Story by Ryan Lister – Fisheries Technician at Sam Livingston Fish Hatchery
My childhood memories of trips into the boreal forest of Saskatchewan to find our Christmas tree visit me every year at this time. It’s these memories that prompt me to pick up a Christmas tree permit and journey to Alberta’s foothills every December to build some memories for my own family.
This year we set our sights on the ghost area and travel north of Cochrane before heading west towards the foothills on Highway 579. With a quick stop in Water Valley to reload on caffeine we continued west towards Harold Creek Road.
Every kilometer the road becomes windier and noticeably less travelled until the car rolls over the Texas gate that separates the rolling ranchland from the ghost area and before long we are sizing up every suitable sized spruce tree that we see.
The road is lined with countless spruce trees that are probably as good or better than the ones we end up harvesting but it doesn’t feel like Christmas tree hunting without going for a walk through some deep snow and at the very least getting out of sight of the road, even if it is for a tree that would be in direct competition with Charlie Brown’s.
The experience is about more than finding the “best” tree. We eventually find a nice spot to pull off the road and begin to unload our crew. Everyone gets their snow pants on and I take deep breath that is followed by my 4 year old girl, Imogen, commenting in a reflecting tone “it’s so quiet out here”. I smile and think to myself “exactly”.
After getting suited up and grabbing our sled and saw, we have a sip of hot chocolate and are on our way. It takes no time at all before one’s eyes become calibrated to identify potential specimens in the distance.
My wife, Angela, takes the first sled pulling shift and after hiking for a couple of hundred meters we see what looks to be the perfect white spruce tree but as we get closer we quickly realize that it is much taller than the 2.5 meters in height that our tree permit allows us to harvest.
As the forest becomes denser, we ditch the sled and Imogen and my son, Parker, continue the trek on foot. The snow is deep but we find a trail that has recently been traveled by a few deer who have cut a route for us. We spot another potential Christmas tree further down the trail and, as we approach, Imogen points at another one a little further away and says “that one”. We unanimously agree that this will be our 2014 Christmas tree.
The teeth of the small hand saw make quick work of the tree trunk and Parker, Imogen and Angela all join in in a collective “TIMBER”! With big grins on our faces, Imogen and I each grab a lower limb of our tree and start pulling it back towards the van while Angela and Parker retrieve our red plastic sled.
With our tree proudly propped up against the van, we build a fire to cook a well-deserved lunch. As anyone who has been camping knows, a hotdog could never taste better than when cooked over an open fire, and our Christmas tree hunting lunch was no exception.
After lessons in how to toast the perfect marshmallow, as well as how to turn one into a primitive type of torch, we decide to call it a day and extinguish our fire and load back into the van all feeling very satisfied.
One beautiful day in the hills is worth a hundred in the city and you can’t help but feel blessed having this type of experience with your family only an hour from your doorstep.
Not much is said or is needed to be said on the drive home, and Imogen and Parker are sleeping by the time we find pavement again. A more than perfect day is the start of what promises to be a wonderful Christmas.