Want to drive for miles on gravel forest service roads? Does an 8-foot Charlie Brown tree say Christmas to you? If so, you're in luck. The U.S. Forest Service has $5 trees for you.
Maybe it's just me, but Christmas trees seem kind of expensive, even if worth the price.
I was stoked to learn that they're legally available for a modest $5 permit fee in the Olympic National Forest. A real tree, even if it doesn't look exactly like a perfectly groomed specimen from a tree farm, would be a major step up from the 2-foot battered artificial tree that masqueraded as a Christmas tree before I lost part of the stand in one of my moves.
My then-fiancée Mandy and I decided to make a trek into the woods last year for our first Christmas tree as an engaged couple. (We have since gotten married.)
The forest service offices are open during the weekends in November and December to help would-be holiday foresters find a perfect tree.
The person in Quilcene who answered the phone had some helpful advice for trees near my in-laws' place in Sequim. It's best to check with the forest service staff for tips and road conditions.
Permits come with a photocopied map of forest service roads in the permit area. The forest service lady suggested I try a spot off of Forest Service Road 2870 on spur 050, where the forest service is creating elk habitat.
Some people prefer the more Christmas-like sub-alpine firs, but they're only near the ridge tops and are hard to reach in the snow, especially in a two-wheel-drive sedan. Higher elevations would be risky without four-wheel drive and snow chains.
I didn't have either, so I was content to look for a lower-elevation tree.
The permit allows a person to harvest one tree of any type but silver fir. I'm horrible at identifying trees but figured I'd just nix anything with 5-10 centimeter needles, which silver firs have. Douglas-firs have short, soft needles, so I'd be pretty safe.
We scoped out the trees alongside the road on the way to our planned target zone. There were a bunch of them but none were what we were hoping for. The forest service isn't planting that many trees anymore, so there are few the right size for a Christmas tree.
We soon came to the recommended spur and pulled onto it. We parked almost immediately and scouted a few trees at the edges of a large clearing littered with broken clay pigeons and shotgun shells. There were some trees but they all seemed spindly or uneven.
We drove slowly down the spur, stopping here and there to check out the young trees sprouting in the sunlight at the road edge. Deeper in the forest were only adult trees. We weren't having much luck.
Then we hit the jackpot. Tree after Christmas-tree-sized tree lined a narrow road leading off the main spur. It didn't look like elk habitat but it looked like there might be a tree there somewhere we could take home.
We skipped down the trail checking for the best Christmas tree. Eventually we returned to the best of our fall-backs. It looked a lot spindlier than the pruned trees one finds on a tree farm or precut tree lots but was charming in its own way.
I was watching Rick Steves' Christmas special of European traditions the other day and saw quite a number of similarly spindly trees, so maybe it's just Americans who expect bushy trees.
I took out my hand-powered chain saw - basically a length of bladed chain with loop handles at each end - and set to work. I'd never used the saw before and marveled at how quickly it cut through the tree. In less than 30 seconds it toppled onto my head. We headed back to the car and tied it to the roof with rope and attached the orange permit to the trunk.
At home, we decorated it with lights strung around the trunk (they weighed down the branches too much and the wiring was too obvious on such a sparse tree), a handful of ornaments and garlands made of popcorn and cranberries threaded on string.
It was almost as much fun to make the decorations as it was to get the tree. Even though it was sort of a tall Charlie Brown tree, it was a lot of fun to get. In fact, it might be the best $5 I spent all year.
Portions of this column appeared in a previous edition of the Sequim Gazette and The Daily World.
Christmas tree permit
How much: $5
How to get it: Permits may be purchased at any Olympic National Forest office including the headquarters in Olympia. Permits also can be purchased through the mail.
Where it's valid: Christmas tree permits are valid in the Olympic National Forest Hood Canal District in areas not designated wilderness.
For more information: visit www.fs.fed.us/r6/olympic/passes, call 360-765-2200 or visit or mail the Hood Canal Ranger District Quilcene Office, 295142 Highway 101 S., P.O. Box 280, Quilcene, WA 98376.