Third times a charm...
Bound northeast from Steamboat to Winter Park on a sun-snowed road. Pink sticker in hand, the one that grants permission to cut down a tree of choice in National Forest land so long as it’s over 100 feet from any road or trail. We arrive around 2pm on the backcountry trail already losing light.
Southern traditions teach well, but in the ways of winter they do not provide. I know nothing of tree picking. Matt is a little better off than me but not by much.
Confident we will find our tree today we walk into the woods and stay for hours. Pines now like the familiar faces of friends, I realize choosing the ‘one’ is going to be less of “picking the one” and more a task of patience. Falling thigh deep and face first into the cloud-snow piles I decide to welcome winter’s cold kiss.
We abandon our first attempt at finding our first Christmas tree as the sun takes shelter for the night. We grab $3 margaritas from a local family owned restaurant and head an hour and a half back to Steamboat.
We take snowshoes this time and head for Route National Forest. It’s a 10-degree morning, something I’m adjusting to but am not use to, not yet.
The sky is a blank canvas. Solid white covers the horizon to the sun to twenty feet in front. We hike the snow globe for hours, deciding and then not deciding on our tree. Matt spots a beautiful meadow and we hike in. My toes are now past the numbness and onto a burning sensation. To warm up Matt suggests we make coffee. Once I get the water boiling the very thing I've been fighting throughout the hike happens. I'm so cold I just began to weep.
To be calm and kind, to not complain or cause issue, to be full and strong, this is the mantra playing on loop in the back of my throat as my eyes begin to well with salty tears. I don’t know why I feel failure like a hot branded iron but it comes in through my skin and it stays. And I can’t shake it. And sometimes, in the worst times, I can’t do anything but wallow in it.
On the surface I’m crying because I’m cold. In the belly the tears are out because I’m embarrassed, mad at myself for wearing boots that are not insulated and gloves that when wet are as good as water, annoyed at my baby status – I believe I even called myself a, “baby bitch” at one point but who knows, I can’t really remember. But my core is warm and that brings me hope and I begin to laugh at my tears like a wild animal. All the while Matt is calm, kind and helpful. He knows me like a fox knows the snow. Intuitive to my next move he speaks with care as he suggests that maybe, on a day that isn’t below 0-degrees, we try again. I agree.
The morning is cloudy. We leave around 8 AM, this time for Buff’s Pass. We see no one as we set off on the trail. The morning is cold but not unbearable and I’m wearing insulated boots.
Matt leads the way. He spots a forest of pines across the river. We follow the trail down and around that opens to a tiny bridge. As we step into moose territory we see the one, the perfect golden nugget of a tree that is destined to be ours.
Once we cross the river we traverse through knee high snow making our own route to the tree.
I fall forward into the snow too many times to count and soak my camera in the snow but I don’t even care because finally, here it is. What we’ve been waiting for. We both hoot a little, and laugh and hug and are far too excited but it’s ok because who cares! We did it.
Matt takes his hatchet to the base and after about few blows she’s down and we’re hauling her a mile and a half over the river and through the woods back to the truck.
We take turns carrying it back. I take a break, take my snow pants off, Matt also starts shedding layers.
The sun showed up right when we needed him, right in line with our unabashed joy. It's the little things, the time together in the woods, the hunt for our winter tree, the newness of a state and a season we've been anticipating.
Pits sweaty and three layers shed we make it back to the car and load up our prize. Three attempts for the perfect tree. She's a bit small but she's ours and the work to get her feels well worth it. We might keep her as long as we can - decorate her for birthdays, future holidays. The hunt taught us, among many things, patience. I find that the theme of this season - that and learning how to dress warm.
Ninjasuit outfitted us for this adventure. Without them the crying would have been more intense, the cold far, far colder, the colors less Christmas. Thank you Ninjasuit. It is always a joy to work together. We are wearing their merino wool Ninjasuits. Kristen's blue ninja is the Airblaster X Polerstuff collaboration this season.