Winter Finally Arrives in Montana

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The humdrum of a normal week was enlivened sometime around last Wednesday, when the radio first started broadcasting warnings of a cataclysmic winter storm due to arrive Friday night. The forecast was for blizzards and “record low temperatures.” (It’s supposed to be -15 degrees by Monday morning.)

We’d bought a permit to cut down a Christmas tree in Lolo National Forest and were planning to look for one on Saturday morning (today), but the impending foul weather caused us to rethink things and head out after work on Friday evening instead.

On our way up the gravel road into the forest, we passed a couple of pickup trucks going the other way with trees strapped down on top, which was a promising sign. Once inside the forest, we parked on a turnout and struck out into the woods to begin our search. Amy half-jokingly consulted her compass as we set out, but actually I can see how someone could get lost on a quest like this one. You end up wandering from tree to tree, and you’re not on a trail, so it would be easy to become turned around.

Plus it was getting dark. We’d left the house at about 4 p.m., and sunset would be at 4:47 p.m., so the light was failing as we searched. Amy later observed that it was probably for the best that we hadn’t gone on a Saturday, as we might then have spent hours hunting for the perfect tree.

And a perfect Christmas tree is hard to find in the forest, if you are used to farmed trees from a road-side stand. The Forest Service prefers if you cut a tree that is growing in a clump with other trees, rather than a tree that is by itself, but trees growing close to other trees inevitably have bare spots where their branches have been blocked and stunted by those of another tree. We found quite a few trees that would look good wedged into a corner, but it took a while to find one that would work in the more exposed spot we have to work with in our tiny living room. Finally, we were successful.

Dusk turned into full-blown darkness while I cut the tree down, the work of just a few minutes with Amy’s grandfather’s crosscut saw. Then we dragged it back to the car and lashed it to the roof with ropes tied through the rear windows.

This morning, there were four inches of snow on the ground here on the Missoula valley floor, so we felt vindicated in our decision to move the Christmas tree hunt up a day. I would imagine that the Miller Creek area of Lolo National Forest, which already had some snow on the ground last night, is probably not the smartest place to drive a Toyota Corolla right now.

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