Roger Marolt: We’re not crazy! … Just joyful | AspenTimes.com

Roger Marolt: We’re not crazy! … Just joyful

Roger Marolt
Roger This

I don't honestly think we are crazy, but I want to check. We fist-pumped after getting the Christmas tree up. Is that weird?

It started long ago when we would team up with aunts and uncles and cousins and head into the woods with one saw and a goal of coming out with four legal trees. The only rules: no blue spruce and nothing over 15 feet tall.

Yes, there was the predicable competition of finding the "best" tree. And, no, nobody ever won, because the criteria were as slippery as the slopes we trudged. As soon as someone found the fullest tree, somebody else located the tallest, then someone else dragged out the straightest or the one that had the most pine cones still on it.

That wasn't the worst, though. The trees we eventually took were usually found within minutes of arrival at winter wonderland, but no matter what and for no good reason we felt compelled to climb to the top of the ridge to see if any better specimens existed up there. There was a better chance of finding a life size, functional gingerbread cabin. I mean, trees don't grow above timberline, right? That fact weighed little in our decision-making process.

Most years we started after brunch and stayed until dark chased us away, as if controlled by a switch at the fingertip of a perturbed Santa. Afterward, tears flowed as frozen toes and fingers thawed. The kids weren't as bad.

As our children have grown and schedules become so complicated this time of year that it would be easier to straighten an elf's double helix DNA molecule into a strand of tinsel than to coordinate everyone's plans, our families now head out alone into the great Christmas tree wilderness.

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I do not know if it is a sign of the times or our minds that we start our fitness watches as soon as we get out of the car. We would sooner forget the saw in the back than not know if we're burning enough calories to offset last evening's fudge factor.

The devices are not for measuring how far we are going or to help us find our way back. We go to the same place every December and everyone knows it is approximately 1.786 miles to the center of our own little North Pole. This is the point in all Pitkin County where the very finest Christmas trees grow and a highly guarded secret. I will allow that hypoxia and hypothermia might possibly cloud our judgment here.

What we all really wanted to know, with the snowpack several feet deeper than last year, was whether our VO2 max would be reached as we huffed through the drifts.

Finally reaching our secret temple of tennenbaum, it took no time for each of us to locate the specimen we pictured our guests saluting with cups of eggnog Christmas Eve. It was an icy stalemate: five trees, five votes. Only when toes froze would this standoff in the snowbank end. I glanced around and sighed. Unfortunately, everyone had worn appropriate footwear.

When I finally cut the winner down, my son remarked that my sawing had improved from the year before; a nice compliment, all things considered. We talked strategy in a huddle shrouded in steamy breath about how we would haul the timber out.

This is the hardest part. Carrying the tree in front is always worse than being in the rear, and vise-versa. Trees that look slender and tall standing in the forest feel squat and heavy on your shoulder. Even though your fitness watch says you are losing altitude, your thighs argue that the trail is forever uphill. A loyal dog is constantly underfoot. You can't see the trail for the bows.

We eventually dragged the oversized sap pump and our exhausted bodies back to the car. We secured the gargantuan log on top with rope frozen as stiff as our fingers. We sat in the car, our lips too numb to smile, much less talk. The good news? We ended up only seven minutes off last year's pace despite the deeper snowpack.

I guess my question is: How is it possible that we enjoy this? I mean, our family comes together over this ritual every year like sprinkles on a reindeer sugar cookie. It fills our hearts with genuine joy. We plug and hug as the finished product fills the living room with its enchantingly warm glow. The scent. The sight. The sound of a stray ornament smashing on the floor. The whole season is suddenly literally magical! We should probably just go with it, huh?

Roger Marolt hopes we can pull "Peace on Earth" out of the holiday cliche box and put it to good use. Email at roger@maroltllp.com.

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