By Martin Relles
One December night at dinner, in the late 1950s, dad said, “this year we are going to drive to the Sierras and cut our own Christmas tree,” and we did. Early in the morning, on the next Saturday, my sister Patricia, and my brothers Terry, John and I jumped into the car with dad and headed up to the Sierra Nevada mountains.
We drove through Roseville, then Loomis, then Auburn and Colfax until we passed the snow line, and eventually turned off the road. There, we drove until we reached a place where dad thought we would likely find a Christmas tree. Then he parked the car, and we all got out. Off we walked into the woods, through the knee-high snow, in search of a tree. Wow! This seemed a lot tougher than we thought it would be. Most of the trees were too tall, and the smaller ones seemed a little scrawny and bare.
Eventually, though, we found the perfect tree. So dad pulled out a saw, and cut it down. Then Terry and I dragged the beautiful tree through the snow back to our car. That took some effort in the deep snow, but soon we reached the car with a smile on our faces. We did it. We found the perfect Christmas tree. Then dad tried to put the tree in the back of the car. Woops, the tree was a little to big. Out came the saw again, and dad cut enough off so it fit properly in the open rear compartment of our station wagon. Dad had to leave the rear hatch of the car slightly ajar to make room for the seven foot tree, but it fit. Then off we went in the direction of home. We didn’t get far though.
As we headed back toward the highway, we passed a forest ranger. He turned around quickly, and pulled our car over. The ranger explained that we could not take a tree from the national forest without a permit. Dad explained that we had no permit, but said that he was a Sacramento police man and understood that if we had violated the rules of the national forest we would have to suffer the consequences. When the ranger heard that, he softened his position. He said, “that’s okay Officer Relles, but in the future, you need to see us first to obtain a permit. Then, he fastened a tag to our tree which allowed us to transport it out of the forest. After that, we headed off, directly for home.
When we arrived home, dad filled the Christmas tree stand with water and secured it. Then we proceeded to decorate our beautiful fresh cut tree with lights and ornaments. We finished the job with lots of silver tinsel. It seemed the most beautiful tree we ever had. What made it so special was that we cut it ourselves.
Later in life, I took my children up to cut fresh Christmas trees in the Sierras. We usually went to a tree farm in Apple Hill. That seemed every bit as special as the one dad cut for us in the 1950s. They have not forgotten that experience.
Just last week, while I traveled abroad, my daughter and her husband took their two girls up to the mountains to cut their Christmas tee. Now, they will experience the same joy we experienced with dad, so many years ago: yet another merry Janey Way holiday experience.