Whit’s End: A Southerner’s first tree-hunting experience | PostIndependent.com

Whit’s End: A Southerner’s first tree-hunting experience

Carla Jean Whitley

If you go

Bureau of Land Management

Cutting piñon pine or juniper for Christmas trees is permitted on most BLM-administered lands within the Colorado River Valley Field Office with the following exceptions: wilderness study areas, Deep Creek along Coffee Pot Road, Thompson Creek Natural Area, and Garfield Creek south of New Castle. A map of these areas is available with the cutting permit, which is available for purchase Monday to Friday between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m.

Colorado River Valley Field Office, 2300 River Frontage Road, Silt | $10 per tree | 876-9008

White River National Forest

This year, the forest is partnering with community vendors to make its permits available at additional locations to increase accessibility. Permits are still available at most forest offices. Fourth grade students are eligible for a free permit through the Every Kid in a Park Initiative. Students should visit everykidinapark.gov for the free pass and additional details. Christmas tree permits are also available by mail, although the Every Kid pass is not. Christmas tree cutting is allowed in most areas on the White River National Forest with the following exceptions: Wilderness areas, Scenic Byways, Glenwood Canyon, the Maroon Bells Scenic Area, commercial timber sales areas, recreation and ski areas, campgrounds, trailheads, developed sites and administrative areas. Trees may not be cut within 100 feet of any road or trail. Other national forests also offer permits; visit the Forest Service website for information.

Multiple locations, visit website for details | $10 | http://www.fs.usda.gov/whiteriver

Glenwood Springs captured my heart and imagination during my first visit, back in May 2015. But my desire to spend more time here increased significantly in November of that year.

Friends posted pictures of their journey to cut down their Christmas trees, and I was overcome with jealousy. I didn’t realize that was an option!

Yes, I’m a city girl.

My envy blossomed when I returned to the area for a January 2016 vacation, and it hit full development when I saw their 2016 photos. But now I live in the place I used to consider a vacation wonderland. As this year’s holiday season approached, I asked if I could join the tradition.

It proved to be everything I’d hoped.

My friends often tease me for the way I prepare to face cold temperatures. Although some of them are also native Southerners, they’ve been in Colorado much longer than I have. They’ve adjusted. By contrast, until a recent camping trip, the coldest temperatures I’ve slept in were my last trip to Moab — in May. Last winter I figured out how to layer for a day of skiing, and so I put that knowledge to use for our tree-hunting expedition. Long underwear? Yep, and I went for my mid-weight set. Down jacket? Absolutely. Gloves? Obviously. I tossed hand warmers and toe warmers into my daypack, just in case. After all, temperatures in town can be misleading, and there was still snow on the ground in Carbondale.

Four of us piled into Cait’s truck and headed up McClure Pass. She and Dusty discussed our location — is this where we stopped last year? No, we pulled through this gate — until we found an ideal parking spot. We piled out of the car, saws in tow, and marched into the woods.

I spent most of my life as an indoor person. Sure, I grew up riding bikes around the neighborhood and rallying for an occasional kickball game with neighbors. But I spent most sunny days by a window with a book, rather than outdoors.

In recent years, I’ve embraced the freedom that comes with time in nature. It helps bring life into perspective. Many of these adventures require leaving cellphone range, and I rejoice in the forced time connecting in person rather than through devices.

It’s part of why I moved here — a fact I remind myself of when my apartment’s Internet connection slows to a crawl.

Gunnison National Forest is one of those magical places. We marched into the snow-covered woods focused on our mission and each other. Devices came out only to document our journey and to provide a soundtrack as we yelled “timber!” (it’s still the 21st century, after all).

You might argue the trees that now brighten our homes are imperfect. Mine has a generous hole facing the living room. I had to use a kitchen knife to cut down the top so my tree topper would fit.

But I’d argue these are the most beautiful trees I’ve seen. They’re the result of nature, of a beautiful Colorado afternoon and of able bodies that allow us to walk off trail and let our imaginations wander.

Carla Jean Whitley is Southerner who is grateful for her introduction to a different way of life. Reach her at cj@postindependent.com.

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