My sisters and I live in the Bighorn Mountains of Wyoming. Some rumors were flying around since I got here that you could cut down your own Christmas tree. Now to those in the know, or perhaps in the West, or maybe even anywhere but Fowlerville, Michigan—where I grew up—this wouldn’t seem an unusual concept.
But in my mind, the only people who cut down their own Christmas trees were the Griswold family or people with hundreds of acres of land—like oil barons, but oil barons who dressed like normal people but weren’t, because they own an oil conglomerate.
So when it came time for my own potential pine, I considered all the people who were out and about in the Bighorns hacking down trees. I asked about this. Could people really just go into the forest and chop down a tree? That seemed to have illegal written all over it. Well, I was right. You can’t just go into the forest and chop down a tree, all willy-nilly. But you can, however, go to the Forestry Department first, like a law-abiding lil lass and pay for a permit to cut down a Christmas tree.
I had never heard of such wonder and delight. But I prepared myself thinking to acquire a permit to cut down your own tree would cost at least $40. So when the nice gent at the Forestry—bedecked in his appropriately forest green uniform—told me that the permit was in fact $8, I almost did hip swivels accompanied by boisterous fist pumps. But I didn’t. Because that’s uncouth. Although I bet the Forestry man might not have minded. But the prospect of cutting down my own Christmas tree in the mountains for a mere $8 was pretty jazzy—and wildly inexpensive—as far as firsts go.
On the day that would be the Christmas tree cutting, I bundled up in my newly purchased for life atop a mountain: $3 ski suit that zipped all the way to my chin. I donned my faux fur bear hat, grabbed my rusty old ax, some rope and hot cocoa for myself and the girls.
We located a field a couple of miles away from the lodge. After parking the car we began our trudge into the forest to find the perfect tree. We mulled some over here and there but none that struck us as the perfect Christmas tree. So we kept on. Scraggly brown brush were scattered throughout the field that I thought looked like they might belong somewhere swampy but the ground we were walking on was packed and firm so I thought nothing more about it as we wove into the forest.
We had just contemplated whether to wind our way back along the forest line toward the car or go a little deeper in when we spotted a tree with a halo of light glowing down upon it. Once all our eyes clapped onto the tree we agreed she looked like a beaut as we made our way toward her to further investigate. We got excited inspecting: the tree looked to be the appropriate height for our small abode, had sturdy branches and was altogether charming.
It was our tree alright. Kia said a little prayer of thanks that the tree was giving its life for our Christmas fancies and I took the first hack with my rusty but very efficient ax. After we all took turns chopping for the sheer lumberjacky-ness of it, we had the tree down and Kirstie roped it with what she called her “Boy Scout” techniques. I am certain these knots were not Boy Scout approved, but she got the job done and looped the rope over her shoulders to start pulling the tree out of the forest.
Kia took a turn as the tree was heavier than it looked. I mosied ahead, taking a different way back and not much paying attention to our footprint tracks from the way there. I found myself in that same brown brush again. I was holding my cocoa and the ax when suddenly I felt myself sinking fast beneath the snow. It felt like quicksand as I glanced down to see my left leg sinking in mucky brown goo up to my thigh. My right leg was safely pressed against some brush and not yet sunk.
I lurched my body backwards to avoid sinking further into the mud bog and yelled at the girls to get back, thinking the situation was worse than it was. Like that maybe I was about to be enveloped in mysterious brown goop that would swallow me whole as I flailed and told the girls to save themselves. I am highly dramatic like that. As I pulled my left leg out of the muddy glop, a smell rather pungent and along the lines of cow shit hit my nostrils.
I shimmied back, getting myself unlodged from the mess, assessing my now mud-soaked leg as the girls stared on and laughed from behind me.
“I think it’s a poop pit!” I yelled, scrunching up my nose in disgust, remembering that this exact field had housed numerous cattle all summer long. “I just fell in a poop pit!”
As I quickly backtracked my steps to avoid any more surprise underbellies of filth and muck I couldn’t help but note the hilarity of the situation. Only I would manage to walk atop some dingy cow pie pasture while on a happy Christmas tree hunt.
Kia was looking a little like an overworked mule dragging the Christmas tree across the field so I took over while she and Kirst went ahead. I was naturally quite nervous about more surprise mud bog/poop pits so I yelled to the girls to avoid the brown brush and make sure the ground was secure before I came through with the Christmas tree.
Kirst crossed an area that was teeming with the brown brush and I paused, asking her if any of the ground was squishy. She said no and that she’d made it across fine. I still hesitated, “but you’re like 100 pounds lighter than me!” I yelled, looking at the brush nervously and my already soaked left leg.
I delicately made my way across the field, now heaving with sweat from pulling our perfect little tree. I made it across just fine. And upon reaching the car, peeled off my snowsuit and threw it in the trunk and then all three of us girls climbed and maneuvered to get the tree tied to the roof.
We got home to haul it in, set it up and inspect our handiwork… only to realize that much like the Griswolds who had a similarly enlightening experience with a tree in the woods only to get home and find it was 7,000 times too large… ours was perhaps 7,000 times too small. Or at least not nearly as full and lush and brilliant as it had seemed in the forest surrounded by her other piney friends.
It didn’t matter though. We were all fiercely in love with our tree, our handiwork and the charm that only a freshly cut Christmas tree could possess. Our lil gal was perfect. We donned ugly Christmas sweaters and got her bedecked in Christmas flair. And then staring at our tree glowing in silvers and blues and old fashioned Christmas lights… I realized that even with falling in a poop pit, my first adventure of cutting down a Christmas tree in the wilds of Wyoming was entirely satisfactory.
Merry Christmas y’all!