In years past, my husband and I always kicked off the Christmas season with a visit to a Southern California tree farm. Out in the suburbs of Orange County, we wandered past row after row of perfectly pruned pines in 75°F weather while palm trees swayed in the balmy breeze above our heads.
I liked to think it was just as much a novelty for him as it was for me. He grew up going to “real” tree farms in rural Northern California, and my family did what most families did—stop by one of the many Christmas tree lots that popped up in front of supermarkets after Thanksgiving.
We’d once considered doing the same—before we had a toddler in the mix and whimsical memory-making wasn’t as much of a focus—but I love any excuse for an adventure (even if it’s an urban adventure) and Will’s DIY spirit never turns down an opportunity to wield a saw, so the U-cut Christmas tree farm became a fun tradition for us.
After moving to Bend, I wanted to continue that tradition so our daughter would have something festive and outdoorsy to look forward to every year. I Googled “Central Oregon Christmas trees” with the hope of finding a list of tree farms near our house, but instead found out about the National Forest Service program that blew my city-girl mind away.
With the purchase of a $5 permit, we could cut down our own Christmas tree in the national forest—acres upon acres of conifers of our choosing, so long as they were under 12 feet tall, growing close to other trees, yet far enough away from highways, campgrounds, and other developed areas. It was as local and organic as you could get for your Christmas tree.
I’d read that many families have “their spot” that they go to every year to harvest their tree, a spot that they treasure and seldom share with strangers. It sounded so romantic and beautiful and made me want our own spot, too.
So the weekend after Thanksgiving, we set out on a brisk fall day and headed into Deschutes National Forest just a few minutes from our house.
We started with the high desert side of town first, where Will had seen a stand of perfectly-sized pine trees on one of his bike rides. We drove along red dirt roads with cinder cones in the distance until we saw it: a thick cluster of pines in the middle of a lava field.
This particular area near Skeleton Cave looked like it had been cleared by fire in recent years, leaving expansive views in every direction and a landscape of blackened stumps and tree carcasses.
We wandered along the edge of the forest, over volcanic rocks and rabbitbrush, but every tree that looked so good from afar was much more sparse once we walked up close.
After a half hour, we decided to drive further down the road to another stand of pine trees. To Gemma, not quite two yet, it was just another day outside, gazing at trees and stomping through the mud.
Watching her play in the forest, and envying the life she’ll have growing up in this beautiful place, reaffirmed the very best decision Will and I have ever made (aside from having her).
We explored for another hour, comparing trees with not much luck before deciding to drive to higher elevation. I’d read that fir trees were more easily found the higher you went, and according to the Deschutes Collaborative Forest Project, harvesting a fir tree actually helped to keep the forest healthier by restoring ponderosa pine habitat.
We headed about seven miles west of town toward the Deschutes River recreation areas in hopes of finding our tree. All along Forest Road 41, firs intermingled with pines and there were plenty of potential Christmas trees for the taking.
We pulled off at a few turnouts every time one of us thought we spotted the one while creeping along in the car, but it always turned out to be three or four trees growing too close together, or a tree that only looked good from one side. (You’ve probably realized by now that we’re quite the picky tree hunters.)
With daylight—and our options—fading fast, we tried one last stretch of accessible fir trees. Around and around we walked, then across the road, and around and around again.
I was beginning to wonder whether we should go back to the first location, in the dark, and get the runner-up tree we’d considered.
But just as we were about to call it a day, a lone fir tree, framed by two towering pines, called us to it. I swore that it was glowing in the forest.
It had wonderfully symmetrical and widely spaced branches that left plenty of room for ornaments. It wasn’t as dense as all the trees we passed in town at the roadside stands, but I think that’s part of the appeal of harvesting your own tree in the forest—it was wild and unexpected.
White firs and grand firs both populated this area, and I think ours is a white fir.
Will cut it down, hefted it back to the car, and strapped it to the roof while Gemma fell fast asleep after her very long day (in toddler time). It did turn into a longer adventure than we’d anticipated, but we weren’t complaining.
The sky was blue, the air was fresh, and we got to nurture cherished family values of being outside, exploring someplace new together, and doing something fun in an old-fashioned, low-tech way.
Of all the old traditions we’ve continued and new ones we’ve started, I have to say that the annual tree hunt is probably my favorite part of the whole holiday package.
We headed home after that, put on a marathon of cheesy Christmas movies, and decorated the tree while sipping applejack cocktails and shooing a very curious toddler away from the glass ornaments. (Ornaments that we’ve since boxed back up because we realized we can’t have nice things for another couple years).
This cozy scene at home was followed by another family outing the next day to take our Christmas card picture.
Last year we posed on the beach. This year it was all about the woods.
We ventured off the Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway with our snowshoes, a kid on Will’s back, and a sled loaded with photo equipment. (I was in charge of carrying our 16-year-old pug—she’s not much for mobility these days.)
We found a patch of snow with a view of a peak in the distance, set up the camera and tripod, and captured our first Oregon family Christmas photo.
I partnered with Basic Invite this season to print our 2017 Christmas cards, and I couldn’t be happier with how they turned out. (Sharp-eyed readers may notice that we flipped the image to accommodate the final card design.)
Together with Basic Invite, I’m offering 40 PERCENT OFF (!) all holiday card orders for Garden Betty readers if you enter code “gardenbetty” at checkout!
The service is new to me, and the entire design and ordering process was fun and streamlined—they totally take the stress out of what’s usually a hectic holiday chore.
They also offer the most impressive array of options I’ve seen in an online stationery shop: fully customizable colors on every single element of your card design (down to the smallest detail!), instant previews of your design edits, dozens of envelope colors, free recipient addressing, and—perhaps my most favorite feature—samples of the actual cards you’ve designed so you can get a feel for the printing and paper before placing your final order.
I opted for the premium double thick paper (that feels fantastic in the hand) with a timeline backer to share some favorite images and announce our move at the same time.
While Basic Invite did not sponsor this post, they did provide a complimentary set of cards for my review and I would not hesitate to use them again. They carry a whole line of other custom products too, like Christmas party invites, special occasion announcements, and personal stationery. Take a look at their site if you’re in need of custom printing. (And as always, I appreciate you supporting the businesses that help support my blog!)
Remember to use code on their site to receive a 40 percent discount on your holiday card order!
If you don’t need holiday cards this year, you can still get 20 percent off other items from their site, at any time, by entering code at checkout.
Happiest of holidays, friends!