The winter holidays are ripe with tradition. While some are better forgotten (a certain aunt’s fruitcake, perhaps?), others elicit that warm glow and special memory that make this time of year a cherished one.
For my family, cutting down a Christmas tree is our beloved holiday tradition. Loading up the family truckster, plowing through snow on a forest road and searching for that ever elusive, perfect tree is something we look forward to each year. Though the tree may be the end goal, it’s just one part of what makes this tradition worth repeating. The outing itself is the real present, as well as the memories made while tromping around in snowy woods.
If you’re new to cutting down your own tree, Central Oregon is a great place to start. National forests surround us, making it accessible and easy. With a simple permit purchase and a little planning, you could be adding a new tradition to your family.
Before the hunt begins, spend some time preparing to ensure success. This is key, especially if you have little ones in tow. Dress warmly, bring layers, and have a few extras in the car just in case—you never know when you might need them. Warm drinks for the journey are a must (hot cocoa and spiked apple cider is our go-to) and hot food for the return, such as a hearty soup or chili. Scope out some locations on your map beforehand so you’re not aimlessly wandering snowy forest roads, and be sure to bring an actual printed map since cell service can be spotty in areas. As always, it’s also a good idea to have emergency supplies in the car as a safeguard.
Having an idea of what type of tree you’re looking for will help point you in the right direction. Douglas fir, white fir, incense cedar, lodgepole pine and ponderosa pineare all tucked away if you know where to look. According to the National Forest Service, pine trees are prevalent around lower elevations near Bend and Sisters and on south and western facing slopes around Prineville, while the thicker, full-bodied fir trees and cedars can be found at higher elevations in Bend and Sisters or on northern and eastern slopes near Prineville.
Grab a $5 tree permit from any Forest Service office in Central Oregon or from a number of retail locations (such as any Central Oregon Bi-Mart store). Permits are good for one tree only, and trees should only be cut down on national forest lands. When grabbing a permit, ask for an accompanying tree map that provides some clues as to where to look for the various types of trees and remember to choose a tree at least 200 feet from main roads or 300 feet from any body of water. Before departing, grab everything you need to both take the tree down properly (handsaw or hatchet) as well as transport it home (tarp, rope or tie-down straps).
When you arrive and set out on your quest, keep in mind it takes time to find a tree that’s just the right height (trees should be under twelve feet tall) and symmetrical. Each year we think we’ve spotted the perfect conifer only to discover a sizable gap or thin branches on the other side. Don’t get discouraged—the most important part is having fun. Pepper in a snowball fight or two, make a snowman with a funny face for the next family to discover, or simply stand as still as you can and take in the pristine, beautiful quiet of a winter’s day in the woods.
Whether your perfect tree is worthy of a Hallmark card or more in line with Charlie Brown, it’s about the fun and experience—because that’s what makes a tradition worth repeating.