North Country
4:29 pm
Fri December 20, 2013

The Christmas Tree That Got Away

For the last 3 years, NHPR's Sean Hurley and his family get a $5 permit to cut down their Christmas Tree in the White Mountain National Forest and every year, as Sean explains in this audio postcard, they run into the same problem. 

Sean, Lois & Sam Hurley cut down their Christmas tree in the White Mountain National Forest.

We walk beside an ice snagged brook looking for the balsam fir we tagged with a purple ribbon the month before.  My wife Lois leads us along, interpreting the wildlife signs as we go.

Lois: Moose tracks.
Sean:  What?
Lois:  I think moose tracks.  Or bunny tracks.
Sean:  Moose tracks or bunny tracks?
Lois:  I don't know. Are those moose tracks?
Sean:  Are they that similar?...I guess they are.
Lois: Let's keep going that way.

We follow the moose or the bunny through the pines.  But we don't have the faintest idea where our Christmas tree is.

Sean:  So do you remember where it is?
Lois: Umm...it's in the woods...

Our 8 year old son Sam runs ahead and falls behind, finding sticks to tap against the river ice and then wrestling with a well worn series of kid problems.

Sam:  I have something in my shoe.  In my boot.
Sean:  Is it a Christmas tree?
Sam:  No.  Of course not.  That's impossible.
Sean:  Is it impossible?
Sam: Yes it's impossible for a...well, like a full grown Christmas tree to be in your shoe...?

We debate the possibilities of Christmas trees in shoes as we follow the trail higher.  The tumbling boulder strewn brook is no longer beside us, but below us.  The rushing water has slivered a canyon straight from the stone and a fifty foot cliff falls away beside the path. 

Sam:  My hat's itching my head a little...
Sean:  You're having all kinds of problems....Is this it up here?

It is not. For the last three years we've had similar problems.  We find our tree on a sunny day in November and then return to an alien world.  

Sean: Do you think we'll be able to see it with all this snow?

The first year we couldn't find the tree and then got lost after I claimed to know a shortcut, which is one of my main weaknesses.  The next year we got lost taking my shortcut on the way to finding it. And this year we got lost in both directions.  Coming and going.

Lois:  This doesn't feel right.
Sam:  Yeah, it doesn't.

We never find our tree.  

But we are in a forest filled with Balsam Firs and Lois has been auditioning potential replacements. 

Lois:  It seems to have...I kind of like it.  What do you think?
Sean:  I like it.
Lois:  Alright, Dada's cutting down our Christmas tree Sam...
FX:  Cutting sounds.
Sam:  Timber!!
Sean: Alright Sam, grab the tree. Can you carry it back for us?
Sam:  Hee hee, no.  But I'll actually try to pick it up. Uh! Daddy can you pull it?
FX:  Tree dragging along
Sean:  Sam, do we know where we are?
Sam:  We might know where we are.  Or we might not.

Maybe it's always a little bit of both.

We find our way out as we always do.  We didn't find our tree as we always don't.

But there's something pleasing about the idea of these trees with ribbons that never get found.  Like dreams of other Christmases.   But yet we know they're out there with their tiny, little decorations.  All of our Christmas Trees that got away.

For NHPR I'm SH