Tuesday, December 07, 2004

How Do *I* Spell Relief?


As in negative.

that was the result of The Feared Redhead's gestational diabetes screening.

Although I can assure you I'm not as relieved as she.

Tree Hunting

A few days ago I posted a gloating little entry on my plans to spend yesterday feasting on dungeness crab. Alas, this plan did not materialized. The Feared Redhead had to spend the morning taking a glucose test, a test used to screen for gestatuonal diabetes. We'll have the results today. This test is neither pleasant nor brief, and by the time it was done, we did not have tome to both go out for crab and attend to the second most important business of the day (after making sure that my beloved is healthy): we went and got the Christmas tree.

Let's get one thing out in the open: I love Christmas. I especially love the event that we Christians observe on this Holy Day (Yes, I know, commemorating His Birth at this time of year is suspect among many. But we have no record of what time of year it actually was, so this is as good a time as any), but I also love all of the trappings -- the decorations, the wish for certain weather phenomena, the gift giving (even more than the receiving), the carols, the culinary traditions. But of all the trappings, my favorite is the tree. I love getting the tree, dectorating the tree, everything about the tree.

I suppose this has to do with the way my family would get the tree when I was a kid. Living in the Pacific Northwest (Idaho and Oregon specifically) almost my entire life, we never bought a Christmas tree. We always hunted one and cut it ourselves. My parents would load me and my sister into the car with them, and we'd head off to into the woods (further away when we lived in Southern Idaho, not so much in Oregon). Once we arrived, it was my mothers job to pick the tree, and my fathers to cut it down, and mine to help him carry it out. My mother preferred Noble Firs to all other species, and when that was an option, it was what we'd cut. My mother usually spotted an ideal tree pretty quickly, but would make my father look at other trees for a good 15-30 minutes before finally returning to that first tree. It was usually the top 8 feet of a 15-20 foot tree that she'd want. So up my father would climb, and cut the top, and try to ease its descent, then we'd take it home and decorate it.

In addition, there was one other tradition associated with our tree. Each year, my parents would purchase one special ornament each for me and my sister. when we married, we each in turn received all of our ornaments from over the years as a starter set for our own trees.

From the first year we were married, the Feared Redhead and I agreed that getting the tree would be a joint activity. While still in San Diego, this was simply a matter of driving to the lot together. But once we moved back to Oregon, we agreed that tree hunting would be a family tradition. Our first year here, we were still living in the 24-foot motor home(Which we referred to as "Living in a VAN down by the RIVER!) at Christmas. But our second year, we were in an apartment, and so decided to go on a hunt. We teamed up with a coworker of mine who owned an SUV, bought the requisite tree permit (not a necessity back when I was a lad), and headed up highway 58 (which follows the course of the Willamette and then crosses the Cascades) until we found a promising BLM road, and began our quest.

Now here's the interesting thing about evergreens, particularly firs. The closer together they are, the less sunlight they get, and the less full and "Christmas tree-like" they are. Furthermore, the Noble Fir tends to grow at altitudes higher than 5,000 (unless culitvated lower). So despite our best efforts, the best tree we could find was a young Doug Fir, and despite my enthusiasm for it, it was, as the Feared Redhead puts it, "A Charlie Brown Tree". But my beloved wife humored me, not wanting to dampen my glee at conquering the mighty specimin, and held her peace as I strapped it, and a twin for my coworker, to the roof of her SUV. And down the mountain we came, back onto the main highway. The highway on which I learned just how important it is to properly tie down your tree, and also learned that I had failed to do so. Both trees came off the roof, hit the road, and were snapped in two. At this point, I began to suspect the feelings of my coworker and TFR towards the trees, as they were, shall we say, less than utterly devastated by the loss of the trees. It was decided that we would forgo the hunting in the woods, "just for this year", and buy a tree. So we met the next weekend to go hunting again, this time in a less adventurous environment. Little did we know our adventures were only half over.

My coworker had been told of a tree farm (not surprising, considering that Oregon is the nation's biggest exporter of trees to other states) far in the country, up in the foothills of the Cascades. We decided to make a day of an outing to this farm. We headed east out of Springfield, up highway 126, the McKenzie Highway, up the course of the McKenzie River, toward the hills. Along the way, we passed several other tree farms, including the quaint Holly Farms and another place with a vaguely French-sounding nami that I can't recall, but we passed them by, intent upon finding The Farm. We had been told it was somewhere 15-20 miles upstream in the area of the Leaburg Dam, or maybe Goodpasture Covered Bridge, so we took detours at both those places, with no luck finding The Farm. We drove 2 miles back downstream to Leaburg itself, and asked for directions in a woodcarving shop, where we were directed back upstream, perhaps the 15 miles or so to McKenzie Bridge. We stopped at a restaurant at Finn Rock, just this side of McKenzie Bridge, where a helpful waiter finally had accurate directions. He directed us to drive back down to Leaburg Dam, and then instead of going straight, to turn right at the fish hatchery, drive through it's parking area, to a road at the back of the hatchery. This road was gated, but the gate was open, so we passed on through. This took us onto a rutted dirt road, muddy from the Oregon winter, which climber steeply into the hills. We followed it for several miles, hemmed in by the woods, until we came into an open clearing, full of newly planted young trees. Surely, this is the farm. There was a side road with a building down it, so we turned and followed. As we approached the building, we began to question its status. It was, to be generous, a residence -- straight out of the new movie "Twister Vs. Deliverance". A single wide mobile home sat there, it's lean-to garage covering several vehicles in various states of (dis)repair) A Jolly Rogers flack was being used as drapery. Outside, several old couches and carseats surrounded a 55-gallon drum that had been converted into a fire pit, and there was evidence on all of the objects there that indicated A)The resident(s) practice the use of their firearms and B) That practice was not helping much. Suffice it to say, we were amazed at how fast a Kia Sportage can go in reverse.

we got back to the first dirt road and continued on our way. Several miles later, we came out of the woods once again, into the driveway of a very well-maintained and well-run farm. In one direction were numerous outbuildings, including what appeared to be apartments for the laborers. in the other was the main house. We pulled up to it, and I was elected (selected/forced -- you pick) to make inquiries. the front porch door opened, and out stepped a dog the size of a school bus, acting very protective of the woman who followed him. She calmed Cujo, and then addressed my quesations. Yes, this was the Christmas tree farm we sought. No, they don't sell to the public, they're a wholesale operation, but there is a place not far from here that does sell their trees. You can buy one there. The name of this business?

Holly Farms.

The irony was not lost on any of us.

So this year (last year the holidays were spent with family in Michigan), we drove up to Holly Farms. One of these days we'll find a place high enough up to cut our own wild farms, but for now, they're our substitute tradition. On the way up, while stopping for gas, I learned that the snow level was down to 2500 feet. So we drove to McKenzie Bridge, looked at the snow, came back down, and arrived at Holly Farms just in time to pick the right tree just before it got too dark. It's beautiful 7 1/2 foot Noble Fir, and our duplex now smells just like the Oregon woods when it rains. The smell of fir pitch is, to me, the smell I most closely associate with the color green, and also with Christmas.

It's beginning to look, smell, and feel a lot like Christmas.