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 And inspires to me to make some changes.

People seem to have a lot of traditions about how they procure their Christmas tree. As a kid, we always used to pick one out from the King Soopers lot no earlier than two week before Christmas. Any earlier was too early according to my mother, although I bristled at the late start to the season. When we finally brought the tree home, my mother always commented on the fresh pine smell: the aroma seemed to take the sting out of living in a dingy government-subsized apartment. Christmas was a time for forgetting about our poverty for a while.

When I had a family of my own, I wanted more meaning around our tree, so we bought ours from the Boy Scout lot to support our eldest son Benjamin’s troop. In a nod of rebellion toward my childhood, we bought it Thanksgiving weekend. Then, one year, we learned about something that grabbed my heart: a real live, local Christmas tree farm, and it was only only fifteen minutes away! Hay rides. Coffee and cider and popcorn. Homemade Christmas crafts for sale. I loved the idea of supporting local farmers and the boys seeing where Christmas trees actually come from. Bye, bye tree lot. Our family album is full of photos of us on the hay wagon, wearing caps knitted by Nana, each year the heads bigger and the caps, new. We’d ride the wagon to survey all the trees and when we’d picked one out, we’d grab a saw and my husband would cut the tree. Shisha, shisha, shisha. Then, crack! Boys, get it before it falls! In a primal streak, the boys’ dad would hold the tree above his head with one hand while we stood beneath, and some nice family would snap our pic. The tradition was almost as fun as Christmas Day. It defined us.

Riding the tree farm hay wagon in 2010. Leo (4) on my lap. Ben (8) sits behind Thaddeus (2). Check out the caps Nana knitted.

After four years, the tree farm was purchased by a couple who wanted a view but not a business. No more u-cut! Our family felt angry and disappointed—I’m sure we weren’t the only ones. We tried going back to the Boy Scout lot, but Benjamin was no longer a scout, and it didn’t hold the same meaning. I was whining to a friend (who says whining doesn’t pay?) and she told me told me about Forest Service permits, how we could help keep the forest thinned by harvesting a tree on the Grand Mesa. No pesticides or commercial fertilizers. Christmas tree cutting was back!

We washed up the Thanksgiving dishes, loaded up the Yukon and hit the wild back country—well, it seemed like it to us. We didn’t venture far off the road and didn’t need to. The snow was up to the boys’ waists. The whole afternoon, we didn’t see another soul. The forest felt eerily quiet, like the sound was being sucked out of it. The air smelled of snow–if snow has scent–fresh and crisp with hints of that sentimental pine. No groaning tractor or the smell of exhaust. No empty popcorn bags left under trees. Everything seemed soundly asleep except for the evergreens, rising with pride toward the overcast sky, welcoming the snow like the critters in Whoville. If the tree farm was fun, the Grand Mesa was (sugar) plumb enchanting. Dad cut the tree and held it above his head with one hand while the boys huddled underneath for the pic. A new branch on the old tradition.

Colorado’s Grand Mesa is the longest flat-topped mountain in the world and a winter paradise for skiing, snowshoeing, and harvesting Christmas trees. It’s a 45-minute drive from our home in Grand Junction.

Two year’s later, the boys’ father and I were divorced. I invested in my own tree cutting saw, and while the boys ate Thanksgiving dinner at Nana’s without me, that Saturday we drove to the Grand Mesa and cut our tree without Dad. The familiar comfort of the mountain seemed especially poignant—the clean air, the quiet forest, frosted trees, the thick blankets of powdery snow, no other humans anywhere. Mother Earth remained healthy and vital even if our family was struggling to find the same. Benjamin, wearing shorts in a fit of teenage sass, took his father’s role entirely in a rite of passage. He sawed the tree and held it above his head with one hand while his younger brothers and I posed beneath for the selfie.

This year, as the four of us drove up to the Grand Mesa on Thanksgiving Saturday, we counted over a dozen cars driving down with freshly-cut pines strapped to the roofs—a shocking 1200% increase from years past. What was with the crowd? At first, I felt a little miffed: this is our tradition, people! This is the year all three boys will hold the tree above their heads with one hand! Then, I wondered if a lot of folks aren’t that much different from us: plagued by divorce, domestic stress, and worry over political chaos, they probably find relief in the powerful balm of Mother Earth just as we do.

My kitchen smells like pine as I type this, a scent that now represents five decades of our tradition thumbing its nose at loss. Marriage came and went. The tree farm sprouted and disappeared. Children are babes and then they are men. Still, the forest remains. This scent reminds me the Grand Mesa’s medicine is in the grounding rhythm of its clean, calm, wintery expanse. The scent reminds me it’s more important than ever to value wild places like the Grand Mesa, to be thankful for Her comfort and care of my family during our craziness. It makes me want to repay Her with everything in my power to protect her: reusing, recycling, buying local and organic, using non-toxic and biodegradable products, breathing deeply of her scents, and yes, harvesting our Christmas tree.

Are you like one of those families we saw coming down off the mountain? Are you part of this growing movement of people who take the earth’s comfort as a personal gift? If you’ve taken the time to read this far, take an extra minute and share your thoughts in the comments.

Leah is a freelance blog writer, singer, and earth-loving mama. She loves supporting Pro-Tek Chemical because of its bio-degradable, non-toxic, earth-friendly products.