My husband is a bit of a traditionalist, especially at Christmas. He likes vintage ornaments, classic carols, and making the festive food he remembers from childhood. And this year, his passion for “Yules of Yore” meant he had a more “rugged” plan of procuring our Christmas tree: Heading into the deep, snowy woods, armed with a saw and Christmas spirit to cut down our tree.
I had visions of re-creating the opening scene in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation: Trudging through waist-deep snow with miserable kids, having brought the wrong tools, and returning home with a tree that not only didn’t fit, but was home to a rabid squirrel.
In the end, the experience differed in some ways from that fateful movie moment… but in some ways, it was right on point.
The first thing you need to know about cutting down your own tree is that you need a permit. Luckily, they are easy to download and print, and … they are FREE. Click here for the Okanagan permit.
Trees can only be cut from designated areas, including Hydro right-of-way, logging roads (within three metres/ten feet of the edge of the road), and open range lands. Off-limits: private lands, plantations, research areas and parks. Read more on restrictions and rules here.
Don’t be a Clark Griswold by leaving unprepared. Bring: Sturdy gloves, rope, a tarp, a saw or sawzall, good boots, hot coffee, hot chocolate, coffee and chocolate mixed together (aka a mocha), non-grumpy children, snacks to keep children from becoming grumpy, your dog if she is good off-leash, your dog even if she isn’t good off-leash because she’ll think it’s fun, winter tires, your permit, some more snacks because your kids will eat the first batch on the ride up, Christmas carols (but not Mariah Carey - that will drive everyone nuts), knowledge of the closest tree farm or Home Depot in case this all turns turns into a disaster, mitts for your three year old because you know if you forget them she will just try to make snowballs with her bare hands and then cry for the next three hours because her hands are cold, patience, and a sense of adventure.
There! Now you’re ready! Here’s how our outing went…
We started yelling at our children that it was time to go at 10 a.m. We pulled out of our driveway at 11 a.m., because it took us an hour to locate and throw into the car: Our dog, a leash, thermoses of hot beverages, snow pants for children, toques for children, appropriately water-proof hand protection for all (or so we thought), windshield wiper fluid, peanut butter and jam sandwiches that children insisted they would NEVER eat, rope and scissors, a blanket because kids said the car was cold even though it wasn’t, Goldfish crackers, an orange (bad idea), apple sauce (worse idea). Then we had to get gas, a sawzall from a friend, Tim Horton’s because we didn’t want to drink our hot beverages yet, and… we were off like a herd of turtles.
We got to the turn-off to Telemark (in West Kelowna) at 1 p.m. I had visions of the sun setting while we were out there.
We took a logging road up, up, up a mountain, driving slowly on the slippery, snowy, windy road while craning our necks for possible Perfect Christmas Tree Options along the side of the road (as that’s where were permitted to remove trees). Despite being in what I considered to be the middle of nowhere, there were a LOT of people out sledding, standing around bonfires, skeet shooting, toboganning behind pick-up trucks, chasing their dogs down the road, and having middle-of-the-woods potlucks with crock pots plugged into generators. WHERE WERE WE?
The trouble with the logging road was that it was steep up a hill on one side, and steep down a hill on the other. What we needed was a wide open meadow where we could plop the kids down into the snow and trudge along until we stumbled upon a beauty.
Eventually we pulled over to the side of the road, bundled the mini ones up (our three year old did NOT, in the end, have mitts), and let the kids smack sticks against trees while Dylan and I shook snow off branches and remarked how all the trees looked like, well, giant Charlie Brown trees.
We eventually found one that checked off several boxes (ie appeared to be the right height; contained no visible squirrel; had an amount of branches; and was roughly 10 feet from the road) and I, who had long since resigned myself to the fact that we would need to abort on this whole plan and head straight to Grumpy’s tree farm, announced: “That’s the one! CUT IT DOWN WE’RE DONE HERE!”
Thank goodness for the sawzall.
We mounted it to the roof of the car while the kids danced around, spilling hot chocolate that they deemed “too hot” and “too sweet” and yet “too cool” and “not sweet enough.” We then descended back down the mountain, slowly, so as to avoid pick-up truck toboganners and wayward dogs. And then we were on the highway, going a painful 55 km/hr (sorry for anyone driving behind me) as my five year old watched the wind whip the branches of our tree through the sun roof, and yelled, “ALL THE NEEDLES ARE FALLING OFF!!” and my husband implored me to slow down because THINK OF THE TREE! and urged drivers behind us to pass.
By the time we got home and put the tree up in the stand, it had just fallen to darkness (ie it was roughly 3:40 p.m.), and I took one look at our marvelous, carefully selected family Christmas tree and announced: “I’m not putting lights on that thing. When does Home Depot close?”
The kids watched Christmas movies by the fire and I drank coffee at the kitchen island while my husband went back out into the cold to buy us a store tree that someone else had cut down for us, bless them.
We now have a beautiful non-Charlie Brown scraggle tree lit and decorated in our living room, and our hard-earned nature tree stands tall (actually, it doesn’t - it tipped over in the wind two days ago and I haven’t picked it back up) on our deck, overlooking our neighbourhood for all to enjoy, it too adorned with twinkling lights that may have broken when the tree fell in the wind.
Our lesson for next year:
Research better places to cut down trees
Find somewhere open
The logging road we used was not ideal
You live and learn
Overall, it was a blast, and I can see how cutting down a Christmas tree might become a beloved family tradition. We didn’t knock it out of the park on our first year, but that doesn’t mean you can’t.
Here are some pointers, so you can avoid having to banish your nature tree to a windy deck:
You are allowed to cut down a maximum of three trees.
Cutting Christmas trees is strictly for personal use. You can not sell them.
Cut your tree from dry, rocky sites or slopes, which produce better Christmas trees. Douglas fir trees are a great choice.
Try to leave the bottom one or two branches on the stump of the tree, which may grow into another tree for future use.
Do not cut a big tree only to use the top portion, which is a waste, and can cause a fire hazard.
Leave the area clean.
Conservation officers were driving around while we were on our logging road, so carry your permit and follow the rules.
Happy tree hunting!