Tree Hunting • A Story

treehunt…that’s my tree

I AM a Northwoodswoman….
Jennifer Bruski (now Medley) • December 2003
Ely Minnesota

Wet wool and wet dog. My, what a wonderful smell I’ve discovered, I think to myself as I drive home with the newly cut white spruce tree, soon to adorn my living room, strapped to the roof of my car. With the windows down, the heat on full blast and an odd looking expression on my dog’s face (I think he smelled it too…), I am nonetheless quite proud of myself, full of accomplishment and excitement over what I have just spent my morning doing. Like my forefathers and those before them (and all my spry neighbors and friends in Ely, MN) I have just tracked and captured my first Wild Christmas Tree. One of Nature’s largest tree farms, the Superior National Forest allows you to take a tree or 2 with a permit. There was no wagon ride, no hot cider waiting for me at the tree farm barn while hunky farm guys in tight overalls (did I say that out loud?) wrapped my tree up tightly in plastic wrap so that I wouldn’t get tree sap and pine needles all over my 1996 UPS Brown Saturn. No sir. This is hard core tree hunting we do up here in Ely, you betcha. Eh.

When I first heard I could go out into the forest and cut my own tree, I knew I HAD to do that. It just sounded too cool. Barbara, one of my friends/co-workers mentioned she wanted to get a little tree so we thought we’d go out together to get our trees one morning before work. We met at the coffee shop in town, then took off in our vehicles up the Echo Trail. It was a gorgeous morning – the sun was shining and the sky was a beautiful blue. All the trees looked wonderful! We had a map we were following to find the places we were allowed to cut. We pulled over at this PERFECT location – there was room for us to park our cars, and the sun was shining into a wonderfully inviting open space with quite a variety of little to big trees in sight. We were psyched. I got out of the Saturn wearing my new wool Mukluks, with my backpack holding my camera and a tarp, my dog on a leash, and my big bow saw. I felt like I was going on an expedition. Barbara stepped out with her hacksaw and rubber boots. Clearly, I had overplanned again, even when I thought I wasn’t.

Barbara and I take deep breaths of the clean northern air, look around, and smile at each other because we know we’re one with Nature and about to embark on a very special adventure. Barbara has hunted trees before… she knew what she was doing. Had we not had to work later that day, the tree hunt would have included a tree ceremony and some wine and cheese perhaps… but that would have to wait for next year. This year we only had time for a focused tree tracking procedure and brief tree ceremony.

We point out the direction we’re planning to head and take one step. Into the ditch and up to our waists in snow. My dog Karma is only slightly bewildered at the situation and proceeds to launch himself vertically in order to dislodge. Barbara and I however are not so easily mobile. We manage a few steps further into the clearing where the snow has evened out to more of a thigh-high depth and became much easier to navigate. I’m still doing good because I’m wearing my new Mukluks. I’m one with Nature. I’m a Forest Girl, a Northwoodswoman. You betcha. Eh.

Karma is now pulling on his leash which I do have to admit was helpful in this situation. Barbara, dog and I plow ahead. Barbara comments on the fact that snow shoes may have been helpful in our situation, and I concurred. Still, we’re enjoying ourselves and the day is wonderful and we’re on our way.

A few steps later as I’m glancing around looking for my perfect Charlie Brown tree, I sense a coolness at about ankle height in my left boot. At first I thought it was my imagination, the same way I imagine having a leak in my fly fishing waders, then becoming paranoid I would be immediately consumed with water and surely drown in the 1 ft high trout stream I would be standing in at the time… so I brush the idea out of my head. I am wearing Mukluks after all. Knee high ones no less… ones that tied at the top. There is no way snow could have gotten down these boots. So I keep my thoughts to myself. We keep walking. The sky is beautiful, and I’m one with Nature.

A few more steps later, my other foot feels the same sensation… a little coolness near the ankle… but it’s actually a bigger coolness than its sister leg felt. And I have to admit I left being one with Nature for a few moments while I silently cursed the darn stupid Mukluks, what good are these things if I can’t go out in the snow with them on – that’s the whole point of them, there must be some kind of manufacturing flaw, no, wait, I think it’s all just a front – I’ve been foiled, duped into thinking I was getting something really great for my money, something that made me really feel like a Northwoodswoman but I’m not… I’m just a silly city girl coming up here, living this new life and here I was, thinking and feeling like I fit in, was getting along just fine and wonderfully, but really, this just proves I’m a big schmuck… I don’t belong here, there’s something wrong… but really though, I didn’t try all that hard – my good life just happened naturally and really, I AM very, VERY happy here without thinking about it at all, so I’ll just have to deal with leaky boots and learn how to wear them better because really, who should be walking in snow this deep anyway? I should get some snow shoes…. I am a Northwoodswoman. I am one with Nature.

Just then, Barbara turns around and calmly asks “Are we in a swamp????” Karma and I pause and look around. Seeing trees growing nearby amongst the cattails, I answer “No, we can’t be – there are trees growing here.” Just then WOOSH! Uh-oh. Water. This is WATER in my boots. Coming in from my calf area and rushing down into my leather clad feet. “Ummmmm Barbara… we ARE IN A SWAMP!!! RUN! RUN for your LIFE!!!” Actually, I just said “AAAAAHHHH – it IS a swamp – my feet are all icky and wet!!!” And we shimmy out of there pretty quicklike.

Getting near the road, we again trudge through the snow in the ditch, where I proceed to tip over after losing equilibrium when the top portion of my body attempts to move at a faster pace than the lower portion of my body because it is wedged into 3 feet of snow. At that point I just had to laugh. I was stuck in snow up to my a _ _ , my toes were swimming in water, my pantlegs are clinging to my legs, my dog was again looking at me like I was some freak attached to the end of HIS leash, and Barbara was standing calmly, yet laughing, at the edge of the road in her dry pants and rubber boots. (Where is that wine???) I pulled myself out by rolling over, the 3 of us regroup, then head down the road until we reach an actual trail… we’re feeling much, much smarter now.

So life is good again… we’re 2 women and a dog off in the great wilderness, in search of the perfect game. About 10 minutes later we each discover our perfect trees… the game is in site… we line up… we circle… we strategize… we have a silent moment with our respective trees, giving thanks to God, Nature and the Trees for the beauties that they are. Then we mow ‘em down. Barbara’s tree took about 26 seconds to cut with her hacksaw. Karma and I each took an end of our dual handled tree saw and… just kidding. Yes, my tree was slightly bigger than Barbara’s, but it was beautiful. Each of them were. I sawed mine down, reloaded the backpack and with dog in one hand, tree dragging with the other, we headed back to the road.

Partway back I realized something really stupid was occurring. One arm of my body was being pulled by my dog who has not totally learned how to not yank my arm out of its socket. The other arm on my body was dragging a heavy pine tree. I stopped for a moment to ponder the situation. Then tied my dog to the tree and off we went. He could drag that tree all on his own, if he had had a harness. He only had his collar on so I couldn’t let him pull it all on his own without hurting himself, but he was a big help.

Back at our vehicles, Barbara propped up her little coniferous specimen on the passenger seat of her van and I heaved mine up on top of my car, tied ‘er down, and we headed back to town.

I AM a Northwoodswoman – hear me roar! I am soaking wet from my hips down, but I’m ok because thankfully, I’m wearing my “wicking” layers… you betcha. Eh.