Christmas tree: nailed it

By Jamie Balke
Explore Big Sky Columnist

The first holiday season I lived in Bozeman, my brother John and I hatched a plan to purchase a Forest Service permit and harvest a Christmas tree. Suffice it to say we failed, thanks to a snowstorm and inadequate knowledge of the area. After a couple of years of buying trees from hardware stores and a local farm, I decided that my fifth year in Bozeman could be the charm and we’d finally harvest a tree ourselves. With a greater knowledge of the area and better weather this time around, we were determined to succeed.

At first, John wasn’t convinced that we should try our luck again, but I wagered that he’d be more excited if we had a permit. I procured one at the U.S. Forest Service office in town, and when I returned home, excitedly waved the permit and map around. John reluctantly agreed to go to the following day, probably so I’d stop flailing around with the permit.

The next morning, Dec. 6, we loaded up the car with trail mix, winter gear, a hatchet, a saw, and our trusty dog Finn who enjoys both a good car ride and a walk in the woods. Unlike that first year we attempted to get our own tree, there wasn’t a winter storm raging and the temperature was pleasant. As we headed toward Storm Castle Road in the Gallatin Canyon, we were occasionally passed by cars headed back to Bozeman festooned with trees on their roofs. This was encouraging, and we continued onward to the source of the tree parade.

There was snow on Storm Castle Road and, as usual, I drove like a grandma, which John finds intensely annoying. I encouraged him to enjoy the scenery as we plodded along at a snail’s pace, looking for a promising place to begin the tree hunt (As a vegetarian, there are limited opportunities for me to hunt for things).

After a few miles, we came to a promising area. There was a good spot to park and a hill that appeared to level off at a meadow. As we walked up the hill, there were a couple of sets of boot prints leading us to believe others had the same idea. Someone with better planning skills had clearly used a sled to drag out a tree. Next year, we will be better provisioned.

Sure enough, at the top of the hill was a beautiful meadow surrounded by woods and stunning views. While John puttered around the forest, identifying plants and making me nervous by climbing out on rocky ledges, Finn and I went in search of the Balke family Christmas tree.

It wasn’t long before we found it. It was approximately my height, the branches were mostly full, it smelled fantastic, and it was slightly lopsided from growing in a clump with a couple of other trees. After cutting it down, John fashioned a makeshift tree papoose out of a piece of cloth to carry it down to the car, where he spent an eternity fastening it to the roof. Finn and I wandered off to take pictures of a stream.

After this enjoyable outdoor holiday experience, there will be no going back to the tree lot for John and I.

Balke is looking forward to showing her parents the result of her hunt when they arrive in Bozeman for the holidays.