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Hunting Trees

Two grandchildren pretend to be bear and deer as they hike through the woods.
Bear and Deer in the forest.

Two and four year olds work hard to hike over tree farm land, but they get to see bugs. They get to run around pretending to be bear and deer. They get to pet the trees and the wild grasses.

Ten year old grandson with his saw belt and his sawing mentor grandfather.
Grandson and grandpa are the family sawyers.

And this year, our ten year old got to use the saw. That’s my saw and pruner tool-belt he is wearing. And his sawing tutor is with him.

This December, as in most years, our family went Christmas tree hunting on our tree farm. Hunting is the exact word in our situation. We have to scout to find a tree that might be suitable.

Walking over such uneven ground is not easy for short legs. It is a lot of work for adult legs on a tree farm where some of the unevenness is old tree branches and the sleeping hollows used by wild animals.

One of our tree farm animals is a burrow-builder. His tunnels cave in under-foot. The hike is not at all a groomed trail in a national park.

We hike over hill and dale and are happy to find a tree which may have five natural leaders, or a tree that leans to one side, but not too much. We rarely find symmetry. Some trees have three-foot leaders that would bend under the weight of a paper angel. We’re glad to see them gain that much height in a year. How else are they going to get above the browsing animals?

Hidden among our lumber trees, we plant special Christmas trees each year – just enough to give each household in the family a tree as each year’s planting comes of age. That means, we plant five times as many Christmas trees as we’ll need, expecting that we’ll lose some to the predations of deer, elk and the little varmint known as mountain beaver.

Small beaver-like animal eating fern, but also eats tree bark, a nuisance.
Mountain Beaver eats tree bark, too.

Mountain beaver, Aplodontia rufa, are not tail slappers with ponds and large dental frontages.

They are little chipmunky sized vegetarians who love tasty tree bark. No bark equals tree death. At least the deer and elk leave most of a tree as they nip away.

Underside of the flat needles of grandfir.
These are the needles of grand fir.

Grand fir is the number one pick of the family. Douglas fir, a close second, is wonderfully bushy and full of character by age twelve, but it loses its needles sooner indoors. Noble fir grows better at higher elevations, and doesn’t have enough branches to hold all the child-made ornaments we collect. Grand fir stays dark green and glossy all during Christmas, has many branches and is not loved as food by deer, elk and Mountain Beaver – at least not so far.

Granddaughter deer carries her own tree.
Found and cut her own tree on the family farm.

Your kids will love it too. Especially if they step in a Mountain Beaver tunnel on their way to discovering the perfect, imperfect tree.

On the rest of the tree farm, we plant 400 trees per acre, lots of Douglas fir, cedar, hemlock, and usually some types that may never bring in any money. We just want to know more about them – coast pine, spruce, madrone, an occasional fruit tree near our water source. Over the years, nature and pre-commercial thinning open up the growing trees to more sunshine until, as they mature, we end up with 250 trees per acre on the average. The grandchildren will harvest what we plant this year.

Most of our tree farm family.
The whole tree farm crew, except the photographer.

originally published Feb 2, 2014

by Rae Richen


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