GET OUT: Imperfect Is Just Perfect

By on December 8, 2015

Recreating the Christmas traditions you used to dread.

LEFT: Family trudge through snow in search of the perfect tree. TOP RIGHT: Up and decorated. BOTTOM RIGHT: Tree farming back east. (Photo: raven coward-long)

LEFT: Family trudge through snow in search of the perfect tree.
TOP RIGHT: Up and decorated. BOTTOM RIGHT: Tree farming back east. (Photo: raven coward-long)

Jackson, WY – The holidays are creeping in and for me that means attempting to fill myself with nostalgia by performing rituals that were once the bane of my existence throughout my childhood. Every December, on a random weekend following Thanksgiving, my mother corralled my siblings and father into the daunting task of picking out a Christmas tree. Nobody ever felt like going, but for some reason everyone did. Whatever the weather, we piled into the car and headed down winding roads to the Christmas tree farm to search for a tree, debating the perfections and imperfections of various green entities that would reside for mere weeks in our living room.

There was always motivation for finding a tree in the beginning. Then, like clockwork, someone in our family would prove to be stubborn and a small falling out would occur. By the end of the journey, all but one of us would conclude that we didn’t care what kind of tree we got, only that we were all starving and wanted to pick a tree and go home.

While tree farms flourish on the East Coast, the tree experience is a bit different here in Wyoming. Gone are the days of accessible Christmas tree stations offering the simple comforts of toy trains, candy canes and warm hot cocoa. Instead, all those who desire trees are given a choice between picking up a tree from the grocery store or going out on their own to find a slice of holiday.

Around the nation, efforts have been made to cut back on the number of trees that die in the name of the holidays. San Francisco, for example, has a ludicrous business of selling trees in pots and recycling them to various owners throughout the years. In Jackson there are more places to get trees than there are rooms for rent.

This winter I began on my own outing to find the perfect tree — by my standards.  The first step in this mission involved going to the U. S. Forest Service’s office in town. There, a friendly face gave me the rundown on tree gathering. One can buy a permit for a tree less than 10 feet, or less than 20 feet tall, for between 10 and 15 dollars. A map provided information on what areas were allowed for harvest. Also attached were directions for selecting a tree.

While most of the guidelines covered proper areas for collecting trees and specifications for cutting the stumps close to the ground, my favorite tip on the sheet was: “Select trees with defects and leave the healthiest trees to grow.” If this rule had been in place during my childhood, we could have saved a lot of time and effort in debating over the perfect tree. I love trees with red branches that appear to be on the verge of dying, and the idea of a Charlie Brown Christmas tree in my living room is better than any idea of a basic little tree.

With these guidelines in mind, we set off into the still shallow snowpack and began our search. Feeling each tree proved to be the best avenue for selection. Some needles felt like daggers, and I could only imagine a stray leftover finding its way into my foot in April. After touching countless prospects and looking for the most imperfect, deformed tree in the area, I settled on a twig-like thing with a couple of branches barely hanging on.

As I was cutting the tree down, my mind wandered to a warm house, a kitchen filled with the smell of fresh sugar cookies, and the sweet melodies of Amy Grant’s early 90s Home for Christmas album. While this music makes it difficult to find willing participants to assist in decorating the tree, I had no doubt that I could find someone who enjoys Ms. Grant as much as I do.

Dragging the tree back to the car, I observed two parents trekking through the snow. Their pre-adolescent children were whining a bit, complaining about walking too far and the usual minor catastrophes that exist in the preteen mind. The kids, wearing impractical tennis shoes with jeans, continued to ask the same question over and over again. “Can we go home now? How about now?” The mother, a few strides ahead of them looked back and smiled, “Just a little bit longer. After all, we have to find the perfect tree.” PJH

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