There was the year she mistook a moose for a horse. Easy enough to do when ploughing through hip-deep snow holding mittened hands with me, trying to stay on the trail her father and brother were breaking up ahead. So intent on studying each pine tree — is this the next Christmas tree? — the shock of a cow moose trailing after her brother didn’t seem real at first. At six, the similarities between horse and moose were striking. (Later, in the warmth of our home in the city, we read about a crazed cow moose that had attacked skiers and broken into cabins. A wildlife ranger had to put her down. She had been our moose.)
Then there was the year the keys got locked in the cab. I stayed with the kids in the forest, easily twenty miles from the nearest town. Their father, who I think was born with the ability to hitch a ride from the edge of any wilderness, was actually able to hitch a ride to the nearest sheriff’s office and return four hours later with tools to unlock our truck. While he was gone, we stayed warm in our snow gear, trampling through the snow in search of a Christmas tree.
Keep in mind, none of the trees we cut down were keepers except in our own minds. We remembered the trees by their location. Remember the tree hanging from the cliff? What about the one we had to cross the creek to reach? And the tree we got the year the spring froze early, leaving a sloped ice rink?
When we set out to raise our two children, we wanted to raise them hands-on. To participate, rather than to observe. To do, rather than to have. To be, not only with each other, but to be with the spirit of the land.
Now they are old enough to cut down trees on their own. Now their parents are divorced. And yet.
And yet, they still crowd sans mom into the cab of their father’s pickup and drive back into the shadows of the Beartooth Mountain Range. Each year someone forgets extra gloves, or snowboots; sometimes someone can’t find the saw. But each year they return with a tree for his house and a tree for mine. I meet them in my driveway, a jacket hastily thrown over my shoulders, sans mittens. We laugh over who gets to have the least-kept tree, knowing someday they’ll be coming home with two more trees — one for each of their own homes.