TWIN FALLS — We have a holiday tradition here at the Times-News — sort of an initiation if you will — for the newest reporter to cut down a tree in the forest and deliver it to the newsroom to be covered in tinsel and lights.
Entertainment reporter Bowen West is our newbie this year; he isn’t the youngest reporter but he is the scrawniest. So, being the oldest in the newsroom, reporter Mychel Matthews decided Bowen would need her help.
When pitching the idea that she should accompany Bowen, Mychel reminded Editor Alison Smith that she had the experience, and — more importantly — she owns the saw that takes down the newsroom Christmas trees.
The pressure was on. The advertising department at the Times-News had been aglow since the Monday after Thanksgiving, and Publisher Kevin Kampman had called the reporters “Christmas slackers.”
Here are Bowen’s and Mychel’s versions of the experience:
From Bowen’s perspective
In my youth, I always imagined that this tradition would have fizzled out by the time I was an adult. I don’t know what made me lose my Christmas cheer — maybe it was when my family started to move away or when I was first exposed to the Grinch and realized I could dislike the holiday.
One thing that certainly did not reignite my love for the holiday was an exercise in cutting down a tree.
I was forced into getting the Christmas tree for the Times-News this year since I’m still considered the “new guy.” I begrudgingly agreed.
“If nothing else, it’ll lead to a good story,” I told myself.
I was accompanied by Mychel and chief photographer Drew Nash. We were crammed into this tiny truck; I was stuck in the middle seat, which required me to assume the fetal position.
We drove for about an hour trying to find a permit. I was doing my best not to fall asleep in the truck.
After another hour and a half, we finally made it to the South Hills. I was under the impression that I would have some help from my coworkers, but that was not the case.
“Which one are you thinking?” Mychel said.
“I was hoping that you would have that answer for me,” I said.
When researching past Times-News stories, I was astonished how quirky and charming the writing was. Each was better than the last. I couldn’t compete with any of my predecessors. So I figured I would beat them with the size of my tree. I may not be the greatest writer, but, by god, I can spot a big tree.
If I wasn’t going to get any input, I would find the tree that spoke to me. I saw a beautiful tree up on the hill. It was 7 feet tall if it was an inch.
I sprinted up the deep trenches of snow carved into the hillside by other lumberjacks. I think this was the point when Mychel got stuck in the snow.
I ran up to the tree and started cutting away. You are supposed to use rapid, manic, imprecise cuts with a saw, right? After about 15 minutes of sawing, I dragged it down the hill triumphantly.
Things were finally looking up for old Bowen. In my imagination, I’d walk into the office carrying this behemoth of a tree that all my coworkers would marvel at. I would throw it into the stand and put ornaments on it. My coworkers would break out a bottle of champagne, lift their glasses in my direction and say, “A toast to Bowen West, the tree slayer!”
Then I’d say, “Oh, this? It was a piece of cake.”
But instead, I dragged the tree into the office in the least spectacular way, banging into every wall and cabinet possible. I constantly apologized for the ruckus. I planted the pine in the puny tree stand. But something was wrong. It didn’t fit.
Mychel grabbed her saw, and, like she was cutting through butter, sawed off the bottom of the tree. We put it in the stand. It was still too big. She sliced off more.
I wanted to scream. “Hasn’t it suffered enough?!”
After much too long we finally got the tree up. It’s much shorter now, standing at five feet and nine inches, but it still has charm. I peek over at it every hour or so.
From Mychel’s perspective
When I was young, my father would drive us somewhere east of Mount Harrison to cut down a tree. We’d stop at the little Conner Creek store near Elba to buy a cup of hot chocolate and a doughnut, then continue our hunt for a tree. I liked trees with enough space between the boughs to fit ornaments.
Dad always made it look easy. My role was to make snow angels while he cut the tree. Ours was an idyllic holiday tradition.
Things are different these days; I now own an artificial tree. And this is why:
The night before Drew, Bowen and I were to venture into the South Hills, I gathered my handy tree saw, long johns, gloves, snow boots, rope to tie the tree down, and a broom to sweep the snow from our clothes in case a snowball fight broke out.
On Tuesday, we borrowed a one-ton dually with an enclosed utility bed from the circulation department and headed toward the hills. When we got to the Hansen Quick Stop & Go, we were told the store was out of tree permits.
“Don’t bother going to the Rock Creek General Store either,” the clerk told us. “They are out, too.”
That left us with the one option: backtrack to the U.S. Forest Service Office at Crossroads Point Business Center on U.S. 93.
We crossed the Hansen Bridge and jumped on Interstate 84. Within minutes we exited the interstate and drove right past the business park.
“I think we’ve gone too far,” I told Drew after a couple of miles. Drew turned the truck around and we located the forest service’s new home on American Avenue just northwest of Exit 173.
The nice lady at the forest service took my money and gave me a permit. I didn’t need a map or a copy of the rules because I had picked them up a few days before when I made a practice run — you know, so we could find the place easily when the time came.
We piled back into the truck, returned to Hansen and continued south on Rock Creek Road. A silence fell over us as we entered the canyon and rock cliffs eerily loomed above us. Soon, the forest appeared, blanketed in snow.
We stopped at the parking lot near Diamondfield Jack Campground. I grabbed my notebook and pen, but, in my excitement, I forgot my gloves.
Bowen spotted a pine; I warned him trees are actually larger than they appear outdoors. He followed tracks up the hill and Drew followed with his camera.
I didn’t get far.
The snow, being deeper than my legs are long, stopped me dead. I tried to break through, but I went to my knees. My pen flew out of my hands and sank into a snowbank.
“I’ll just wait right here,” I hollered to my colleagues, as I watched Bowen disappeared into a small cluster of pine trees.
After struggling to right myself for longer than I would like to admit, I managed to beat down the snow with my bare fists until I could stand on something solid. With my frozen hands clenched in my coat pockets, I watched from afar as one tree shook for the longest time before eventually falling.
Bowen reappeared, covered in snow, as Drew bounced around him with a camera.
Bowen pretended to grin as he juggled the tree down the hillside.