that was our answer - it might not thrive on its own anyway. We made a reciprocal offering of water from our bottles, and I cut the tree.
You might scoff. But taking the tree in this way, with thoughtful respect and sincere appreciation, made the experience feel more complete somehow. Like we were honoring the tree that would come into our home to bring warmth and light for these holiday weeks.
We managed to get the tree back through the snow and into the car. It was tall enough that the tippy-top kept us company on the console. We toasted our adventure with our cookies and hot drinks. The sun was getting low, bringing warmth to the pale milky yellow sky. The golden ball of light glimmered through the trees, the surrounding snowy mountains were silent.
We drove through this gorgeousness, feeling beyond lucky to live here, to spend time in this place. The afternoon was now evening, lavender sky with a hot pink edge. The sky deepened to indigo, and then finally, to a night of twinkling stars.
Jacqueline Denny, ACC, CHPC, LMT