we pull off at a wide spot in the snowy dirt road. climbing out of the truck, the below-freezing air instantly bites at my nose and ears and arms, reminding me that i really need to put winter coat-shopping on my to-do list.
huge frost-covered pine trees tower above my head. these ones are too tall for our purposes, but that doesn’t stand in our way. fine prospects beckon a little ways away above us.
we scramble up the hill, twisting and squeezing around dead bushes and frosty branches, eyes focused on the copse of green-needled trees in the distance. we arrive and glance around, taking stock of essential qualities such as height and density and fullness. when none of the trees quite measure up, we spread out and continue scouring the hillside for the perfect specimen.
i come across a few decent ones and point them out for evaluation. everyone agrees that they’re good, but just not quite right. we continue searching, hoping to stumble upon a tree that reaches out and grabs our fancy and says ‘pick me! take me home with you! i’m the one! i’ll make your living room look outstanding and smell like the holidays!’ a tree that is majestic and full and beautiful.
we’re about to settle on one of my decent trees when someone spots another little group even farther up. we hike to the spot and there it is: a tall (but not too tall), wide tree with reaching branches and bright green needles.
this is no tree you’d pick out in any home depot garden center. it hasn’t been pruned and groomed until it’s picture-perfect and could’ve been plucked out of a storybook. yes, it has its imperfections. it’s not perfectly symmetrical, or perfectly bushy, or perfectly perfect at all, but what makes it perfect is that it’s our tree. its beauty comes from its authenticity and the experience of coming upon it.
we saw down the tree, carry it down the hillside and load it into the back of the navy-blue truck. i climb into the vehicle, eager to be out of the rough chill of the air. we pull away and slowly return to civilization, our prize hanging out the back, cheerily marked by the bright-orange handkerchief tied at the very top. we’re going back to the realm of tree lots and plastic and commercialized christmas, proudly displaying the product of our morning forest search, grateful for trucks and 4-wheel drive and wilderness and family traditions that will always be remembered.