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"Are you kids ready to go find that perfect Christmas tree yet?" my husband Loren called. "Come on, let's go."
Bundled up tight in heavy coats, gloves, and bright-colored stocking caps, Ben, Joe, and Bethany came crashing down the stairs taking two at a time.
"Daddy, can we bring Charlie?"
"Yeah, let's go."
"Come on, Charlie. Come on." Our sleepy, half basset, lab-chow mix, who hated to ride in the car, crowded out the front door along with three excited children. The five of us loaded into our SUV with Charlie, and the hunt was on.
Guided by a Forest Service map and equipped with a saw and permit, we set out on our family's annual search for the perfect Christmas tree. We didn't have to drive far. The 1920's homestead where we lived was located in the Mount Baker Snoqualmie National Forest. We drove up the Mountain Loop Highway a little more than a mile and parked where the county closed the road for the winter.
Charlie didn't wait for us to open the rear door. As soon as the car stopped, he jumped over the back seat and with a plop landed his forty-five pound body in the kids' laps. "Char-lie-e-e!" they yelled. When Ben opened his door, our faithful hound was the first to scramble out.
"I want to cut the tree this year," Joe said, grabbing the saw from the back of the car and throwing it up on his shoulder.
"First we have to find one," said Bethany. "The perfect one."
"A lot of them are too big to use for Christmas," Ben said, as we scanned the hillside. "And the smaller ones don't seem to have as many branches."
"That's true, because the seedlings don't get much sun. It is hard to find the right size in mature woods. But the search is so much fun," I said, and tossed a snowball in his direction. "And, I don't mind taking a scraggly tree and dressing it up."
We left the car and continued on foot up the snowy highway until we came to an old neglected logging road. Here we cut off and hiked a short distance until we arrived at the state-approved cutting area.
Fresh flakes fell as we started up the abandoned dirt road. Last summer's alder saplings lined both sides of our path. Soft wings whispered overhead as gray mountain jays flitted amongst the barren tree branches.
Charlie wagged his tail and barked as he raced ahead, looking over his shoulder as if to say, "Hurry up, we're on a grand adventure." He leaped over snowy mounds, his short legs sinking deep where blankets of white covered the bent-over clumps of dried summer grasses.
The rest of us clamored through the snow, sinking knee deep into drifts, then pulling one leg out only to sink down in another spot. Our pant legs grew damp and we shivered with cold as we made our way through a thick grove of young alders. Suddenly the forest opened up. Charlie bounded into the clearing while the rest of us followed his lead. He made an abrupt stop, holding a front paw off the ground. Frozen like a statue, he sniffed the fresh chilly air.
We stood motionless, awed by the winter scene God had created. The only sound was the silence of falling snow. Across the clearing from us stood the most perfect Christmas tree. It was as if someone had been pruning the Douglas fir, shaping its branches for this special occasion. The tree boasted a fresh dusting of powdered sugar white. And there, under the glow of a gray-winter sky, perched on the uppermost tips, sat a tiny owl. The brown and cream colored owl appeared unaware of our presence.
We didn't dare move. No one wanted to break the magic and spoil nature's perfection. We stood in the falling snow and let the wonder of God's pure creation soak into our hearts. Even Charlie waited until someone said, "Let's find a tree for us. That one's already taken."
When we finally agreed on which one to choose, Joe put the saw against the bark, and Ben yelled, "Timber!" Back at the car, my husband strapped our find to the roof and we headed down the road.
At home we piled logs on the fire and sipped mugs of hot cocoa to warm ourselves. Then we decorated, what my family calls, "a Charlie Brown tree." With lights and shiny ornaments to dazzle the eye, we filled in the bare spots until the tree glistened and sparkled in the firelight. The smell of fir permeated the room.
I no longer wonder how nature sings the Lord's praise, for I've heard its perfect sound in the forests of the Pacific Northwest. I've heard the earth exalt the Creator in the crashing of ocean waves, in the sun as it breaks through a storm cloud, and as snow falls in evergreen woods on one of God's smallest creatures.
Let all creation sing!!!
© 2009 Kathleen Kohler