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No saw? No axe? No problem
Dec 2, 2012 - By Randy Tucker
When some sorority girls needed a Christmas tree, I rose to the occasion.
Two outings I took into the wilderness a long time ago were separated by 15 years and an incredible difference in circumstances.
I didn't realize it way back in 1964, but my grandfather and I were taking part in an ancient Druid ceremony that has intertwined itself into the Christian Christmas celebration. At least in the western world, mistletoe and evergreen trees are part of the celebration.
My mom mentioned she would like some mistletoe for Christmas when we were visiting my grandparents that winter. We lived in Blytheville, Ark., about 110 miles north of my grandparents' farm near Marianna.
My Grandpa Tucker was the ultimate backwoodsman. With his axe and 20-gauge Harrington and Richards single shot, he was adept at just about any challenge when it came to the native southern woods. Finding some mistletoe wasn't that difficult for a man who still tilled his watermelon patch and surrounding garden with a mule and plow.
Mistletoe is an interesting plant. It is an evergreen native to deciduous forests, but it is also a partial parasite or, scientifically, a hemiparasite. That means it can grow on its own, but it prefers to sink its roots into a living oak, walnut or pecan tree high up in the canopy of the southern forest.
With me in tow, we hopped into my grandpa's narrow-box Ford pickup and headed south of his place to an area of dense woods. I'd just turned 8 years old and had been on my first quail hunt with my dad, my grandpa, my great uncle Fred and some of my dad's cousins earlier that fall. I knew how amazingly accurate they all were with shotguns and barely noticed that my grandpa had loaded his razor-sharp, double-bladed axe along with his shotgun as we departed.
Just a few dozen yards off the two-track road we spotted a patch of green high in a leafless oak tree. Yep, it was mistletoe. But the tree was big, and the green spot was way up there.
There wasn't a use for the axe. So my grandpa took aim and fired. A section of mistletoe broke off and caught on a branch just a few feet below.
His ability to reload that old single shot was legendary. He could get off three shots nearly as fast as someone with a pump shotgun, but this time speed wasn't necessary.
We walked a few feet away to one side of the tree, and he fired again, snapping the branch that held the mistletoe.
The clump of green landed nearby, and he let me carry it back to the truck.
It was a memorable day in the gray woods of southern winter.
Fast-forward in time 15 years, and I was again in the woods. This time I was 23, a college senior, and on my own. Perhaps it was my rural roots, but my roommate Frank and I ate a lot of wild game to survive that final year in Laramie. We often had rabbit, deer, sage grouse and duck that we hunted on public land near the "Windy City."
One afternoon, with nothing better to do, we loaded into Frank's truck. It was only a few years newer than my grandpa's had been, and it was the same color ,only with a wide box. We headed west of Laramie toward Wood's Landing in search of, well, in search of anything that would get us out of Laramie.
A couple of girls from the Tri Delta sorority had asked us earlier if we would cut them a Christmas tree for their sorority house. What red-blooded American boy could say no to that?
They picked up three permits from the Forrest Service and gave them to us.
After a fruitless search for ducks and a chance encounter with a couple of coyotes nearly half a mile in the distance, we decided to find the Christmas trees for the girls.
Frank's truck had a full camper shell, and we stored the few tools we owned in it. It was sort of a communal tool box for our friends as well.
We found a stand of good-looking Colorado blue spruce in about three feet of snow. When we looked in the back of the truck we found a shovel but no saw. One of our friends had borrowed both the bow saw and the crosscut.
Hmmm... a dilemma. My mind raced back to that day with my grandpa in the Arkansas woods.
I reached behind the seat for my Iver Johnson 12 gauge. The gun was a single shot just like my grandpa's, only a few inches longer and with a larger gauge. My dad's cousin Dick gave it to me when I was 12.
The first two trees about 6 feet tall. We cleared the snow from the base with the shovel, then I fired at the trunk from about a foot away.
Timber! The blast neatly cut the tree with just a hint of a downward curve on the trunk. The second tree fell just as easily.
We picked a 12-foot tree for the main room at the 12 Delta house and repeated the procedure, but the larger tree didn't fall with a single shot. The first blast took off about two inches, but that much still remained on the other side. The tree shook a bit but didn't fall. A second shot, and we met our quota.
We shoved the trees inside the camper shell and headed back to Laramie.
Memories come in unplanned and unexplained ways. After nearly half a century, that dismal day in the Arkansas woods remains a bright spot.