My husband and I secure our children in the sled and strap on our snowshoes. Another sled, still empty, trails behind the boys. Henry slips the sled rope around his waist and plays sled dog, pulling the boys over the snow-covered road.
A trip into snowy woods to cut down a Christmas tree has become a tradition in our family. Choosing a place, digging the sleds out of the shed, packing the hot cocoa and peanut butter and banana sandwiches, donning scarves and hatsits all part of the ritual that reminds us that the holiday season is here.
While you can buy a tree at a lot, venturing into the woods for a fir or a spruce can be a rewarding way to spend a December day together. And the best part? You always come home with a prize.
If you choose to embark on a cut-your-own-tree adventure, heres what you need to know.
Get a permit from the Forest Service or Owenhouse Ace Hardware in Bozeman, Lee & Dads Grocery in Belgrade, and Gateway Exxon Market in Gallatin Gateway. Theyre $5 and available in Nov. and Dec. You are limited to two trees per household. Find a District Office near you at www.fs.fed.us/r1/gallatin/?page=contactus/offices
Trees can be cut from anywhere on the National Forest except at campgrounds, trailheads or in plantations.
Know how tall you want your tree to be before you go. In the forest, there isnt a good reference point for height, so even a ten-foot tall tree looks short. We know that we want a tree about as tall as my husband.
Choose a location that is open. Trees growing in groves often shed their lower branches; trees growing in the open have a more traditional Christmas tree shape. Ask Forest Service staff to suggest a meadow or clearing the distance from a trailhead that you want to hike or ski.
Cut the tree 12 inches or less above the ground level. Remove snow around tree base if needed. Cut off live limbs remaining on the stump. You can always cut more off the bottom if needed; its poor tree-cutting etiquette to leave a tall stump.
Use a tarp or sled to pull the tree back to your vehicle.
When you get your tree home, make a fresh cut on the butt to open up the pores that have been clogged by sap. Cut off at least one-half inch. The fresh-cut surface should be creamy-white, not yellow or brown. If you do not make a fresh cut, the tree will not be able to drink water. Put the tree in water as soon as possible.
Decorate and water daily to keep your tree fresh.