When I was growing up in Alaska, we lived on about an acre of wooded property on the side of a mountain. Not super super high up, but enough to where we could stand on our deck and, after stealing my dad's ancient binoculars from their cracked leather case, spy on Dall Sheep picking their way across the opposing side of the Eagle River valley.
One winter, Christmas was approaching at a worrisome pace and we had yet to procure a tree. My little brother and sister and I were very worried over this; so we hatched a plan to save Christmas. We would cut down a tree ourselves. We just had to plan it out right. My mom worked 12 hour shifts at the hospital in Anchorage some weekends while my dad was in charge of us at the homefront.
My dad was a free-range parent before free-range parenting ever became a thing. He made sure we were fed our main meals and that we didn't come to fisticuffs too often, and otherwise watched Sunday afternoon football and left us to ourselves. This was our opportunity. We suited up to venture into the great Alaskan wilderness and made a stop in the garage to get an ax, a hand saw, and our plastic pink toboggan with the yellow rope handle. We were about 8, 6, and 4 years old. Yes. With an ax. And a saw.
The air was piercingly cold and clear and the snow-covered trees muffled our boots like a secret. I could smell the smoke from wood-burning stoves lingering in the softly drifting snow. We searched until we found the most perfect tree and began chopping and sawing it free. We became so sweaty that despite the cold we removed our coats and tossed them onto the snow. Finally, with a satisfying thud, the tree came down and we loaded it onto our sled. It was awfully heavy, and the weak winter sunlight was fading quickly, so we pulled with all our might.
We were so proud of ourselves! Our own tree! I can still see the flushed cheeks of my brother and sister, their smiles from ear to ear, my sister's brown hair escaping wildly from underneath her favorite purple fleece hat. We pulled the sled with the tree all the way up to the house and went inside to tell our dad the wonderful thing we had done.
He was less than pleased, and even more so when we showed him where we'd cut the tree down; just over the property line of our neighbor. "We have all these trees, and you couldn't cut down one of ours? You had to go next door?" he demanded. But then he laughed and added, "Your mother isn't going to like this," and we knew we were now conspirators. We knew he would help us put the tree in the tree stand and string it with lights.
Years later, I was leafing through some old photo albums when I came across a series of Christmas photos. The tree in the photos was the most sparse, bedraggled thing, and I teased my mom; "I hope you didn't pay too much for this tree!"
"Oh, we didn't. Don't you remember? That is the tree you guys cut down on your own..."
With our child's eyes, it had been the fullest, most fragrant tree in the history of Christmas. What is the moral of this story? Football and children don't mix? Childhood is magical? Ax and saw safety; think of all the things that could have gone wrong! I don't know really, mostly I just a little bit wish I could one day send my kids out with an ax and a saw and let them have an adventure, and later, a story to tell.