If you’re headed off to buy a Christmas tree this year, and have never experienced the fun and adventure of trekking into the Flathead forest to find the perfect fresh tree, you’re missing out. Beginning November 23, Christmas tree permits became available at each of the Flathead National Forest offices in Kalispell, Hungry Horse, and Bigfork, as well as from a variety of local vendors. Each permit costs just five dollars and is valid for one tree. There is a maximum of two permits allowed per household. For tips on selecting your fresh Christmas tree, go to www.fs.usda.gov/main/flathead/passes-permits/forestproducts.
Each holiday season as Keith and I trim a fresh tree, I can’t help but think back to my childhood and the shiny aluminum tree with blue ornaments that my parents displayed proudly, year after year. Dad mounted a rotating pink, blue and gold spotlight on the ceiling above the tree, to create a kaleidoscope-of-color effect, and he and my mother thought it was the most beautiful tree in town. I, however, was not convinced. I yearned for a “real Christmas tree.” A freshly-cut tree that smelled of the forest. A tree I could decorate with beautiful ornaments, sparkling garland, colored lights and silvery tinsel draped over its branches. I felt afraid of that aluminum tree my parents coveted, afraid and resentful, because I couldn’t go near it. “Stay away from that tree,” my mother scolded. “If you knock it over, it’ll cut you to pieces.” After thrilling my folks for ten years, silver was eventually replaced with “artificial green,” but I was so disappointed I cried.
That first Christmas that Keith and I spent in Montana, in 1993, after our move from Kansas to “real-Christmas-tree heaven,” I was delighted by my selection of freshly cut trees. Several years passed, however, before I realized the true extent of my options. One evening, over a bottle of wine with friends, I confessed to my obsession with real Christmas trees.
“We’re in,” my friend said. “Tomorrow we get a permit and head up Crane Mountain, on Forest Service land, to find you the freshest, most beautiful tree you’ve ever seen. Cut any one you like for five bucks.” That was twenty years ago, and it remains one of my favorite Christmas memories—I’ll save the rest of the story for next time—and just another reason why I love living in Montana. The magic of the forest is just outside your back door. With five dollars, and a Forest Service permit, you can create a lasting Christmas memory with loved ones.
Whether you drive up the mountain to cut your own tree, or find a real beauty already cut, or go the way of convenience and ease, like my parents, and many of our close friends, may yours be the most beautiful Christmas tree you’ve ever seen!
Becky Palmquist is married to Keith, broker-owner of RiverBend Realty in Bigfork, Montana. She is a writer and a retired psychiatric and mental health nurse