Christmas trees in a blast

    My mom still has the Santa Claus ornament made of red and white pipe cleaners from our first family Christmas back in 1956. I was just a month old, but that old, twisted bit of metal and fabric still adorn her tree each year when we gather as a family on Christmas Eve.

    Over the years, our trees changed with each passing holiday. In Arkansas, the woods are filled with oak, pecan, black walnut, Catawba, persimmon, and apple trees, but you won’t find many pines, spruces, or firs. What you will find is wild parasitic mistletoe, happily sucking the life out of trees in the indigenous hardwood forests.

    My first memory of a Christmas tree, (ok, not a tree, but something that grew wild down there) was an outing with my grandpa when I was eight years old to get some mistletoe for my mom. She mentioned she’d like some mistletoe for Christmas decorations and my beloved grandpa grinned at me and said, “Get in the truck, boy.”


    We drove a few miles south of their cotton farm a few miles west of Mariana, the seat of Lee County, Arkansas, to an area I’d been to with him before when we were delivering watermelons to backwoods cabins. He took his Harrington and Richardson 20-gauge shotgun from behind the seat of his narrow box 1964 Ford pickup and handed me a double-bladed axe from the bed.

    We walked a few hundred yards and found a mass of mistletoe growing in the bare Arkansas woods in a black walnut tree. The mistletoe was easy to spot, it was bright green against the grey and brown background of the southern woods in winter.

    Grandpa stepped back from the tree, pulled the hammer back on his shotgun, and fired. A big clump of mistletoe fell to the ground a few feet in front of us. Other kids would have been amazed, but I’d been out with my dad and grandpa hunting quail and knew how accurate he was.

    “Chop that in half, and pick it up,” he told me.


     A couple of whacks with grandpas razor sharp axe and the job was finished.

    We walked back to the truck and took the mistletoe to my mom.

    I’d like to say it was the only time firearms were involved in getting Christmas decorations, but that wouldn’t be true.


    Before we get to that story, another Christmas tree harvest comes to mind.

    I was the student council secretary during my senior year at Wind River since you couldn’t be student body president for two terms. (see, term limits are a great idea)

    The principal, Mr. Bookout, was our sponsor and asked me to get some friends and cut a Christmas tree for the school one weekend.


    A couple of friends and I headed for Dubois in my dad’s 1969 Dodge pickup. We ran up Union Pass and found a great 12-foot tree for the school. But on the way, we fabricated a story.

    There were a couple of girls in our class that loved to inform on their fellow classmates to teachers and administrators.

    I asked my friends Orris and Cubby (partners in crime in so many high school stunts) to mention that we’d cut the tree off the front lawn of Dubois High School. At the old Dubois school, there was a row of stately spruce trees along the entrance to the front office. The tree we cut matched those almost identically.

    Sure enough, the little toadies ran to the office and told Mr. Bookout we’d cut down a tree from the lawn of the Dubois school.

    He called me in with a little panic in his voice and asked me where I’d found the tree.

    “Dubois,” I said. It didn’t reassure him.

    “Where in Dubois?” he asked.

    I liked Mr. Bookout, so I didn’t carry on the ruse any longer and said, “Up on Union Pass.”

    He was visibly relieved.

    Jump ahead four years and I’m hunting coyotes with my friend Frank west of Laramie in the woods above Centennial.

    We didn’t see any coyotes, but we spotted some perfectly formed fir trees growing near the road.

    The snow in the aptly named Snowy Range, was deep that year. We had three Christmas tree permits with us that we’d paid for at the Laramie Ranger Station, but when we looked in the back of Frank’s truck for a bow saw we always carried, it wasn’t there.

    A friend had borrowed it and not returned the saw.

    No problem, I had my 12-gauge single-shot Iver Johnson shotgun behind the seat.

    The first tree was a good one, a 15-foot fir with at least a three-inch diameter trunk. I took careful aim with the shotgun and cut halfway through the trunk with the first blast A second shot severed the trunk and the tree fell sideways into the snow.

    We took two more smaller trees, each with a single shot.

    The big tree went to the Tri-Delta sorority house where one of the girls I was dating lived, the other went to our apartment, and the third we gave to our knuckle-dragging buddies at Crane Hall.

    The clowns in Crane did a great job of decorating the tree with various beer cans, attached with monofilament fishing line to large fishing hooks.  The tree did look a bit festive despite the Hamms, Coors, Budweiser, and Pabst ornaments.

    I had an uncle and aunt in San Bruno, California that we lived near when I was in my early teens. They never had a real tree, settling instead for a revolving aluminum model with three floodlights set around it. It wasn’t much of a Christmas statement in my mind, but it was California.

    Two years ago, in a test of my first knee replacement, we snowshoed into a tree-cutting area near Louis Lake on South Pass.

    Sue and I, our son Brian and daughter-in-law Katelin walked a half-mile or so off the main road and found great trees. The bow saw Brian carried made short work of both, and we carried our prizes back to the truck.

    There is something magic in cutting your own tree, the smell that emanates from a freshly cut fir, spruce, or pine is impossible to match with an artificial tree.

    As I write this, our artificial tree is just a few feet to my left. It resembles the real thing, but it is not, it’s just a facsimile.

    At least there was no gunplay in acquiring this one. But every Christmas season, I think of my grandpa Forest and the warm glow of his wood burning stove, heating their little farmhouse with hickory, oak, and walnut logs.

    A long time ago, but just a moment in my mind.


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