I've lived In Colorado now for more than 20 years, having grown up in Michigan I've had winter be a part of my entire life. Nestled into the package of winter comes Christmas, here at near 9,000 feet, the days following Christmas continue to be winter and continue on into March, April and sometimes May. Since our winters come early (I have shoveled 18" of snow in mid-September) Christmas marks a midpoint in the season and with the Solstice just past the return of longer days.
One of the reasons I moved to Colorado was to enjoy the natural world that lies just out my doorstep. Skiing, backpacking and climbing were never quite as fun back in the Midwest. Here skiing is leaps and bounds "bigger" than just about anywhere else in the country. Before I settled down with a wife and family, Christmas often meant a week long backcountry ski or hut trip, and I remember sharing many a Christmas morning to the sound of a crackling fire in a small hut, or yurt.
For me and some of my buddies, our Christmas tree consisted of a pine branch stuck into a scrap of firewood. Our gift exchange was minimal, as skiing in 12 miles, with a week worth of supplies was tough enough. Today, I still enjoy a quiet simple Christmas morning but the focus has shifted from 18" to 20" of fresh untracked backcountry powder…to family and food. Food was a part of the hut trip past, but often simplified. In one of those older trips we pulled a small utility sled and that allowed for a case of homebrew, a roasted goose, goose gravy and buttermilk biscuits (good solid food to fuel a day of backcountry skiing).
Our typical holiday season now begins with trimming a tree and setting up some minor decorations about the house. I have always used a real tree and in most cases cut my own. We never set up the tree until after Thanksgiving ... that has never seemed right to me. This year we got a tree from our own land, in other years I have gotten trees from some friend's land or purchased a permit from the forest service, and harvested from one of their dedicated areas.
Wading through knee- to waist-deep snow is not something many can endure, or choose to do, but I feel it adds a lot to the "Christmas Experience." There were a few years there where we took the "City" route and bought a tree from a commercial lot down in the flatlands. Yes, those trees are a bit more traditional looking, being plump and well shaped, but they almost seem to look too perfect. I love the rustic wild look of our trees and being "green" minded choosing a local tree, makes more sense than buying one that was trucked in from out of state. To complete the cycle, after the holidays I cut up our tree and burn it in one of our wood stoves. After a few weeks of gracing us with its scented fragrance, its branches warm our home, and its carbon is released back into the environment to feed one of its cousin trees.
My girls are approaching their teen years and our gift exchange has evolved a bit. Instead of cheap plastic imported items that seem to endlessly clutter their rooms, they are beginning to see the benefit of practical gifts ... like a new warm jacket, or some fuzzy slippers. For family members we have pulled back the consumerism stance and now exchange a gift of a family photo album, DVD or a bottle of some nice wine. The real gift is the sharing of time and family more than something that was bought at a store.
In years past I have built custom woodworking projects for family and friends and still squeeze some in when I can. These range from elaborate jewelry boxes to custom cutting boards and wine racks. They are gifts I love to build and share. A few years ago I built 12 jewelry boxes, for family members ... my shop looked a lot like an Elf's shop near Santa's home.
As the circle of life spins my return to the simple Christmas morning in a small hut or cabin is again approaching. My small cabin is taking shape, and will host another quiet spell this holiday season (New Years Eve). Last year my fiancé's son and his girlfriend spent the holidays with us, as they have for a few years now; it is becoming their tradition. They are visiting from Los Angeles and find solace in our quiet ways. Our way reminds me a lot of the simple John Denver song "Christmas for Cowboys":
Tall in the saddle, we spend Christmas Day,
driving the cattle over snow covered-plains.
All of the good gifts given today, ours is the sky and the wide open range.
Back in the cities they have different ways, football and eggnog and Christmas parades.
I'll take my saddle, I'll take the reins; it's Christmas for cowboys wide-open plains.
Kevin Stevens originally wrote this for Networx.com. It is reprinted with permission.