Traveling Trails Less Traveled. By Buckshot Anderson
For December 19th, 2008 Edition.
I doubt there are few among those of us who grew up in a rural environment that do not have fond memories of hunting for that perfect Christmas tree. Of course, back in the dark ages heading out into the woods was the only way for rural folks to obtain a tree, as those manicured ones now available on nearly every street corner had not yet been invented.
During my early years dad and I always headed for the Minnow Pond Swamp and snowshoed along the banks of the tiny spring creek that originates in the depths of that swamp for the very best "double balsam." Generally, by the time we dragged it a quarter mile or more back to our log cabin all the needles on one side were gone. Actually, that was not a problem as the tree always occupied a corner of our tiny living room next to our well-worn sofa so we'd put the bare side in the corner.
For the first nine years of my life our Christmas tree was decorated with several dozen-glass balls, gobs of tinsel and because we did not have electricity the tree was lighted by small candles, which were placed in special holders and clipped to the limbs. Due to the highly likelihood of burning the house down the candles were only ignited a few times and then only for a few minutes, except for Christmas Eve when we opened our small pile of presents.
Another custom we had was to keep the tree up for as long as possible. By keeping it well-watered and adding sugar to the water it was possible to keep the tree looking good for at least a month. One year our tree actually began budding out new needles and we kept it up until well into February.
When I entered my teens the job of selecting a tree was handed over to me, and my only companion during the search was our black Cocker spaniel, Pat. Pat and I kept the tradition alive until I was eighteen when Pat went away to the Big Dog House in the Sky and I was off to college.
When Peggy and I moved to Florida where I held a teaching position from 1960-66 I continued to cut a wild native tree to serve as our Christmas tree for several years. The closest thing I could get to a Wisconsin balsam was a southern pine. The pines worked out fairly well, but our home did not contain that wonderful balsam fragrance. Then in 1963 Wifee Poo purchased our first fake tree.
It was a crude aluminum model, pink yet, that looked about as much like a tree as a hat rack. But our young growing family accepted it as long as presents were present beneath the pink aluminum branches. Once in a while when we bring out the old colored slides of that era our now grown kids and grandkids howl like a pack of hyenas when the pink Christmas tree appears on the screen.
Once we moved back to Wisconsin the tradition of hunting for a balsam resumed, and eventually I had some grandkids to help me hunt and also drag the trophy back to grandma's and gramp's abode. But alas, that era ended all too quickly.
Uncle Ed had a unique method of harvesting his Christmas tree. Uncle Ed and Aunt Minda lived in Rhinelander. Uncle Ed was one of the charter members of the Anderson/Jorgensen Deer Camp and took part in the annual hunt for exactly fifty seasons, 1938-1987. At some point during the hunt he'd discover the perfect Christmas tree. I vividly recall the first time I was along when Uncle Ed made his choice.
We were driving out a swamp south of Plum Creek when suddenly several loud rifle shots resounded for the interior of the swamp. I was a stander on the drive and instantly became fully alert expecting to see deer burst from the swamp. But all remained quiet. I yelled. "Did ya get one?" Uncle Ed answered. "Ya, I'm gonna drag it out."
My curiosity heightened as my mind began to envision Uncle Ed emerging from the swamp dragging a huge buck. But no, to my surprise he exited the swamp dragging a balsam tree. You see, Uncle Ed liked to use his rifle as a means of "chopping down" his Christmas tree! Great memory!
Other cherished memories of searching for a Christmas tree include the annual search that was conducted by the eighth grade boys attending the Red Brick School in St.Germain during the good old days. I began my internment in that institution in 1942 as a member of the school's first kindergarten class. And I had to wait nine years before my three male classmates and I were allowed to take an afternoon off and head into the forest that stretched from the school all the way to Lake Content to secure a Christmas tree for the school's Christmas celebration.
Tom Dean, Phil Franke, Eugene Hessen and I took our good natured time finding that perfect tree as we surely didn't want to come back to school too early and have to endure more desk time. Our search took us beyond the "40 acre line" where the town property ended and the private property of Awassa Lodge began. Here in this massive pristine forest we located the perfect tree. Actually, the perfect tree was the very tip-top of a gigantic mature balsam, some forty feet tall. Yep, we chopped it down, took the top eight feet and slowly made our way back to school, arriving just a few minutes before dismissal, which then was 4 p.m.
The entire 50-student enrollment and both teachers greeted us like conquering Roman generals! But our fame only lasted several days. The caretaker of Awassa Lodge discovered our foul deed and tracked down the villains to the schoolhouse door. Oh yes, we were in deep do-do! As I recall the four of us had to write a letter of apology to the directors of Awassa Lodge and we had to stay in during recess for a very long time copying definitions from old man Webster's book. Boys will be boys!
A few years ago Peggy purchased another fake tree. This one actually looks somewhat like a real tree, but lacked the balsam smell. It was one of those models that has about a hundred limbs, all color coded, that takes several days to put together. The good news is this "new" tradition only lasted three years. Last Christmas we went back to letting the man of the house cut a balsam from the Minnow Pond Swamp. See, if you wait long enough history will repeat itself!
Well, gotta go, we're getting ready to decorate the tree. And you know what, a few of the glass balls have splotches of melted wax on them.
Great memories! Merry Christmas everyone! (buckshot can be reached at: email@example.com)
Mr. Leon "Buckshot" Anderson is one of the few old time hunting and fishing guides left in Northern Wisconsin. Buckshot is a personal friend of the family and has known and worked with my grandfather, Howard "Pop" Dean, both of whom are members of the fresh water fishing hall of fame, Legendary Guide. Buckshot has authored 7 books on the great outdoors. All of his books can be purchased directly from him, at a discount, by email: firstname.lastname@example.org or by mail to: 2220 Deadman's Gulch Road, St. Germain, WI 54558.
Books by Leon "Buckshot" Anderson Click Here
Yes; Deadman's Gulch is the correct name, I have been on that road many times. Sincerely David D. Cruger
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