December 15, 2015


I like things in their proper time. Dessert comes after dinner. “Back to school” clothes are for after school has started. Work hard, then play hard.

It’s not that I don’t like spontaneity, because I do. But respecting timing boundaries on things that are special is what makes them special.

The more you get what you want whenever you want it, all the time, every day, the harder it is to be impressed. If you took your kids to Disneyland every weekend, how long before the novelty wore off? If we ate dessert non-stop, would we savor each decadent bite, or just shovel it down without thought?

This kind of thinking is ingrained in me, and as such, I’ve always gotten irritated when I see Christmas décor popping up in the stores shortly after summer. It seems like it gets earlier every year. Sure, Christmas is amazing, but it can’t be Christmas all the time. And I’m a firm believer in leaving Christmas until after Thanksgiving.

But once the turkey is stripped down to a pile of bones and everyone starts changing into their stretchy pants, game on.

The day or two after Thanksgiving, my family heads out to pick out our Christmas tree. For the past ten years or so, we’ve skipped the farms and supermarket stands in favor of the wild growth in the nearby National Forests.

Trees are abundant over here. Like, really abundant. Nearly all common Christmas tree varieties can be found in the Deschutes and Ochoco National Forests, including Noble, Silver, and White Firs; Douglas-Fir; Cedar; and Lodgepole and Ponderosa Pines. All you need to do is pick up a $5 permit from one of the designated retailers. You’ll receive an orange tag, a zip-tie to attach it to your tree, tree-cutting guidelines, and a map detailing the general whereabouts of each tree type.

Most lands in the Deschutes and Ochoco National Forests are fair game, but be aware of private property. Obey any posted closures or restrictions that may apply to a particular area. Cut at least 150 feet from state highways, picnic areas, and campgrounds, and at least 300 feet away from streams and bodies of water. Also avoid any areas where new seedlings have been planted.

If you have a certain tree species in mind, you might choose your location based on where that type flourishes. The map that came with your permit will point you in the general direction, but you may still have to hunt a bit if you’re looking for something specific. Pines are pretty easy to find; firs are a bit trickier.

We were looking for a Noble or Silver Fir – something with a standard Christmas tree shape but enough spacing between the branches to let the ornaments hang easily. Those fellas are usually found at higher elevations, so we started up Cascade Lakes Highway to begin our search.


About 50 miles from Bend, we turned right where Century Drive/Forest Road 42 crosses the highway. This is normally one of the bumpiest roads in the state, but with a soft cover of snow, most of the bumps had been filled in. After driving a ways and turning left on a side road, we parked and set out on foot.

As you look for your tree, make sure it meets the Forest Service requirements. The tree must be less than 12 feet tall and located within 15 feel of another tree. Make your cut as close to the ground as possible, ensuring that you do not leave a stump greater than 12 inches. After cutting down your tree, safely attach it to your vehicle and affix the orange permit tag to a branch. Punch in the numbers for the day you cut it down and make sure it is visible so that rangers and sheriffs know you cut your tree legally.

We found our tree pretty quickly, as it was literally bathed in a warm sunbeam and illuminated within the forest. This pretty fella was a nice Noble Fir, about 11 feet tall with full foliage and fairly symmetrical branch spacing. Perfect! After cutting it down, we carried it back to our car and strapped it on top, then attaching our permit.

When you get your tree home, place it in fresh water as soon as possible. Freshly cut trees are thirsty, and getting it hydrated quickly will ensure it keeps its needles longer. The bigger the tree, generally the thirstier it will be. You’ll probably fill up your tree stand’s reservoir multiple times a day over the first few days. Decorate with lights, ornaments, or whatever else you please.


Putting up a tree always brings me so much joy. After a day out in nature, it’s a fun feeling bringing a piece of it back into our home. Waiting until after Thanksgiving allows me to be fully present during that holiday before moving onto the next. Respecting the boundaries protect this tradition and allow us to fully experience them in their proper time. Having my sparkly and fragrant tree for only one month a year is what makes it special.

Plus, clutter makes me a little crazy. Once Christmas is over, I’m ready to chuck my tree in the yard-debris bin and move on again. Because even with our favorite things, the novelty wears off if we don’t respect boundaries to keep them that way.

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