Does your family like to find and cut your own Christmas tree? If you live close to a tree farm or a forest where tree cutting is permitted, hunting for the perfect tree can be an enjoyable and memorable family tradition. We asked guest blogger Justin Chase, writer of Outdoors, by Cracky!, to share his recent experience harvesting a tree with his family in New Hampshire’s White Mountain National Forest.
This year my family and I headed to the White Mountain National Forest in search of a Christmas tree. The US Forest Service opens the area each year to aid in their maintenance of the forest as a sustainable and renewable resource, as well as to encourage families to get outdoors. We enjoyed a great day of learning and hiking along one of New England’s finest trails: the Welch-Dickey loop. It was a wicked awesome way to kick off our holiday season and one I hope to repeat for years to come.
In pursuit of a permit, we first drove to the White Mountain National Forest Headquarters in Campton, New Hampshire, where we learned about responsible practices for cutting trees, including where to harvest and how to leave the area as minimally impacted as possible.
While there, we explored their fantastic visitors’ center with its exhibits of wildlife and forest ecology. We sat at kid-sized tables with workbooks, doing related crafts and touching skulls, antlers, bones, cast tracks and other cool stuff. Our boys had a blast! After nearly an hour, we paid the five-dollar permit fee and ventured to the mountains in search of our family tree.
We made our way up the trail from the parking lot with bow saw in hand. Within minutes we heard the unmistakable sound of a mountain brook rushing down from high above. Bare trees silently stood while well-trodden leaves and patches of ice lined the trail. The air was damp and clean – it felt more like late March than early December. Though a stunning day in the mountains, it wasn’t enough to distract my boys from our mission of finding the perfect tree.
Realizing that a forty-foot tall pine might not fit in our living room, we narrowed our focus and began to look for something a bit more sensible. Over the river and through the woods we went, rising up the southern flank of Welch Mountain.
Every tree looked perfect at first glance, but none passed our boys’ exacting standards. We talked about natural trees, that they don’t look like the dense green cones people are used to, and how in the wilderness that sort of inability to shed snowfall is a real liability. Eventually, we realized the best tree we saw was the one my wife suggested we cut down about a quarter-mile back.
After a bit of backtracking, bickering, and giggling, we found it. A beautiful little balsam sat about a hundred feet off the trail. As a family we cut it down, taking turns with our broken little saw and then yelling “timber!” at the tops of our lungs – only to watch the tiny tree fall softly to the ground.
Feeling a bit like the Griswolds, we dragged our beloved little tree back down the bouldery, icy trail.
As I write this, our tree is waiting patiently in the garage, but it’s already the best tree we’ve ever had. The holidays fly by and I’m acutely aware that I have only so many years with my boys before they’re grown and gone. Spending a day with them, tramping around a mountain trail in search of our tree, was one of the most memorable holiday experiences of my life and a great joy.
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