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An audio ‘postcard’ from an untraditional Christmas tree hunt

Someone in a cowboy hat bends down and grabs a sagebrush bush.
Caitlin Tan
Wyoming Public Media
Bill Webb, a long time Sublette County local, cuts down a sagebrush Christmas tree.

For a lot of people, the holidays mean getting a Christmas tree, and usually, that means some type of big, bushy green tree – like a Douglas fir, blue spruce or even a fake tree. But, Wyoming Public Radio’s Caitlin Tan tagged along with one Sublette County local who went on a hunt for an unexpected type of Christmas tree.

“Well, my name is Bill Webb. I’ve been a resident of Pinedale since 1976. And spent most of my life in the mountains and exploring the desert up here and it’s just wonderful, wonderful country. But today we’re doing a first, we’re going to go out and get a piece of sagebrush for a Christmas tree.”

In his weathered, tan cowboy hat, Webb drove his diesel truck to a secret spot on the Green River where there are huge sagebrush.

“There’s one spot down here where all of the sagebrush is five or six feet – just in one spot,” Webb said over the roar of the diesel engine.

He took a right-hand turn and went over a cattle guard, where he parked the truck in the middle of a sagebrush jungle. It towered over the well-used dirt road.

Webb rifled through a bag and pulled out a blade.

“I always carry one of these in my saddle bag, it’s just a folding saw with a lock blade,” he said as he locked the blade into place. “It cut many pine tree branches off a horse trail.”

The snow was sparse – a couple inches at most. Webb walked through, gazing at the endless options of sage.

A man in a cowboy hat grins at the camera.
Caitlin Tan
Wyoming Public Media
Bill Webb stands in the sagebrush jungle.

“We can just walk down the road and look at these, but then if you want to get serious we can just bail and start walking through all that sagebrush,” he said.

He mosied through the sage jungle, evaluating the options. There were rabbit tracks everywhere in the snow.

“We’re gonna have to cross this fence,” Webb said with a smile.

He crossed the old, barbed wire fence as it creaked. On the other side awaited more sage – but possibly even bigger.

“That tallest one, you know there’s three or four growing out of there,” Webb said. “I think that one’s a keeper.”

It was a six-foot-tall, bushy piece, with that distinct sage green and earthy, fresh scent. The bark was brittle to the touch and very coarse.

“If it takes me awhile I’ll be working up a thirst,” he chuckled. “We’ll see how easy this is to cut. I may have to go get a chainsaw.”

It was doable – but not easy. Webb used his folding saw and cut away. It took some time and heavy breathing.

“Definitely working up a thirst,” Webb said as he took a break.

A pile of sagebrush in the back of a pickup truck.
Caitlin Tan
Wyoming Public Media
The sagebrush Christmas trees loaded up in the pickup truck.

And then, the final sawing motion was made and the sage broke off.

“I don’t feel bad about cutting that off because it’s a great big plant and it’s got a lot of other branches,” he said.

He pulled the sagebrush and a couple others he cut through the snow, back over the fence and loaded them up into the truck bed.

“They are so full and bushy, they are taking up the whole bed of this eight-foot long bed pickup truck,” Webb said with a smile and sweat on his brow. “Plus, a few branches are sticking two or three feet above the top of the cab of the truck – so it’s some big sage.”

Caitlin Tan is the Energy and Natural Resources reporter based in Sublette County, Wyoming. Since graduating from the University of Wyoming in 2017, she’s reported on salmon in Alaska, folkways in Appalachia and helped produce 'All Things Considered' in Washington D.C. She formerly co-hosted the podcast ‘Inside Appalachia.' You can typically find her outside in the mountains with her two dogs.
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