Oh Christmas Tree

various Sitka spruce and Western hemlocks stand tall against a faded sky


An attention has been drawn in this house, one directed toward the plight of the tree. I’m not sure how many people really step back and take a look up at these creatures, but they’re absolutely magnificent. We’ve come to take them for granted, but aside from the whole creating oxygen thing they do, they stand like aliens, massive creatures surrounding us every day and other than to grumble about raking their leaves or happily bask in their shade, we often don’t think much more than twice about them.

In our travels this year, however, we came across many a great tree, and were lucky enough to have some very knowledgable friends around who helped us see them for more than just another plant. From the old growth forests like the Grove of the Patriarchs in Mt. Rainier National Park to northern California’s redwoods, our eyes were opened to the massiveness of the many big trees the Pacific Northwest has to offer. Redcedars, Sitka Spruces and Coastal Redwoods, giant gods some of whom have been standing on this planet longer than our current calendar can account for.

the bark of a redcedar has been stripped, leaving its white trunk in stark contrast to its green leaves
A massive Western redcedar in the Grove of the Patriarchs, Mt. Rainier, Washington

So when Christmas time came around and our thoughts turned toward trimming a tree, naturally we began thinking about the effect cutting down a tree for every house in the country every year would have on the forests. There are 114 million households in the nation. 76% of those are “Christian”. Now, not every Christian household gets a live Christmas tree every year, but then again, not everyone who celebrates Christmas is a Christian. So to be completely unscientific, but attempting fairness, lets say 25% of homes in the US get a real Christmas tree. That’s over 28 million trees.

So we thought, what if we tried to reverse the trend? What if, instead of cutting a tree down every year, we planted one? And so we set about our plan.

Driving across the bridge to Washington, we found a small nursery which mostly specialized in exotic plants like Scotch pine and the like, those which people might want to adorn their yards with. Nevermind that every “yard” in the City of Astoria was at one time a lush rainforest full of some of the most beautiful plants available, folks apparently want bushes from far away lands. We searched through the rows of trees until, finally, we found a native plant: a Sitka spruce, one of the most magnificent trees I’ve ever seen, and the fifth largest in the world (actually five of the six largest trees on Earth are native to the western coast of the United States).

We brought the little guy home, strung him up with some popcorn and lights, and though yes, he was a little Charlie Brown, he looked great against the backdrop of the Columbia River.

a sitka spruce sapling with Christmas lights hanging from its bows
Our potted Sitka spruce tree, decorated for the holidays.

We fed him ice cubes, stuffed presents beneath him, and for the month of December he was my little obsession. As the year came to a close, on December 31st the Lady, myself and our three boys hiked him up into the forest near the Astoria Column, dug a hole and planted him. Though I have a brief mental map (first trail on the left before the bridge, look for the massive overturned tree, there he is), we also draped a small chain around him, the kind you might hang a necklace from, so we could be sure to know which one he is when we come back.

And that’s the beautiful part. Aside from creating a new tradition with my boys, something that hopefully they can hold onto and continue into their own adult lives, we’ve got something to come back to. A real life tree that we can hike to anytime we’re in the area, a reminder to the younger ones who may not remember all of these early travels of what we’ve done.

a sitka spruce sapling grows in the foliage of winter, Astoria Oregon
Hike the Cathedral Tree Trail from Irving Street in Astoria, Oregon, make the first left before the wooden walkway, and watch for a fallen elder. The small Sitka wearing a chain necklace is ours.