Best Way to Get a Christmas Tree in Oregon

I am always looking for new ways to increase my OTT quotient at Christmas. For those unfamiliar with the term, OTT is the abbreviation for Over-the-Top. A therapist might say that my obsession with Christmas comes from being one of four children of a busy working mother who had no time for the excesses of holiday decorating, baking, and general merriment. It spurred me to create a whole host of holiday traditions, some based on what I learned in books, movies, or the homes of friends with stay-at-home moms, and some from my own little mind (I used to wrap a tip of a fir branch in tin foil so I could open it up and smell something Christmas-y throughout the year). Whatever the cause, the result is that my house looks like a winter wonderland from the day after Thanksgiving until a week into January, when I reluctantly pack it all away for another year.

I love Portland, but it often disappoints in the White Christmas department. Luckily we’ve got Mount Hood; I drag my husband up every year so I can get a dose of it (and a cup of cocoa the size of my head, laden with whipped cream and bits of toffee). But up until recently (a tweet let me in on it), I had no idea that you could go into the forest, and cut down your own tree. This concept makes U-cut Christmas tree farms seem wholly lame in comparison. I was beside myself with anticipation of this undertaking. My husband and resident tree-feller was a little less enthused. He kept putting off the trip all weekend, but finally succumbed to my wishes on Sunday. The only problem with that was that the only place to get the permits on Sunday (the other ranger stations will be open Sundays starting this week) was Estacada, which meant to me that there would be no snow. I almost cancelled the whole thing, feeling that if I wanted to cut a tree out of the mud, I could simply go to Oregon City. John, motivated by the $5 per tree permit cost, insisted that we go anyway.

We loaded the essentials – saw, pruning shears, tire chains, extra clothes, nutritional food for energy (Fritos, peanut M&M’s, sour gummy worms), ropes, and a tarp – and headed out.
The fifteen year old clerk at the tackle store where you buy the permits looked at us smugly as we stared, mouths agape, at the map he handed us with our tags and instructions. As far as we’d already come, the suggested sites for cutting were still 30 or 40 miles away. I know what he was thinking: city slickers. I then had a realization. Thirty or forty miles up into the mountains could mean snow! The distance ceased to matter.

And so we headed out and up, through beautiful hills, on roads with sometimes sweeping vistas. It was lovely. We went up, and up, and up, and, sure enough, we found the snow. Not to mention the trees. We followed the instructions and recommendations closely, as we wanted to do something that would act as helpful maintenance to the forest, and not in any way desecrate such a beautiful and magical place. We looked for groups of trees that were too close together to warrant healthy growth for all of them. We looked for a tree that had a nice shape, but that didn’t necessarily have to be perfect on all sides – a natural look was what we were going for.

We went slowly, trudging through, at times, knee-deep snow, stopping often to breathe in the crisp air, and appreciate the beauty of the forest. Then we found the perfect tree.

As we dragged it gently over the snow, I was already making plans for next year.

“We should get a group together next year,” I suggested, “Bring a picnic and hot cocoa!” John, used to my excesses of exuberance regarding all things Christmas, just let me babble as he hoisted the tree into the bed of our pickup.

In the end, it was a fun, snowy day, old-timey Christmasness at its best. Consider it added to the list of my staunchly adhered to holiday traditions.

For more information on obtaining a Christmas tree permit, visit the U.S. Forestry website.

Things to remember:

• Mountain roads are not plowed; four-wheel drive vehicles are best, carry chains regardless
• Bring winter emergency gear – tow chain, shovel, flashlights
• Be sure to tell someone where you’re going, and when you expect to be back
• Dress warmly, and bring extra clothes in case you get wet
• Carry your list of tree cutting requirements with you (you’ll get this with your permit) and be sure to adhere to the rules, to protect the health of the forest
• Bring hot drinks and food!

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