HUNTING THE ELUSIVE WILD CHRISTMAS TREE

December 07, 2007 11:00 pm

By Scott Graves

Pilot staff writer

As the storm ushered in a premature dusk and the rain turned to hail and then to snow flurries, I knew our hunt for a Christmas tree in the Oregon wilderness was a bust.

Hours earlier, my wife, 4-year-old daughter and I packed the hacksaw, rope and a tarp. We made a picnic lunch, dressed warmly, picked up the grandparents and drove our trusty Isuzu Trooper up into the national forest to find and cut our own Christmas tree.

We were armed with a $5 permit, a U.S. Forest Service map and a vague idea of where we wanted to go. We weren't looking for the perfect tree – those can be found for $59.99 at a Christmas tree lot, where the only challenge was deciding on white, blue or pink flocking.

The ominous storm clouds skirting the Oregon Coast Highway, or the forecast calling for a major storm that night, was of little concern. We'd done this before. It would be a quick, surgical strike. In and out and back home drinking cups of hot chocolate before the storm hit.

I didn't count on the "No Trespassing" signs.

The further we traveled the gravel forest service road, the more "No Trespassing" signs we encountered. After driving for more than an hour, we came to an open fence next to a private ranch and nearby pasture land. We were still on a Forest Service road, I was sure, but there was a "No Trespassing" sign, in bold black and red letters, staring back at us.

We discussed our options – keep going or turn back. The rain fell harder, the windows steamed up and a nearby cow gave us the stink eye.

We turned around and headed back to the coast. We decided to try another route up into the wilderness, one that promised less "No Trespassing" signs.

We climbed back up into the mountains, following the twisting gravel road and dodging rain-filled potholes. The scenery was stunning, but the details grew fuzzy as the storm clouds thickened, the light faded and the temperature plummeted.

Four hours into our Christmas tree hunt, the rain turned to hail, then to snow flurries, and a hint of desperation crept into the search party's cries of "There's one!" "How about that one!" "That one looks good!"

Then, in a small, quiet voice, my daughter said, "I'm tired of looking for wilderness trees. Let's go buy one."

Silence.

My daughter had voiced what I was thinking, but was too chicken to admit out loud.

We stopped the SUV in the next available turnout and wandered through the woods, stretching our legs until the the snow flurries and cold drove us back to the car.

We turned around for the second time that day and drove back to civilization. Next stop, the Christmas tree lot, where my daughter gleefully inspected the stacked up fresh cut trees. We let her pick one, no matter what the cost.

Days later, with the tree standing proudly, half-decorated, in our living room, I realized our Christmas tree hunt was not a bust.

Looking for a tree in the wilderness isn't so much about finding the tree, it's about adventure and building memories. And in that regard, our trip was a rousing success.