Radio Field Trip: Cutting Down A Christmas Tree In The White Mountains

Dec 19, 2018

It’s our last Radio Field Trip, and producer Mary McIntyre and I are teaming up with NHPR reporter Sean Hurley. He’s guiding us on a hike to a special spot of his in the White Mountains.

Note: A permit is required to cut down a tree in the White Mountain National Forest, which was obtained before taking this Radio Field Trip! Permits can be purchased for $5. Click here for more info. 


(Editor's note: we highly recommend you listen to this story.)

Sean has taken us to Smarts Brook Trail in Thornton, or what I’m calling "Sean’s Place".

“I’ve been coming here so often that I’ve forgotten what it's actually called, the official name,” Sean says. “Like I don’t know any of the trail names. It’s just gone away.”

We’re here to find and cut down a Christmas tree, the same area where he goes with his family each year to find their tree.

The weather is perfect. There’s some light flurries, and just the right amount of snow covering the ground and the trees.

Sean’s plan is for us to hike about half a mile along the trail until we reach an area he likes to think of as a Christmas tree forest.

“We go up this little hill, and then this perfect little forest appears,” Sean says. “And it has these snow covered triangle trees, and it just seems like elves are lurking somewhere.”

There is something that feels magical about this trail.

The path winds alongside a river gorge. I look across to the other side and see cascades of frozen water on the steep rocky slopes. Snow lightly drifts through the trees as we continue to hike through the forest.

After a while, the path narrows and a sea of dark green trees surrounds us on all sides. Sean says this is the place to start looking.

“When we come up here – me, my wife and son – we sort of will spread a little bit out and find different things,” Sean says. “I find ignorable things.”

Sean and his family have been cutting their own Christmas trees for about five years now. It turns out he hasn’t yet picked the winning tree for their home.

We begin our search, but finding the right one isn’t as easy as it might seem. The trees that grow in the White Mountains are not the same as the perfect looking trees grown on a farm.

These wild trees have more character you might say.

“You know, this is the kind of tree I would pick out,” Sean says. “What do you think?” he asks.

It looks a bit uneven. I tell him there are a lot of gaps as well.

“Alright, well I have other ideas,” he says. “I have some other trees.”

After some more searching, producer Mary McIntyre spots a contender.

The tree stands in a clearing at about 12 or so feet tall. There are few gaps between branches, but it’s much fuller than a lot of the other trees we’ve seen so far.

“Can we pretend I picked it out?” Sean asks.

Well, maybe he didn’t spot it first, but he has brought a handsaw that I use to cut the tree down.

I cut a few feet extra feet off the bottom so the tree can actually fit inside the house.

Now the final task is getting it out of the forest. But luckily, it shouldn’t be too heavy of a lift.

“These forest trees are just sleek and light, light as feathers,” Sean says. “You could throw it and it would fly.”

And so we carry it together back the way we came, and now I’m happy to report it’s standing proudly in Mary’s living room.