After living in Upstate New York and then Idaho for the past 5 years, I’m a little embarrassed to tell you this is the first year we went out to find and cut our own Christmas tree. But with small kids in tow, it’s no mean feat. At one point, as I was carrying Smalls down a steep hillside trying to avoid the icy tree branches, I commented to a group coming the other way that we were approximately one year optimistic about how ready our family were for the ‘hunt your own tree’ adventure! But overall, we had a blast!
For anyone who hasn’t done it yet, but is contemplating it, here are my top 5 tips:
1. Get there before it gets too snowy
We drove about an hour north east of Boise, just past Idaho City, on the recommendation of a friend. There was a light dusting of snow on the ground, but not much. It was exciting for the boys, as it hadn’t snowed yet at our house, but I was a little disappointed as it didn’t quite fit the image in my head of us walking around in a winter wonderland looking for our perfect tree. As soon as we started driving up a steep forest single track road, and then hiking up a steeper hillside, I realized it was, in fact, a blessing. It was still icy enough that we walked past a car spinning it’s wheels as it tried to get back down, and it still made for a messy climb up (and down) as we searched out our tree.
2. Expect to carry the kids and bring as many adults as you can!
I had brought the hiking backpack for Smalls, but the grade of the hillside was too steep, and the non existent path and slight snowfall underneath meant my husband had to do most of the heavy lifting. And Red, while doing great, needed a lot of direction and help, especially hiking back down to the car. Maybe if we had investigated more in advance we could have found somewhere flatter to cut down the tree, but the main road we had picked was in a valley, and to get 300 feet away from the road, required going up a hill! There were definitely a few hairy times where kids were sliding, and adults were carrying kids, trees, and a saw!
3. Bring ALL the snacks
I had assumed that our first walk from the car was a scout to look at the lie of the land and maybe visually pick out a tree. Before I knew it we were jumping over streams and scrambling up hillsides on our hands and knees. There was no going back to the car by that point. The car that contained all the snacks, and more importantly, the bribing candy (you know, the ones you use to get your kids to move just a little further, or is that just me?!) There were definitely a few points where we had to stand around, precariously, as my husband went ahead to check it was safe to keep going, or to check out a tree. And the trail mix, or the leftover mini Halloween candy I had shoved in my bag before leaving, would surely have come in useful then. But I guess it made those snacks all the sweeter when we finally got back, and entertained the kids as Daddy strapped the tree to the roof of the car. This is a rookie mistake I’m going to try my best not to make again, though!
4. Have fun!
This might sound obvious, but adventuring into the unknown, coaching the kids to move a bit further, almost dropping the toddler down a hillside into a stream, forgetting the snacks, and generally wondering about how you’re going to turn the car on the single track bumpy road when you finally make it back, can all be a little stressful. My mind became hyper vigilant to the unlikely, but real, risks we faced, and which were constantly changing.
But we were also on a grand tree hunt, and the excitement was palpable! I loved watching the boys take in the forest atmosphere, and pick the tree we would take home. And while Smalls and I were pretty much stuck right where we stood (ie clinging to a tree!), Red was able to help Daddy with the cutting, and then count the rings to find out how old our tree was (25 years). It was a magical trip that we’re still talking about, and I can’t wait to repeat it next year when they’re a little bigger.
5. Don’t expect the perfect tree
This might seem obvious, but just in case you still had a lingering hope for a beautiful tree, let me set your expectations now; real trees in a forest don’t often look like the farmed ones you can buy on a lot near your house. They are squinty, and a little bare in places, and how they look is affected by where they’ve grown ( next to another tree, on a north facing slope, right by a huge boulder). Personally, I love this. These are real living things, and it is great that the boys can picture where this tree was before it sat in our house covered in artificial lights and glittery plastic baubles. Just like everything in nature, each one is unique, and it’s quirks are part of the great turning earth that we live on.
Have you cut down your own tree before? I’d love for you to leave your tips in the comments!