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The perfect tree

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Christmas Tree Hyalite

Paula Finlayson scans an open hillside in Hyalite for a Christmas Tree on Saturday, Nov. 27, 2021.

The perfect Christmas tree, according to the Finlayson family from Three Forks, is around eleven feet tall, not too wide, and has a solid base. The Custer Gallatin National Forest has an untold number of such trees, but only one will do.

On the Saturday after Thanksgiving, Tim and Paula Finlayson and their sons, Gunner, 17, and Colt, 9, drove to a spot in the Hyalite area. Their daughter, Ashley Rodriguez, her husband, Jake, and their 5-month old daughter met them there. Despite the unseasonably dry conditions, they wore snow boots and brought a sled along for the hike.

“We’ve been up there before in four or five feet of snow,” said Tim. “Just to dig the snow out, to get to the tree to cut it can be quite the chore.”

This year was much easier. After following an icy trail for a short while, the family turned uphill, and began scanning the slope for the right tree. Consensus can be hard to reach at first, but after a while fatigue sets in.

Christmas Tree Hyalite

The Finlayson family gathers around a spruce tree they will soon cut down in Hyalite on Saturday, Nov. 27, 2021.

Christmas Tree Hyalite

A saw slices through the narrow trunk of a tree in Hyalite on Saturday, Nov. 27, 2021.

“You kinda get to the point after an hour trouncing around the woods, it’s like alright. Everyone agree? Cut it,” Tim said.

Soon, the family gathered around one spruce tree. Colt took the first turn at cutting it down, before handing the saw to his father, who finished the job. Back at the trailhead, Tim tossed the tree in the bed of his truck and strapped it down.

Christmas Tree Hyalite

Colt Finlayson, 7, loses momentum on his sled as his brother-in-law, Jake Rodriguez, drags a freshly cut Christmas tree past him in Hyalite Canyon on Saturday, Nov. 27, 2021.

Christmas Tree Hyalite

Tim Finlayson, left, and his wife, Paula, right, play with their granddaughter, Nora Rodriguez, 5-months old, held by their daughter, Ashley Rodriguez, while taking a break from looking for Christmas trees in Hyalite Canyon on Saturday, Nov. 27, 2021.

“It always looks different when you get it in the house,” said Paula. “You look at them in the forest and you’re like, I don’t know, it looks kinda skinny, then you get it in the house and it's plenty full.”

Back at home, after Tim and Gunner propped the tree up in its appointed place, everyone took a moment to appreciate their work. As it turns out, what really makes the perfect Christmas tree is gathering family, spending a day in the woods, and a solid base.

Christmas Tree Hyalite

Tim Finlayson, right, and his son, Gunner, 17, position their Christmas tree in the living room of their home in Three Forks on Saturday, Nov. 27, 2021.

Christmas Tree Hyalite

The 2021 addition to the Finlayson's ornament collection hangs on a bough of their Christmas tree in their home in Three Forks on Saturday, Nov. 27, 2021.

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