Some take to the malls after Thanksgiving for the blackest of Fridays.
I spent my day after Turkey Day in the woods of rural Washington State.
There, I “helped” scout and down a Christmas tree for my daughter and son-in-law.
The experience was unlike any other Christmas tree expedition in my life.
Growing up in Napa, the task of having a Christmas tree never required leaving home.
It was simply a matter of pulling out the dented cardboard box that contained the artificial tree my family used year after year after year.
As an adult I switched to the real thing, usually a Douglas fir, which I would purchase at a tree lot.
You know, the kind where the challenge is distinguishing between the trees that are tilted because of their makeshift stands and those that are tilted because they’re bent at the trunk.
With tree lots the only physical challenge is picking up the tree of choice and hauling it to the cashier. Sometimes, I did little more than literally lift a finger and signal to the teenager on hand that I had found my tree of choice and let them do the hauling, the fresh cut, etc.
Last Friday was a whole different kind of tree hunt.
My daughter, Rhiannon, and her husband, Kevin, live on Whidbey Island, located in the rural, coastal confines of Washington State.
Whidbey Island can be a blustery place, due to its next door neighbor, the Pacific Ocean.
We spent Wednesday night as well as all of Thanksgiving crossing our fingers that the power didn’t go out. Wind gusts reportedly reached 55 mph.
You don’t see a lot of outdoor holiday decorations in my daughter’s neighborhood. Those you do see might well belong to the home next door, or from a house two streets over, after being relocated by the gale force winds.
Fortunately, the storm and its roaring blasts were gone by Friday.
The weather was clear, though chilly — perfect for an expeditious tree shopping experience.
We drove outside of Oak Harbor, my daughter’s town, to a secluded tree farm.
The location certainly was scenic. A quiet inlet of water served as backdrop to the tree farm. Lush green vegetation surrounded the area, reminding me that not everywhere on the West Coast is stuck in a multi-year drought like back home.
This tree farm was just that — an actual farm where they grow trees for Christmas. Instead of being harvested and loaded onto trucks bound for city lots, these trees awaited a point-of-sale purchase that required getting mud on your shoes.
It also meant the trees were still rooted to the earth.
Upon arriving at the entrance of the tree farm, Kevin was handed a hacksaw. He also grabbed a tree dragger, which was nothing more than a small wooden handle fastened to a large piece of plastic tarp.
It quickly dawned on me that this tree hunting episode was going to require some manual labor, more than just lifting a finger and pointing, “I’ll take that one!”
The farm was set up so you could stroll through its acreage, up and down rows of Douglas or Noble firs.
Some trees were tagged and priced, but many were not. The selection, once seemingly so broad, quickly narrowed.
Rhiannon and Kevin took the lead in reviewing the available trees. They sized up the dimensions, and did a quick mental check of their home ceiling heights to determine which one would best work for their humble abode.
At one point Kevin and Rhiannon split up, with my daughter venturing deeper into the farm to explore more options.
Kevin and I hung back, until we heard Rhiannon’s distant call. “Kevvvv-vin!”
My son-in-law, never one to turn down a playful opportunity, responded with the ever child-like, “Marco!”
Rhiannon, accustomed to her husband’s antics, played along while frantically waving her arms to help us spot her location.
We caught up with her, and the tree of her choosing.
It was at this point that Kevin’s youth, and flexibility, came in handy.
He lowered himself onto the sodden, green grass. He examined the trees’ trunk, a good six inches in diameter. Cutting down the tree would require him to lie down in order to get low enough for the proper cut.
His body’s positioning meant he could rely only on his arms and shoulders to do the sawing. There was no putting his back or legs into this task.
As I watched Kevin, I gave thanks that it wasn’t me having to contort myself for the sake of some festive living room cheer. My spine and associated vertebra of 51 years were grateful.
Kevin made quick work of the half-foot diameter trunk. The tree, a good 7 feet tall, wasn’t in danger of injuring anyone as it fell.
Still, he couldn’t help but cry out: “Timber!”
The tree landed safely. A sack of pillows would have made more of a thud.
With the tree in hand, it was time to drag it out of the farm. That’s where I came in.
I could have allowed Kevin the honor of both cutting and hauling their Christmas tree. But he was a little spent by the timbering, and initially turned to his wife for assistance.
It was then my primordial ego rose up, demanding I take on this second stage of manliness.
I grabbed the wooden handle of the tree dragger and began pulling with gusto.
The long walk back wasn’t easy, but not exhausting, either. I realized then my regular visits to the gym finally had paid off for something.
The victorious tree hunt was captured on film, so to speak.
Rhiannon instructed Kevin and me to pose next to the fallen tree, so she could record the event with her camera phone.
Kevin hoisted the hacksaw over his head, like a reluctant warrior.
I placed my foot on the tree handle, in an attempt to strike a huntsman pose.
Instead, I was caught looking like a drunken sailor about ready to keel over as the tree handle caved under my weight.
I righted myself just in time, but not before my daughter snapped the shutter, then had a good laugh.
My first-ever visit to a tree farm was saved for posterity.
It will always serve as a reminder that there are better ways to spend the day after Thanksgiving than elbowing my fellow man, or woman, for a retail bargain.