Adventures of finding the ‘perfect tree’ bring smile

The tree is the focal point of any home at Christmas, often displaying sentimental ornaments and always creating cheerfulness and excitement.

For many families, bringing home the tree is a happy and much anticipated tradition.

When I was growing up on a farm near Marwayne, Alta., it was our usual habit to pack up hot chocolate and goodies and stuff us four kids with Dad into his old 1947 International half-ton for the drive to Whitney Lake to cut down a tree for Christmas.

It was before the days of seat belts, something the old blue truck didn’t have anyway, and we happily rode along, wedged together, eating and listening to the radio.

At our destination, we waded through snow until we finally settled on our favourite tree and loaded it up for the trip home.

Depending on the depth of snow that year, we may be less picky about our choice. Hip-deep snow meant we chose one of the first trees we waded out to since we soon became too exhausted by the effort to search farther.

Today our prize would be scoffed at and dubbed a Charlie Brown tree, but on those branches hung our memories of the adventure so we loved it.

We proudly trimmed it with tinsel and homemade and/or other sentimental decorations — that is, after Dad untangled and repaired the lights.

Theft of trees out of a shelter belt was an annual downside for my dad. Every Christmas, he would check his windbreak on the east field by the highway and count how many trees had been taken.

Each summer, he tried to replace them but finally gave up. It’s a theft that still continues today. The value of windbreaks is in conserving water on farms and providing shelter to domestic and wild animals.

These days, my custom of retrieving my tree involves a trip to the basement for the cardboard box. It’s a habit I adopted after the kids grew up and the pre-lit feature held great appeal for me.

The simplicity of it suits me now, but occasionally I think wistfully of a fragrant fresh tree brought in from a memorable drive to the forest.

Most trees are purchased from stores or temporary vendors, but some families still connect special customs to its homecoming.

Others prefer a do-it-yourself option involving a festive drive in the country. They may visit a U-cut business where groomed trails give access to rows of cultivated trees.

Some prefer roughing it in the bush by taking a drive to crown land where they can get out in nature and chop down a tree.

It is an old custom but some aspects have changed over time. Crown land is managed now by provincial forestry services.

A permit is needed although the cost is minimal and in British Columbia, it is free. Each province’s forestry department can advise on areas to go and will give special tips.

Tips for cutting your own tree on crown land:

  • Don’t travel into the woods if it’s storming or snowing heavily. Tell someone when you are leaving and where you will be travelling.
  • Prevent waste. Trees that have been cut down and left in the forest create a summer fire hazard. Be sure of your choice before you cut. Remember some provinces allow only one tree per permit.
  • Use a sharp axe and cut as close to the base of the tree as possible.
  • Don’t leave your snack or other garbage in the forest.

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