Saturday, December 12, 2009

Irresistable Photos

This blog is all about the pictures. The first is AdventureFamily Christmas; it's all there, the tree, the stockings, the fire...
The second is the AdventureBaby Grin. This elusive shot has been weeks in the making, as she usually clams up the second a camera is near (how she knows I will never know!).

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The Great Christmas Tree Hunt of 2009

The Christmas Tree Hunt has always been a favorite part of Christmas for me, starting way back before I really knew what Christmas was about. I can still remember myself as a little tyke hopping from one footprint to the next while following my Dad through knee-deep snow on the quest for the perfect tree. This is one tradition that I can't wait to instill in my children, and we got a good start this year. This was truly a hunt to remember, and here is its story: (The end is that we got home safely with a pretty tree for those who don't want to read a novel, slide show follows.)

It is vital that you understand that it is not a real Christmas tree hunt if you go to a farm. That is a Christmas tree choose. A Christmas tree hunt involves dirt roads, hiking, and tracking down the "perfect" tree from the ranks of lop-sided, animal-chewed, hill-side growing, wild trees, then sawing it down and hauling it back to your vehicle in victory. We started out a bit late, as we had to do some research to ascertain exactly how and where to obtain our Christmas tree permits for the Olympic National Forest. We then had to stop to buy a sled (a mandatory piece of equipment) and a hatchet (you never know when you'll need a sharp hatchet!). After then stopping to buy our permit, we were on our way. We found the access to the forest without difficulty, although due to the out-datedness of the map provided by the forest service it was a bit difficult to tell exactly where in the maze of unlabeled, single-car-wide dirt roads we were. Still, we found a likely spot with several potential trees, so we unloaded the AdventureGirls, got them bundled, and started scouting trees. At this point I should mention that on the map there was an area labeled where one could find Silver Firs, and it noted that they preferred high slopes and ridges, only growing at the higher elevations. The silver firs sounded mystical and beautiful, but it was a bit far away and the daylight was fading, so we decided to be prudent and look here, in a lower elevation, much closer to home. and settle for a Douglas Fir (pretty much the only trees besides hemlocks, because the pines were off-limits). It was then that we discovered a problem that I had never encountered in Montana. On the Olympic peninsula trees grow at such a rapid rate that all of the Christmas-tree sized Doug Firs were extremely wimpy, being only a few years old. The branches were very thin and flexible, and not up to holding much in the way of ornaments. As we were discovering this, a couple drove by and asked if we knew what road number we were on. We did not, but gave them some clues. It turns out that they were much more familiar with the area than we were, and they knew the location of the mystical silver firs. It turns out that by serendipity we were on the road that led to them, so we decided to load up and go see if they were more of a more ornament-worthy stature.
On our way up the road we came across the same family coming back down... the road was apparently washed out ahead, but not to worry, they knew a different way to the ridge-top where the trees grew, and they were willing to lead the way. We faithfully turned around and followed them, and followed, and followed. More than 10 more miles of forest road went by before we wound our way up an extremely steep valley to the high country where the silver fir grows. As we were gaining elevation, we crossed the snow line, which thrilled AdventureGirl, and AdventureMom too for that matter. It just feels more Christmasy when there is snow. So, we were now following a single-track road up a very steep ridge-side in deep snow ruts. At one point we had the bare rock mountain looming about 2,000 feet straight up 5 feet from the driver's door, and another 1500-ish foot drop on the passenger's side that literally had 2 feet of road between the truck's tires and the vertical drop-off... no shoulder, no guard rails, nothing but air. Luckily the road was virtually carved out of rock, and there was dirt in the bottom of the foot-deep snow ruts, so it felt pretty secure. However, the sun was only shining on the highest ridges now, and the valleys were in deep dusk, so we were starting to feel the tree-finding pressure. Ahead of us we could see where the road came out on a sunlit ridge-top, and we decided that was where we would stop to cut our tree. We passed our guides when they stopped at a turn-out, and headed for the ridge. Ah, best made plans. We rounded a corner to discover that the snow suddenly became much deeper, and the rut-makers had decided to turn around at this point, so there was no longer a good trail to follow. We decided to turn around here too, not wanting to risk an unknown road in a dangerous area in the dark (and did I mention it was COLD, at least for WA, meaning temps around 18 degrees F). Then we discovered that we had a problem. The extreme cold had frozen the snow into cement. I walked on it without even a hint of breaking through when I got out to spot the truck in our turn-around attempt. Worse, the truck tires could not break through it either, which meant that we COULD NOT get the wheels up out of the ruts. In the end there was no option but to back down the road, and AdventureDad ended up having to back about 1/4 mile down the same slippery, curvy, NARROW road, in the dark, to a point where we could turn around. I wish I could have taken pictures, but it was much too dark to appreciate the true magnitude of this feat.
So, at the turn-around we ran into our guides again... they had seen us struggling and backed down much sooner than we did. We all piled out of our respective cars to take stock of the local silver firs in the fading light. We were on a very steep slope, so we ended up hiking a short distance up a side road to a more level place that offered a few smaller trees. However, in the end the ones we could find in the dark were either much too big or much too spindly. Ironically we ended up sliding our way back to the truck, and cutting a tree that we had originally seen from the road on the way up, and it wasn't much more robust than the Doug firs we had eyed hours (and miles) before-hand. The one benefit was that the branches were indeed ever so slightly thicker, because the trees grow more slowly at high elevations. Ever so slightly.
Luckily, since it was so close to the road, the tree was very easy to get back to the truck, and we wended our way home with a mystical silver fir safely in the truck bed, a very tired AdventureGirl who was jabbering non-stop about the snow and the Christmas Trees, a sleeping AdventureBaby, and two very contented AdventureParents. Thank God for take-out Chinese.

Note: Hold your cursor over the images to see captions in the slide show.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Pretty in Purple

All of the Thanksgiving leftovers are gone, and we are back to life-as-usual, except that Christmas and my incredible lack of preparation are now looming. I will most likely be sending New-Year's-if-I'm-Lucky cards this year! So what is life as usual? Well, AdventureBaby developed an oral thrush infection, and after attempting an unsuccessful treatment with an antifungal cream, we are now trying gentian violet. I'm guessing most of my readers have had some experience with this wonder-drug, but for the uninitiated it is an intensely purple dye that happens to be very antimicrobial and relatively non-toxic, as well as possessing the ability to indelibly spread to every surface within a 5-foot radius of an open container. So, her mouth and my corresponding body parts (as well as some unintended clothes, cheeks, fingers, etc.) are now shockingly purple, but much more comfortable (see photo!) In other mundane news, we have now had 5 days of no rain to make up for the rainy November (we're 5 inches over the already rainy normal), and we're all better for it. It is amazing what a little sunshine does for my attitude! Plus the horses are fuzzy and happy again, the pasture is much less mucky, and (this is BIG NEWS for me) the good weather inspired me to start running again! Yes, I completed my first 2-mile run yesterday, and have the aching muscles to prove it. It feels so good to start running again, and I'm now shopping for a "goal race" to keep myself (and hopefully AdventureDad too) motivated. This run was also the inaugural run for our new Cheetah-2... it's the 2 child, slightly-less-fancy, bought-on-a-great-sale version of our chariot jogger that I used for 100's of miles while training for the marathon, and it passed the test with flying colors. AdventureDad pushed it, and it rolled as smoothly and easily as the single-seater, with the added bonus that we can use the ski and bike attachments that we already have with it. AdventureGirl and AdventureBaby apparently approved too, the former chatting and the latter sleeping throughout the entire run (aaah, ARG memories).
The picture of AdventureGirl shows what happens when a 2 1/2 -year-old insists on dressing herself. Note the rubber boots for proper puddle-splashing and the "purse" that contai
ns "pink baby" and a stuffed squirrel (obviously all of life's essentials).
The animal pics are just there because they're cute.