By Polly Keary, Editor
Nothing evokes the spirit of Christmas like the smell of a real fir Christmas tree. And getting the tree can be just as much a part of your holiday traditions as decorating it. For a full day of winter fun, make a thermos of hot spiced cider and head into the woods with your family to pick the perfect tree.
As of last week, permits to cut Christmas trees in the National Forest are available, and will be through Dec. 24.
Permits are available daily at the REI store at Alderwood Mall and cost $10 for a tree of up to 12 feet, and $20 for a tree of more than 12 feet. Permits are also available at the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie Ranger Station a mile east of Skykomish. Bring cash or a check if going to the ranger station, as they don’t accept credit cards.
Before you go, measure the space you have in the house. A tree tends to look a lot shorter in the woods than it does in the living room, so it’s important to know just how much space you realistically have.
Then load up your snow-worthy vehicle with a measuring tape, some old blankets or a tarp and a long length of rope, as well as a hand saw. Also make sure you have chains for your tires and equipment to help yourself if you get stuck, and leave early enough in the day to make sure you have plenty of time before it gets dark.
In the Skykomish River Valley, any forestland east of Zeke’s Restaurant near Gold Bar is National Forest, and it’s okay to cut a tree there anywhere you can reach by road.
Look for a tree about six inches shorter than the space you have in the house, which gives you room for the tree stand. The tree should be symmetrical and even all around with a straight trunk. Make sure the boughs are all flexible and fresh with no dropping needles or brittle twigs.
Cut the trunk low enough to leave room to put the tree in your stand. If you can’t find a tree with a long enough trunk, look for a tree that will still look nice if you have to take a few of the lower limbs off to get it in the stand.
Make the cut across the trunk as straight as possible.
Then put the tarp or blanket over the roof of your vehicle, slide the tree onto it, trunk end first, with the trunk facing forward to minimize wind damage, and tie the tree down securely.
Once you get it home and in the stand, be aware that fresh cut trees require a great deal of water. The trunk has veins called tracheids that draw water up through the tree, but if they dry up or get clogged with sap even once, they won’t work again, so check it frequently and keep the reservoir filled. For maximum freshness, the forest service recommends cutting the base of the trunk off a little more when you get it home, then setting the cut end in a large bucket and setting the tree outside for 24 hours. Use a tree stand that holds at least a gallon, and keep the tree away from vents or other sources of heat.
A properly tended tree will last from Thanksgiving until New Year’s Eve.
Once your tree is up, it’s time to decorate, and those special ornaments will have even more significance hanging on a tree already rich in warm winter memories.