In search of the perfect tree
MARKLEEVILLE – Ann and Dino Molinari bolted from the woods Sunday – with the bounty of the forest in their hands.
The San Francisco couple dragged two trees on a toboggan, marking the 28th year she went into the wilderness off Highway 4 in Alpine County to get the Christmas symbol.
“I come up every year and visit my folks,” the 35-year-old woman said.
Molinari grew up in Markleeville and remembers the childhood tradition with her parents. Now, she brings her husband, who stuffed the trees into the truck.
One was earmarked for their children’s school. The other was headed to their living room.
Molinari said she prefers a tree with fewer branches to show off her ornaments.
“I’m kind of partial to the Charlie Brown tree,” she said.
The Molinaris spent $10 each for two permits from the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest in Markleeville, one of three offices for a district that offers a total of 3,500 permits for cutting between Nov. 22 to Dec. 24.
Of its 300-permit allocation, the ranger station sold 73 permits on Saturday alone.
“We even got a bunch of people last weekend,” U.S. Forest Service worker Adam Makda said of the storm over Thanksgiving weekend. “These people are pretty determined.”
Some people come up for the day, drink hot chocolate and playing Christmas music.
Because a storm predicted to hit Sunday sputtered, skies were sunny and clear. The sunny skies drew a crowd at the designated cutting area north of Ebbetts Pass.
The Molinaris weren’t alone in the holiday tradition. There were just as many sled and toboggan trails as tire tracks.
“It’s all about the family,” Rory Sedgwick said, holding his find with 16-year-old son, Troy, as Noah, 6, looked on. Their sixth visit to these woods looked like boys’ day out.
“We used to go to the tree lot in the city, but this is more fun,” the father said.
This year, the Sedgwicks scaled down the size of their clan and the Christmas tree.
“We need to make it fit,” he said, admitting last year’s 14-footer was too big.
It was the Tolberts first time in the woods to get their family tree, which is intended to go on a pedestal.
Nathan Tolbert turned up the volume on his truck to hear Christmas carols as he and his wife, Christi, searched the woods with 6-year-old Cameron.
“That’s part of the festivities,” the Minden man said. He threw in a few more jackets in case the weather turned sour.
He placed a tree saw in the back of the truck.
“And if that doesn’t work, there’s always this,” he said, holding up a sledge hammer.
Friend and neighbor Kippy Lanker recorded the event with a camera attached to a tripod.
The gang trudged up the hill, debating whether they should spread out to cover more ground.
By the time the patriarch approached a bluff that looked like the end of the road, he saw what appeared to be the perfect tree – standing at 5-foot, 5 inches.
“Well, you know I can’t make this decision (alone),” he said, calling over his wife.
Once she gave her approval, Tolbert’s son was asked to come help cut down the tree.
“OK, I got it started, so you can keep going,” he said, crouching down with his son.
The trio carried out the spruce tree in the direction of the truck’s stereo.
Christmas tree permits are on sale in national forests across the West. Prices vary depending on the forest. In 2003, more than 232,000 permits were issued, bringing about $1.3 million in revenue to the federal agency, according to Associated Press reports.
Permit holders cannot cut trees in wilderness areas, recreation campgrounds and picnic areas, or close to rivers, streams or paved roads. The cut tree must be within 10 feet of another. Only two trees per household are allowed to be taken.
Noncompliance of Forest Service restrictions may result in a maximum penalty of $5,000 and six months in jail.
Beyond the woods, Christmas trees can be found in nursery and grocer parking lots.
In its 50th year, the National Christmas Tree Association estimates U.S. consumers will buy 24 million trees for the holiday. That’s up by a half million.
– Susan Wood can be reached at (530) 542-8009 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org