Last year, at the suggestion of a friend who's studying forestry, my wife Rebecca and I persuaded our daughters that we should get our family Christmas tree the old-fashioned way - from the woods.
It'll be great, I assured the girls, claiming that such a "wild" tree would be way better than those tame tannenbaums that we usually buy from our favorite U-cut farm on the south end of Lake Whatcom.
So with visions of "White Christmas" in our heads, Emma and I headed up the Mount Baker Highway toward Glacier. After a day of trudging along snow-covered roads and trails, what we settled for was more like the pathetic little tree from "A Charlie Brown Christmas."
Still, we had a wonderful day together in the woods, and we'll always remember that beautifully scrawny little tree.
Magenta Widner, a forestry technician who works at the Glacier Public Service Center, the ranger station just east of Glacier, said the "Charlie Brown" allusion is common among those who cut their own trees in the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest.
"The people who come here - and repeatedly come here - that's the exact adjective they use," Widner said.
"People enjoy it, but it's definitely not the place to come if you're looking for an ideal tree," she said.
She said that for those who cut their own trees, it's more about the solitude and the charm of a finding a tree that appeals to you.
"People like to walk in the forest" in winter, Widner said.
A college roommate of mine, Steve Robertson, said he cuts such a wild tree every year. Robertson, who has an ad agency in Missoula Mont., calls it a "win-win" for himself and the environment.
"The trees I cut are tagged as imposing on their adjacent trees. So I end up with a non-symmetrical tree, yet I am opening up the forest canopy and working against pine beetle infestation," he said.
A permit to cut a tree 12 feet or shorter is $10. It's $20 for trees taller than 12 feet. Permits went on sale Nov. 13 and remain on sale through Dec. 24.
Locally, permits are available from the Glacier Public Service Center, which is open 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, or from the U.S. Forest Service office at 810 Highway 20 in Sedro-Woolley, which is open 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. For more information, call the Glacier center at 360-599-2714 or the Sedro-Woolley office at 360- 856-5700 ext. 515.
Usually, a Northwest Forest Pass or day-use permit is required in the national forest, Widner said. But those without a forest pass can place their tree-cutting permit on the dashboard while they're looking for their tree. Widener also advised people to be aware of where they park, because some places require a state Sno-Park permit or Discover Pass and not a Forest Service-issued pass.
Widner urged people to read the safety tips and other information at this Forest Service webpage: fs.usda.gov/detail/mbs/home/?cid=STELPRDB5337967. The link labeled "Christmas tree facts" is a PDF with general information about where trees can be cut. Two other links, labeled "Mount Baker Highway" and "Baker Lake Road" have printable PDF maps that show main roads through the national forest.
As a general rule, Widner urged people to come prepared and use common sense. It gets dark by mid-afternoon in the woods, so start early and head back before darkness falls. People should check current weather conditions and dress accordingly. I made sure my wife knew where we were going and when we should return.
I carried a saw and hatchet, plus a tarp to lie on while I did the cutting. We brought water, snacks and stopped afterward for coffee and chocolate in Glacier. I also brought rope to tie the tree down, and packed winter sleeping bags, lighting and signaling gear in case we got stuck in the snow or had mechanical trouble.
Although Widener suggests that drivers carry chains, we saw many people driving conventional vehicles without special equipment in 2 to 4 finches of snow along Deadhorse Road, which is Forest Service Road No. 37 off Glacier Creek Road.
We found our tree in a clearing several miles below the Skyline Divide Trailhead.
ROBERT MITTENDORF is a Herald copy editor and page designer. Suggest your ideas for local family-friendly events, hikes or day trips at 360-756-2805 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.