Stalking the wild Christmas tree

It’s that time of year. Christmas has snuck up on us once again. The pressure to get a tree is Intense. T’was two days before Christmas Eve and time to get a tree. On the farm we go in search of wild trees partly because it is nostalgic, partly because I am cheap. The forest is full of trees, why spend big bucks just to get a perfect one?

Getting a wild tree is stressful especially if it is a hunt by committee. Committee hunting always includes at least one person who is searching for the perfect tree. A perfect tree is symmetrical, thick with branches, evenly distributed in the round. A “You know it when you see it. An HALLELUJAH tree .”

Wild trees are not perfect for a reason. They have not been pruned, pampered and groomed for ten or more years as part of a cash crop deal. They are by nature ugly. It’s probably nature’s way of protecting them from premature harvest by Christmas tree seekers.

Here is my strategy for a successful wild Christmas tree hunt. (Bear in mind I am ultimately responsible for getting the job done because it involves a team of horses and a sled). Wait until the last possible hour to set your plan in motion. That would be approximately 3:15 pm on December 23. It’s takes about twenty minutes to get the horses in the barn and harnessed. That puts you at about 3:40 for hitch to the sled time. Add an additional 5 minutes to find the saw. By this time the approaching dusk is almost noticeable. Load the committee on the sleigh and head out to the woods.

Upon approaching the harvest zone alert everyone to be watching for the perfect tree. The longer the shadows the better. To get things started, say “hey, that looks like a good one” making sure it is a really ugly one. Expect moans and groans. Continue the search, knowing full well the temperature is dropping with the setting sun. Test the mood by pointing at another. If things are on track, they will ask you to stop the horses for a closer look. No, too skinny, too crooked, too few branches. Not too worry, it needs to be a little darker, body parts number.

As the moment of truth nears, individual committee members will begin pointing out candidates. Trees will be rejected, scrutinized by the committee. Remain silent until the right moment. Sooner or later someone will exclaim “That looks like a good one!”. Without hesitation, jump in with “Wow! That is a beautiful one!” even while straining to see it in the diminishing darkness. Quickly toss the lines to the identifier(to keep them occupied while you grab the saw and cut the chosen one off at the stump). Add a little ” boy that is a nice tree” as you toss it in the back. It doesn’t hurt to remind the committee how cold it is getting as you swing the team towards home. Chuckling them into a trot increases the wind chill factor. There is nothing like a shared suffering to cement an agreement on the fact that “we” found the perfect tree.

If properly executed, the plan will carry through the setting up and decorating process. Once decorated and brightly lit, an otherwise “ugly” tree becomes a special tree.

Christmas is about shared memories and love. What’s more special than bringing a less than perfect tree into your home and making it the most special tree in the forest? Christmas is about accepting people and things for what they are. The end justifies the means right?

Merry Christmas 2013

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Whisker freezing cold. Perfect

20131223-200426.jpg Lugging the wild beast into the house. Doesn’t hurt to review how cold and successful the hunt was.

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All decked out and beautiful! Another wonderful memory.

Bitter bitter cold

The sound snow makes when the temperature drops into the depths of sub zeros, the fresh crispness of the air, the frost crystals on the sheep’s wool, the white vapor from the horse’s breath. Doing chores on mornings like this is special.

Nature has a way of looking after its creatures. The horses increase their hay intake, the pigs burrow into the straw and the sheep look especially comfortable in their woollies.

Being a farmer under these conditions makes one acutely aware of the fragility of life and the heightened responsibilities in making sure everyone is prepared to make it through. The best feeling of relief is seeing the waterers steaming but open and full. The worst is realizing the breaker tripped sometime in the night and everything is frozen solid. Double checking that the frost free hydrant is closed is a good idea. It will be a long time before spring comes if you have to carry water. Been there, done that.

As I pull down some square bales I remember the sweltering hot day I stacked them. Minnesota is truly the land of climate variety.

20131208-102017.jpg Mr. Ed self portrait, a few frosted whiskers.

20131208-102238.jpg Nothing, even cold, seems to damper Winston’s eagerness to help with chores.

20131208-102507.jpg Fonzie and Rosie love romping in the snow.

20131208-102706.jpg Joe and Vinnie digging into a big bale.

20131208-102835.jpg A steamy waterer is a welcome sight on a frigid morning.

20131208-103028.jpg Sheep all warm in their woollies.

20131208-103204.jpg Mick and Bud letting me know they are thinking a sleigh ride would be fun.

20131208-103506.jpg Sweetie covered in frost doesn’t seem to mind the cold as long as there is plenty to eat.

20131208-103729.jpg Sam looks good with a little “frosting” on his mane.

20131208-104023.jpg Casualty of the cold, a frozen, cracked egg. Sorry Miss Chicken, I’ll make sure to pick eggs at noon next time.