This story was written and sent out to family as our 2015 Christmas Card. I guess it is a Christmas card to Fish=Food readers, too!
Greg and I went on a Christmas Tree Expedition two weekends ago. When we are not fishing Greg works at the Port Townsend Shipwrights Coop. If he can’t be running a fishing boat, his second favorite thing to do is repair them. Each year the PT Shipwrights Coop picks a Saturday before Christmas to head for the hills and they invite any and all to come along. Mostly, it is Coop members and their families but other friends, many of them fishermen, often come along in search of a Christmas tree. We have been making this tree trip for at least 12 years now.
Before heading up in to the Olympic National Forest to cut trees, we all meet in the morning at the Quilcene Forest Ranger Station, just 45 minutes from Port Townsend. To cut a tree legally you need to purchase a $5 permit from the ranger on duty. The permit comes with a zip tie so once the tree is down you can attach your permit tag to it. This year it was pouring down rain when we met at the ranger station but we were on a mission to slay trees so up we went into the forest, twelve cars and trucks in a row. Some years there are many more cars but the rain put off the less hearty.
The road we take into the Olympic National Forest was originally a logging road. Down low it is paved but as the road snakes up into hills that become mountains, it turns to a dirt track. At 1300 feet/396 meters the rain turned to sleet. By 1400’/427m the sleet was snow! A friend in a truck pulled over and flagged Greg and me down to ask if we wanted to jump in his truck for the rest of the drive up hill? We could pick the car up on the way down, he said. I had confidence in the VW and said, “No, we’ll be fine” and we flew by into the snowy forest. I’m from Maine and this was just a dusting of fluff.
As we climbed higher the snow was starting to pile up on the road and cover the trees all around us. Everyone had trucks, SUVs and four wheel drive cars, that is except for us in the mighty, mighty Jetta wagon. The people in the front of the line had fresh snow to drive on so they had great traction as the snow got deeper. But we were near the end of the line of cars and the snow had been packed down and slicked over by those who went before us. The road ahead of us was getting steeper and now the gentle curves were turning into sharp switchbacks. I had driven this road with ease in the VW multiple times in summer to access the Mount Townsend hiking trail but in the snow it seemed to be another place. Greg was looking a bit skeptical about my decision to proceed in the VW. I just looked at him and said, “don’t stop, honey, just keep going as long as you can!” If we stopped I feared that we wouldn’t have traction enough to get going again.
We passed through an open area where the road was wide enough to turn around. Greg suggested we park and hitch a ride the rest of the way up. I was in the ‘just keep driving, don’t stop’ mode so I cheered him on and said, “we can do it!’ as I patted the dash of the car. As it would happen, we couldn’t. Shortly after my confident declaration, the wheels started spinning as they looked for traction and the car slid sideways in slow motion toward the steep drop off to the right. It was a bit heart stopping and I grabbed for the dash again but not to pat it.
We got out of the car and went ‘hmmm.’ Luckily there was a car following us. MB and Peter piled out to check out the situation while their two little boys stayed in the car. Behind us down the road we could hear the rumble of something big and driven by diesel. We were relieved as we recognized the red truck coming at us to be that of our friend Gus who runs a tow company! Yup, just like Gus, he smiled, waved and threw snow all over us as he blasted by us and up the hill. Hmmm, again.
While Greg drove the car MB, Peter and I pushed and up the hill Greg went without me. We had decided that if Greg could get going, he should just keep rolling and I would jump in with MB & Peter. We piled in their Subaru – four wheel drive with snow chains on the tires, of course – and followed along behind.
MB, Peter and I were feeling pretty good about our pushing strength until we came around the corner and saw a very steep hill ahead of us with one black VW Jetta wagon stuck in the middle. Again, we piled out of the Subaru to see what could be done. The road was wide at this point so this time we pushed the Jetta to the side of the road, not up it. MB & Peter decided they would drive by us and see how far it was to the mountain pass where the others had parked. Greg and I were to wait in the VW while they scouted out the rest of the road. If it was close, they would walk back to get us. If it was far, they would drive back to pick us up. It seemed Jetta would miss the tree hunt but we would get to participate.
Greg and I sat in the car with the heat on, pleased that we had filled up the tank before we left but sheepish that we had not thought to buy snow chains for the car. We live in the land of rain, for gods sake, not snow! At least there was a good radio show on for us to listen to while we waited. The snow was really coming down now and the wind was blowing good. With all the snow swirling around us I felt like we were in a snow globe that had been vigorously shaken up, that is, if there exists is a snow globe featuring a stuck black Jetta as it’s holiday scene.
After a bit we saw four figures coming down the hill but we couldn’t make out whom they were though the thick falling snow. As they drew closer we could see that it wasn’t MB & Peter but four of the other shipwrights. Fresh Horses! We were less than a quarter of a mile from the pass where the others had gathered. As the four Horses and I pushed the wheels spun and suddenly the tires grabbed the road and off Greg went again to be lost behind a curtain of blizzard like snow and the turn in the road ahead of us.
The Horses and I tromped up the hill to the pass and with relief saw a Jetta parked, not stuck, beside all the cars, trucks and SUVs of others who had made a better choice as to what set of wheels they would take on the tree slaying expedition. The Horses asked why a girl from Maine let a South African drive in the snow? They had never seen Greg’s road rally style driving in a South African game park on a treacherous, pothole filled road – a washed out, mud slick course at best. As we grew closer to the top, we could hear the roar of a good old fashioned pallet fire and muffled voices of people clad in thick coats and boots, disguised by hats and scarves. Back in the day, there was a lot sipping from flasks and tipping back of beers around the fire. Now most of the crew have families so there is more hot coco and cider consumed. Well, there were a few flasks making the circuit around the fire but not with the vigor and speed of the B.C. days – before children!
In addition to children, a tailgate lunch is also new to the event as mothers know children need food to keep them from whining. Greg uses this very same food tactic to keep me happy so he made sure to bring me a big bowl of chili. The other wives thought he was being so thoughtful, why didn’t their men do this for them? But I know it was just selfdefense on Greg’s part. Clever man!
Kids were making snow angels, careening down the road on sleds and the snow kept on falling. How much so far? I poked my gloved hand into the snow to find it halfway up my forearm. This was a proper snowstorm! The surprise in the weather was exciting as I dearly miss snow but in the back of my mind I was wondering if Jetta would be stuck on the pass until the spring thaw.
After libations, big stories and bowls of chili people headed out in all directions of the compass to find the perfect tree. We found a lopsided little tree with lots of character, chopped it down and brought it home. By now the snow was drifting but I am quite sure there was a foot on the ground when we loaded up the tree for the drive home. The trip down the mountain was without event as momentum was on our side and we were at the front of the line of cars, able to find fresh snow that offered traction.
Christmas Tree Expedition 2015 ended up being pretty darn wonderful! Well, that about sums up the day, except to add, festooned with lights and glitter the little tree looks quite festive. That’s our dog Georgie snoozing under the tree. Oh, and if you are curious, here is a link to the website for the Olympic National Forest: http://www.fs.usda.gov/olympic/
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!!!! Love and salmon, Amy