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Treelightful! Cut your own Christmas tree this year (South)

How I cherish the fond memories of the Christmas trees of my Thomas Kinkade childhood. Each blessed December, my heart would race during my search for the perfect tree. I’d sing loudly in glee upon its discovery. I had found our winter centerpiece! Once again I’d saved Christmas!

DIY Christmas treesYes, our artificial Christmas tree was never easy to find after a year in storage. Dad would happily wait at the bottom of the attic scuttle for me to hand him the aluminum trunk. I’d pass him each color-coded plastic bough. Per our longstanding family tradition, I always searched first for the largest branches, dotted on the stems in red, and finish with the tiny, green-stemmed branches for the top. The tree stood complete in our living room — perfect — by the time I wiped the dust and insulation from my hands. Not bad for the third weekend in December.

I’m an adult now with children of my own, and my wife has made it very clear: We will have a freshly cut Christmas tree decorated in the house, preferably by the day after Thanksgiving.

Leavenworth dad Steve Haggard shares a tree tradition with his family, too. For the past six years, he’s purchased a permit and cut his own tree from the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest. Haggard brings his entire family on the tree hunt. “Sometimes we invite multiple families to go together. We bring the dogs, the kids, the whole big deal.

“We make a day of it,” he says. “Some years we snowshoe in, drag the kids in the sled, cut a tree and sled it out.”

Last year, to celebrate the first holiday in their new house with vaulted ceilings, the Haggard family brought home an 18-foot-tall noble fir.

“It had an 8-inch base to it-we had to drag the tree in backwards through the French doors,” he says. “Our house looked like Times Square in New York.”

Christmas tree permits for the national forests went on sale on Nov. 12. Permits for trees shorter than 12 feet cost $10. Permits for 12- to 20-foot trees cost $20. The Enumclaw Ranger District office will include area recommendations and instructions with each permit.

Forester Lee Redmond warns that cutting a tree from the national forest can be “extremely difficult.”

“You can expect up to 4 feet of snow in some places,” he says. “You might have to dig out the tree to get to its base. If you’re going up forest roads, you’re going to need to bring chains or a four-wheel drive vehicle.

“You should know what you’re doing,” he says.

Haggard seconds Redmond’s warning. “Do your research before you go,” he says. “Get a map of the roads, decide how far you’re going to drive up there and plan for enough time to get home before it gets too dark.”

I doubt I’ll drag my family to Greenwater for a wild Christmas tree this season. Usually I’ve burned half a day’s sunlight by the time I’ve convinced my 2-and-a-half-year-old to keep his shoes on while I’m trying to bundle the 3-month-old without spilling coffee on her head.

Fortunately, Roger Irle of Harvey’s Harvest Christmas Trees in Sumner offers an easier answer. “Bring your family out to the farm and cut your own tree here,” he says.

Located a half-mile outside of Sumner, Harvey’s Harvest is far enough away for a decent outing but close enough to feed the kids dinner at home. Irle says he keeps a bonfire going for roasting marshmallows. His 11-year-old grandson helps serve hot chocolate.

“We’re a fourth-generation family business,” he says. “My nephew has years of experience helping people cut trees.”

Irle reminds parents to dress warmly when they visit the farm. “Wear waterproof boots and make sure to bring a black plastic garbage bag to put on the ground if you don’t want to get your pants wet,” he says.

“We have extra hats and gloves for the little ones if they get too cold,” he says. “We sterilize them every night.”

Irle is a member of the Puget Sound Christmas Tree Association. The PSCTA bills itself as “your guide to the Northwest’s premier choose-and-cut farms.” Its Web site includes listings for tree farms all over Western Washington, including many in Pierce and Thurston counties.

“The first weekend in December is the busiest for all of the tree farms,” Irle says. “The PSCTA Web site will list reputable tree farms, their hours of operations, and the types of trees they have available.

“If you want a specific kind of tree, call ahead and make sure they’ve got it,” Irle says.

For Forest Service contact information, visit the USFS Web site. Visitor information services are available in Enumclaw, North Bend, and inside the downtown Seattle and Alderwood REI stores.

Douglas Grey, a sometime writer and full-time father, plans his tree-cutting outings from somewhere in Seattle’s Central District.


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