Where do Christmas trees come from? - By Sean Derning

My son Clark said these very words to me as we were getting out Christmas decorations several years ago. Pondering my response for a moment...


I countered with, “Well, son. You’re seven years old. Perhaps it’s time you learned the real truth about Christmas trees.”


I sat him down to make sure he was prepared for what it would take to bag our own token of holiday memories. I explained to him that most trees are raised on farms where weather conditions can be severe and they are fed fertilizers and pesticides to keep them healthy. And then one day they are heartlessly ripped from the ground, baled tightly with twine and shipped to a local shopping center or hardware store. When someone buys one, they take it home, sometimes forget to water it, place it under a heating vent to become tinder dry and adorn it with deformed and faded construction paper ornaments made by toddlers using glue, glitter, crayons and macaroni.


I told him this was serious business and we had to be prepared before we went out. Not only were we going into the woods but we were going to get a free range Christmas tree; one free from chemicals, one who grew up with other trees of different ages, in different levels of shade, with different species of trees. You know, a socially well-adjusted, multicultural tree. “Smokey the Bear says, ‘It may take a village to raise a child, but it takes a forest to raise a tree.’” (OK this was a lie but Clark bought it.)


My son had many questions and I patiently answered them; “Will the tree see us coming?” he asked. “No, silly. They don’t have eyes. But we will put a little Pine-Sol behind our ears so they won’t pick up our scent.” “Why not get the one in our neighbor’s front yard?” “That’s their special tree. Would you go out and steal their dog? No, we have to go to where the trees are. That’s called a forest.” “How smart are trees?” he asked. “Well, to outfox them, you need to think like a tree. First, try reverse respiration like breathing in carbon dioxide and expelling oxygen. Stop when you start to get a headache. Stand motionless in the sun for hours and pretend you’re creating photosynthesis. And make sure to drink plenty of water.” “Wow, I can’t wait to go!”


The next weekend was the big day. There had been little snowfall up until that Thanksgiving so travelling deep into the forest was not too difficult. We applied our Pine Sol and I had to remind him to change his sneakers to boots because if the cordless Sawzall slipped while cutting, it would amputate all the toes off his foot and he would have to wear corrective footwear for the rest of his life.


We hopped in the truck and made our way to our special spot that is none of your business, thank you very much! Snow lay about 6 inches deep in shaded areas. The ground was easily hikeable and there was no need for our snow shoes. It was a beautiful Colorado bluebird day and we had gotten a late morning start. Perfect weather for felling a tree. Pulling up to a Jeep trail, we got out and I dumped the backpack’s contents on the tailgate. Aside from the standard day hike gear, just the Sawzall, two blades and an extra battery were all we needed.


“What’s that?” he asked, pointing at the Sawzall. “It’s the ultimate Christmas tree killing machine,” I said, handing the tool to him. “It takes down kill-crazy conifers and angry aspens. Go ahead, pull the trigger.” The Sawzall chattered and bounced in his hands and he pretended to defoliate the forest before him. “Hey, save some juice,” I said. “Hold this.” “What’s that?” “Forest Service tag. So they can plant more trees.” We walked about a half mile up the Jeep trail and then jumped off onto a gentle red sandstone rise for about 50 yards. When we cleared the rise, the wash before us was thick with evergreens. “We’ve gotta find a tree with a good cone shape,” I said. “A what?” “Like an ice cream cone upside down. Or an evil clown’s hat.” He made a triangle with his thumbs and forefingers and peered through it, looking for a tree. “How’s your Pine Sol?” I asked. “It’s burning my skin,” he said. “Mine too.”


We forged ahead. After a few minutes I stopped him. “Got your triangle ready?” “Yeah.” “Look at that one,” as I pointed. “Looks like an evil clown’s hat to me.” “OK, I’ll sweep around the back. When I give you the signal you go low and grab the trunk so he doesn’t jump away.” “They can jump?” “Of course they can,” I whispered. “Haven’t you ever heard of a quaking aspen or a weeping willow? That’s a jumping jackpine.”


I snuck a few feet behind the tree and then yelled, “NOW!” We both rushed. Clark dove low on the trunk and I went high, the needles easily piercing the leather palms of my gloves. “OW!!” I yelled.

“Dad, are you OK?” he asked. “Yeah, the neurotoxins in the needles show up days or weeks after being stuck. Slurred speech followed by a headache the next morning. So if I seem a little off

the mark, it would have nothing to do with all those vodka bottles in the trash. It’s the pine poison.” “Are you ready to bag this thing?” I asked. “Do you have a good grip on the trunk?” “Uh-huh.” “Hold tight because I’ve got to get the Sawzall ready,” as I snapped the blade in. I stuck the Sawzall into the trunk of the tree about a foot above his hands. Got about halfway through the trunk and then I stopped. “Why are you stopping?” he asked. “Because you’re going to finish it. I’ve got the trunk.” He pulled the trigger and the tree fell. “We forgot to yell ‘Timber!” I said.

“Set it back up!” Clark pleaded. I did and we both yelled out as it again fell, our voices echoing in the quiet shallow of the canyon.


We dragged the tree downhill and loaded it in the back of the pickup. Arriving home as the sun started painting fields and hills in a light golden alpenglow, we put the tree in a five gallon bucket of water in the dark garage. The next weekend, we decorated the tree under the microsupervision of my wife.


And goodness, how we trimmed that tree. Limbs sagging from strands of flashing colored lights, beads and ornaments that told the tale of our family’s holiday history. The pungent scent of fresh evergreen radiated throughout the living room, spilling into hallways and neighboring rooms.

And there, right in the middle of the tree, was my son’s toddler ornament; the very one made of deformed, faded construction paper, glue, glitter, crayon and macaroni.

Happy holidays to you and your family.


This story was published by Steamboat Springs, CO local newspaper "The Valley Voice" and written by Sean Derning. You can view the online article on page 18 when you CLICK HERE.



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