Our Noble Fir
On Saturday afternoon, my husband Damon and I spent a few hours, a tank of gas and $5 on a permit to get a live Christmas tree from the National Forest. As I contemplate the pine-winey presence of this young Noble Fir in my living room, I wanted to share with you some of the environmental surprises this tradition poses for me.
According to the National Christmas Tree Association, Americans buy about 30 million real Christmas trees a year and the USDA reports that about a quarter of these come from Oregon. This year, thanks to the softening economy, Oregon’s tree farmers are in trouble. Mature, ready-to-harvest Christmas trees are staying in the ground, even though by next year they’ll be too big to harvest for home-use. Cost-conscious customers are either skipping a tree completely or going artificial. This latter alternative remains a thorn (or a blue spruce needle?) in the side of the tree farming industry.
As you might expect, artificial trees introduce problems into the seasonal cycle of Christmas tree growth, harvest, and replanting. Artificial trees are imported, inorganic (with scary levels of PVC) and non-recyclable. They’re flammable, chemically-laden, and can’t offer the scent or soulful experience of a real tree. In contrast, real trees can be sustainably farmed and are completely biodegradable (hello firewood!). If you’re going to get a Christmas tree, the NCTA wants you to go real or go home.
And I’m persuaded. The NCTA’s renewable vision of harvesting real trees resonates with my aesthetic and environmental ethos. To get our tree, we traveled up road #2655 to a designated harvest area in the McKenzie River Ranger District (the Forest Service sells maps and permits at gas stations). I loved actually hiking with our dogs and friends along mountain roads, crunching through a few feet of snow and feeling the sun on my face after so many days of indoor studying. This excursion brought us out of ourselves; we walked around trees from 20 to 200 feet tall. When we found an 8-foot tree, we cut it down with a handsaw and carried it over snow-buried rhododendron bushes to our car.
I find a familiar problem in choosing a tree from the National Forest instead of a tree farm; like Thoreau, I want to live deliberately and come into contact with the wilderness that is not human. Yet I recognize that buying from a Christmas tree farm might be more collectively sustainable act than the romantic excursion of a few friends driving into the mountains. At the same time, I want to remember the sun on my face.