It was about 10 feet tall and the morning sun was burning off the dew on its needles, making it glow. It was halfway down a hill of trees, but none of them was as full nor held as perfect a pyramidal shape as this one. It was perfect, and we would soon discover it would become the standard-bearer for every Christmas tree to come.

There was just one hitch. It was July, and we were two states and 5 months away from our home, and Christmas.

We were riding on the Virginia Creeper Trail, a rails-to-trails descent in Virginia that rolls through miles of farmland. Halfway down, nature and 20-ounces of blue Gatorade paid a visit to my 5-year old son, who raced for the privacy of a nearby grove of fraser firs.

I should note here that he did not drop trou on any of the trees. Realizing even in the heat of the moment that these beauties would end up in someone’s living room, I redirected his aim. So, while he found relief in the grass, I couldn’t help but notice what a delightful oasis we’d stumbled upon. The air smelled of Christmas morning, and trees grew along paths reminiscent of Scottish labyrinths. Our footsteps fell silently on needle-cushioned earth.

“We’re in the Candy Cane Forest!” exclaimed my niece, who had tracked us down, and who was also a big fan of Buddy the Elf. “Hey, look at this!” my oldest son shouted. We found him, awe-filled, in front of our perfect, glowing tree. It was pure magic.

After persuading them that we could not, in fact, take it home with us (no saw, hadn’t paid for it, nothing to strap it to except for Mom’s back, and besides, it was still swimsuit season), we hopped back on our bikes.

The morning after Thanksgiving, we were bundled up, still full from the previous day’s feast and sluggish from hours spent watching football on the couch. While making coffee, my husband suggested we take a ride to the hardware store to pick out a fresh Christmas tree.

“The hardware store?” my son balked. “No, Daddy. We already have our tree. We have to go back to The Creeper. I know exactly where it is.”

A 12-hour drive was not on my husband’s agenda, but neither was the hardware store on my children’s. They’d seen the promised land of treedom and would accept nothing less. We compromised. Just north of the city, we spent a lovely day in the fresh air, without a single electronic device nearby, walking off some of the thousands of calories that had been the gift of the day before.

We came home with a very fine fresh Christmas tree. It wasn’t THE tree, but we loved it anyways like you sometimes must. And so began our family tradition of trying to forever fill the tree stand of the “Tree That Got Away.”

Now through Christmas, share a photo of your family’s REAL Christmas tree memory-making experience for a chance to win $1,000!

photos: Shelley Massey