Search for elusive ornament gets up close and personal in Sweet Home forest
November 7, 2018
This whole Capitol Christmas Tree story has been pretty impressive and it’s nice to see the community responding to what will likely be something that won’t happen again in our lifetime.
When we got started with this thing, I have to admit I was curious how all this would play out. It was clear that there was a lot of potential for our community, but I have to admit I didn’t realize how big this could get. (If you don’t know what we’re talking about by now, you’re definitely not getting out enough.)
Though it’s my job to make sure our readers are dialed in to what’s going on in the community, including events, well, I’ve seen a lot of events. So this might be the story of how a somewhat jaded old newspaper editor caught the spirit.
I’d like to think I’m pretty resistant to hype, after nearly 40 years in this newspaper business, and so when the announcements started about what was going to be happening – the 10,000 ornaments, the tree skirts, the essay contest to choose the tree lighter, etc., I wondered how much of this was flash-and-dash. I was interested to see how our community would engage.
One of the events announced early on was the Find Your Trail Christmas Tree ornament hunt.
U.S. Forest Service officials announced they were going to hide 200 ornaments along trails in the Sweet Home and neighboring ranger districts of the Willamette National Forest, in an effort to provide incentive for residents and visitors to get outdoors and put in some miles.
“Now that’s an original idea,” I thought wryly to myself, picturing florescent-colored orbs hanging along the trails. Then I saw a photo of one of the mossy-green glass ornaments, finders of which would be entered in a drawing to win a trip for two to Washington D.C.
I have to admit I wasn’t as interested in the trip opportunity as I was impressed with that classy-looking bauble – especially after a reader brought one into the office that she’d spotted on a hike up in the Hackleman Grove during the first week of the contest.
My wife and I decided we wanted to find one, just for a keepsake.
There’s a little bit of back-story here. When we moved back to Oregon after too long in a neighboring state south of us, one of my big ideas was to get out and do a lot of hiking around Sweet Home. After all, there are almost unlimited opportunities.
But the rigors of running a community newspaper have, frankly, curtailed the scope of my plans. Somebody’s got to cover all the activities: festivals, meetings, sports and other community happenings, both planned and unplanned. It’s time-consuming and, to say the least, we never got a lot of those hikes in.
So here was a big chance to get out there. And we did.
I have to credit the U.S. Forest Service folks on this one. They dreamed this contest up to get people outdoors, onto the trails. Well, it sure worked for us.
We hiked trails all summer, hitting most of the ones in the Sweet Home Ranger District that had an ornament. We checked the updates on maps district officials posted, keeping track of the “live” ornaments out there.
All I can say is that some of those babies were really well hidden. They all had red ribbons and white cards attached, so I figured even with verdant ferns and other think underbrush along the trails, we’d have a chance. We trekked back and forth in the areas where the maps told us ornaments were hidden. Our dogs wondered what was going on as we peered into thick underbrush and inspected every odd-looking tree we came to. (Our 1-year-old Lab, who thinks she’s a greyhound, was particularly frustrated.)
By the end of the summer we’d been out seemingly every time we had a chance (or our dogs needed a hike), including hitting one particular trail section at least three times. Zero.
I joked more than once, mirthlessly, to my wife that we should adopt a raccoon or a crow – something that could spot shiny objects better than we could.
Early fall is a busy time for us at the newspaper, so we had to dial it back, but after the deadline for winning the Washington D.C. trip passed, we decided to give it one more shot. We’d picked up a few clues by then and we decided to hit a trail we hadn’t tried yet: the Chimney Peak/South Pyramids. We had a pretty good certainty that there might still be ornaments out there, though we’d heard the remnants were supposed to be collected, so if we wanted to find one we’d better get on it fast.
We left our Lab at home with a bone this time. We took our reliable trail dog, who’s a Lab/heeler mix; even though he’s proven unhelpful at detecting shiny objects along trails, he provides a stabilizing influence.
We thoroughly searched one area that had been described to us, to no avail. We actually found where the spot where ornament had probably been hidden, but we got the strong impression that somebody else had gotten there first.
We actually were returning to our car, parked at the trailhead, when I spotted a what looked like a key location. We stopped to investigate. Nothing apparent.
My wife, though, decided she needed to take a little “rest” break, so the dog and I waited semi-patiently while she climbed off the trail, past the area where we’d searched.
Suddenly, a shriek: “I found it!”
There, behind a tree, it was – an ornament. Apparently, it had been hanging on a branch that had broken off.
Hey, whatever. After hours and hours of hiking to find one of these things, we weren’t going to complain.
We finally had a special souvenir to remember this whole shindig by.
And it was fun.