Unless you hunt or fish, it is rare nowadays to go into the woods and actually be looking for something. I am not a hunter or fisherman myself, but I think I know something of what draws people to those pastimes. When I go out to do selective cutting of trees, search out an old trail, follow animal tracks, look for a campsite, or find a Christmas tree, it is a markedly different experience than just going for a hike. The act of looking tunes the vision – and all the senses. I become no longer a man full of thoughts passing through the woods, but a set of sensory organs that is permeated by my surroundings. The sights and sounds of the forest reach me and reach into me in a more profound way. I have a purpose and place there. I am not just passing through.
Yesterday my daughters and I set out on our annual Christmas tree quest on our 10 acres of woods. Each year, I start a little doubtfully. Balsam fir are fairly common on our property, but most of those are grown far beyond consideration as Christmas trees, and the smaller ones tend to be shade-grown and spindly. We set out Sunday morning into the light snowfall, singing improvised fragments of “O Christmas Tree.” On the way, we discovered an old stone wall, inspected a dead tree riddled with woodpecker holes, and found a hollow stump that my daughter wants to make into a trailside chair. We also stepped around a supine pine, the victim of a recent blowdown.
We passed up several “prospect trees” before I sighted a 16-foot balsam that looked full at the top. I was a skeptical that the tree wasn’t symmetrical enough, but my daughter was reassuring. “I like that one,” she said. So after a few minutes with the handsaw, down it came.
The tree in no way resembles the plush, manicured, cosmetically pure variety grown on Christmas tree farms. It is its own creation, a bit austere, beautiful in a wild way. We got a nice 9-foot tree out of that 16-footer, and the firs beside it (less than an arm span away) will now get a little more sunlight. We walked out of the woods, pleased with our find, grateful that once again the woods had provided just what we needed.