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Alaska

Christmas tree hunting

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This year we went tree hunting on a Saturday that was too cold to do anything else. It was minus 30 degrees fahrenheit. There's nothing about the day, other than the temperature, that makes it stand out. But it marks the first time that the kids were able to hunt for the tree and not require any special help themselves. No tears on account of cold hands or feet. In fact, this year the kids also found the tree stand and set up the tree in the house all by themselves.

We drove up the road to an abandoned gravel quarry a couple of miles from home. It was almost close enough to walk, and we could have walked except for the fact that it was cold out and you never know if you'll get skunked and have to wander around looking for the perfect tree. Sometimes that takes a while. It's good to have a truck around so that you can warm up if you need to and so that you can ride home with the tree in the back and not have to carry it.

The problem with finding wild Christmas trees is that, even though we have lots of trees in the woods here, few of them are shaped like the classic Christmas trees from story books. For a tree to get full and round it has to have a lot of sun. Trees in the woods, or with a lot of large neighbor trees, tend to be lopsided and thinly branched. Old gravel pits are ideal places to find Christmas trees because they are open and sunny. Our best trees are white spruce, which are a little bit sparsely-branched to begin with. The only other evergreen species that grows in the Alaska interior is black spruce, and they are truly Charley Brown trees.

Over the years, I suppose you learn a few things. And so this year it took us only about 15 minutes to find our tree. We cut it with an axe, carried it to the truck and drove home. We had it standing up in the house about an hour after we left to go looking for one. As I said, it was too cold to be outside for very long, anyway, so finding one quickly was a blessing.

The kids did a great job of decorating it. It was a trip that was memorable for its simplicity.

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