Steven Smith is a blogger, writer and youth minister in Midland, Texas. Below is his account of participating with his family in the Conservancy's annual Davis Mountains Christmas Tree Hunt in West Texas.
Tradition is important in my family, especially around the holidays. Last weekend my family and I started a new tradition. We woke up early and headed down to The Nature Conservancy’s Davis Mountain Preserve to take part in their annual Christmas tree hunt. Each year the Conservancy opens the preserve and invites the public to “cut-your-own” tree. Until now, my family always used artificial trees. As conservation-minded individuals, we believed it our duty to do nothing less. That is until we discovered that using real Christmas trees is actually better for the environment.
At the Davis Mountain Preserve, regular tree thinning is essential for wildfire prevention and for maintaining a healthy ecosystem. The annual Christmas tree hunts help thin out otherwise dense forests susceptible to fire and we were excited to do our part to protect such an amazing landscape.
Once we arrived at the preserve, we drove down the long dirt road deep into Madera Canyon. The closer to the base of Mount Livermore we came, the more pine trees we began to see. All around us tall ponderosa pine trees towered above our heads. I loaded my 13-month-old on my back and headed out into the forest with my wife and a friend, as our oldest daughter tagged along behind.
She was the most excited about cutting down a tree. Every tree she saw seemed perfect in her eyes. Not even the tallest ponderosa was safe. As we walked along the forest floor she repeatedly stood next to 80- and 90-foot trees smiling and asking “how about this one?” There was no doubt, pine trees were plentiful. The perfect tree, however, seemed to elude us. The young ponderosa trees were thin with no more than four to five branches each. The pinion pines looked more like your traditional Christmas tree, but were not as frequent.
We decided we weren’t going to find what we needed along the road. I began hiking up the base of Mount Livermore with my daughter in tow. The higher we climbed the more pinion pines we came across. My daughter’s patience grew thin. She just couldn’t understand my pickiness in the matter. I told her to take a rest while I looked up above the next ridge. I began to give up hope and turned to head back when the perfect tree caught my eye.
I called down for my daughter to join me. She yelled back “did you find one?” followed by “I get to call timber!” When she came over the ridge she knew exactly which tree I had picked and gave an approving nod. The bow saw we brought along made quick work of the tree. The difficult task seemed to be getting it down the mountain. Carrying a nine foot Christmas tree through thick forest underbrush proved to be harder than I expected. After a 30-minute journey, we managed to get the tree down without too much damage to its delicate branches. As we neared the bottom another tree hunting couple complemented us on its shape. I loaded the tree on top of our jeep and secured it tightly with rope (the Conservancy asks you to bring your own) for the ride home.
As we left the preserve I felt proud of our accomplishment. I was surprised at how much of a true “hunt” finding a tree ended up being. It didn’t bother me though. I was glad to be outdoors with my family forming new traditions. I look forward to many more years of Christmas tree hunts and am thankful to The Nature Conservancy for the opportunity. There aren’t many places in Texas where you can find an authentic, naturally grown Christmas tree. It’s no wonder the Conservancy protects this unique place.
Steven Smith enjoys life and being outdoors with his family. He also enjoys writing about his adventures on his blog: My Life Outdoors.