We loaded up the truck with our survival gear, sleeping bags, (too much stuff? it’s piled up to the top of the headrests! all absolutely essential, see below.) diaper bag and the Pie, and headed into the mountains to find us a Hanukkah bush.
We got to the ranger station to buy a permit. They were out to lunch. Really? How can the close the ranger station (the one with the giant sign reading “tree cutting permits here”) at noon on a Saturday, two weeks before Christmas? So we waited. And because it was pouring, we waited in the truck.
After we finally got our permit, we started driving up into the mountains. We always take survival gear with us when we go into the mountains. A few years ago James Kim and his family left Seattle on their way to San Francisco, decided to take a quick detour into the Oregon Wilderness, and became stuck. A series of bad decisions led them to become stranded for days, and James left to walk to get help, dying of hypothermia only one mile from civilization. A family in Canada just saw a similar situation, and a number of years ago one of my dad’s students, driving through Mt. Rainier decided to get out for a quick walk and soon became lost and injured and died, very close to the road. A friend’s father was killed on the mountain, although an extremely experienced climber. The weather changed so suddenly he couldn’t prepare.
Whenever we go into the mountains we are sure to have water in the truck (you can find food, if necessary, but clean water, especially in cold wet weather when you can’t stand at a creek to pump water through a filter for risk of hypothermia, is essential), warm sleeping bags to climb into so we aren’t tempted to run the heat, and Logan’s personal survival kit so that he can trek out to find help if necessary. And fully charged cell phones – you’ll read in the article (linked above) how the family’s cell phones, although out of range, helped rescuers find them.
I really believe that our disconnect with nature, as a society, has made us less fearful of it. Injury and death are so near when you’re in the wilderness, and help so far, even when you’re just on forest service roads. Every precaution – experience, chains, sleeping bags, food and water – are essential. Confidence (especially false confidence) counts for very little in the woods.
Safety lecture complete.
My mountain man, bundled up against the icy rain, bolo knife at the ready, waiting for us under the protection of huge fir branches, prepared to find our perfect tree. Not too tall, not too full. Not too lopsided, no bald spots. I like to see the body of the tree through its arms of branches. It’s a tall order, I know, especially where trees grow in clusters which leads to bald sides.
Mama and the Pie bundled up, too. We were planning to trek out with the mountain man as far as we could, but with the inclement weather knew we may need to head back to the safety of the truck. I’m not usually a fan of umbrellas, but the icy rain was threatening my Pie’s warmth, so I decided to take one for the team, use an umbrella, and keep the Pie warm and dry. Look at the ice clumping on top of it!
This is the “trail” we walked down to find our tree, dodging spindly trunks and downed trees along the way. The mountain man had to cut through a couple of downed trees so mama and the Pie could pass more easily. He didn’t mind. I think he kind of liked it.
We didn’t have a lot of luck on that trail, so we headed back toward the truck to check out the other side of the road. My little Pie was getting antsy in the wrap with her feet tucked in to stay warm, so Mama and the Pie took cover in the truck while the mountain man went out and did his thing.
“Not too tall” I reminded him. “We don’t want a repeat of last year!”. Half of our tree last year ended up in yard waste. When you’re in the woods, a 26-foot tree just doesn’t seem all that tall.
We headed home over the mountains, through the woods. We fought the icy rain, the wet snow, and the regular rain, all with a foggy windshield, all cozy in the truck.
It seems wasteful to kill a tree just to bring it into the house and look at it for a month and then throw it out to be composted. But it brings nature in, reminds us of warmth and light and life in the coldest, darkest time of the year.