Cordova Chronicles: These three trees

On Dec. 24, 2021, our son-in-law Scott Moorhead uses a 16-foot ladder and lawn rake to knock snow off our Christmas tree on Odiak Slough. Photo courtesy of Dick Shellhorn

This year we were blessed to have our daughter Heidi, her husband Scott, and grandkids Liesl, 7, and Huckleberry, 9, make it up from Austin, Texas for Christmas.

Given all the tales of travel misadventures, we were thrilled when their plane actually arrived on time on Dec.23.

To say the kids were excited would be an understatement. The first thing they did after exiting the terminal doors and giving us a hug was to run over and leap in a snowbank, head-first.


Evidently snow of any depth is not a Texas staple. In fact, earlier this winter, they had sent us photos of sledding on cookie sheets in an inch of white stuff on their front lawn.

Properly dressed in boots, snowsuits, and hats, Huck and Liesel were zipping down sled runs beside our house 10 minutes after we arrived in town.


The next day was a two-tree special. First Scott volunteered to use my 16-foot extension ladder to knock major icicles off the eaves of our house, and then proceeded to use the same ladder and a lawn rake to brush snow off our 25-foot tall beach tree. I had strung lights on it early in December when the branches were bare, and now, covered in a heavy layer of snow, many were not even visible.

This concerned Liesl, who described it as a Christmas snow cone. Perhaps because just a few weeks earlier she had been eating a flavored one to cool off in Austin’s 81-degree weather.

This activity was followed by an urgent tree hunt for a small spruce to fit in their bedroom. After all, that night would be Christmas Eve. Santa would be on his way.

It was a sparkling clear day, and just beyond Mile 13, we spotted a slender little spruce not far beyond the high snow berms along the road.

Just beyond Mile 13 on Dec. 24, 2021, Scott, Liesl, Heidi and Huck Moorhead find a perfect tree on a perfect day. Photo courtesy of Dick Shellhorn

Liesl went roaring over the bank, plodded about 10 feet, and laughed with delight when she sunk in up to her waist. The other Texans came to the rescue, and “post-holed” a path to the tree, which turned out to be perfect as the weather.

Laughter was also quite prominent when I told them of my similar efforts to find a big tree for the house. I found myself in deep snow, wrestling with a tree that had a mind of its own.

In fact, it blew off the back of my truck when I was heading over to thaw it out in the high school shop. When I pulled up, teacher Rich Sorensen lifted his welding helmet and asked, “Where’s the tree?”

Then I discovered the tree was so wide it wouldn’t fit through our house doorway, so after chopping off the bottom, we ended with the shortest tree in memory.

There was no such problem with the Texas tree, which glided though the doorway easily, dried out quickly, and was mounted and decorated in the grandkid’s bedroom in record time.

All three trees served well in their X-mas day duties, and four more days of good weather and outdoor activities followed, including XC skiing, hiking, building snow forts and a snow man, and faster and more daring sled runs as the tracks froze every night.

In fact, the sledding became so good that Huck managed to break his arm while trying a “360” on the steep hill by Webber’s house.


Alas, the gang headed back to Texas on Dec. 30, but what a Christmas to remember.

With, it turns out, a few add-ons.

By New Year’s Day, at least half the needles had fallen off the inside tree. It was time to haul it to the burn pile, while Sue fired off the vacuum cleaner.

Stiff north winds were whipping up white caps on Orca Inlet, and as I rounded the curve by the ferry dock, I glanced in the rearview mirror and noticed the tree was gone.

Dick Shellhorn’s tree that flew out of the truck in the wind. Photo courtesy of Vivian Kennedy

Back-tracking toward our house, I found it laying in the middle of one of the busiest intersections in town, where the road branches off the main highway to the harbor and post office. As I pulled up, drivers were scratching their heads as they tried to navigate around this tree in the road — and laughing when they saw me turn on my flashers and toss it back in the truck.

But it gets even better.

To avoid anything embarrassing on Main Street, I decided to take the lower road on the way to the burn pile. While passing Copper River Seafoods, a strong gust shook the truck. I glanced back, and sure enough, the darn tree was gone again.

At least this time, it wasn’t in an intersection. It was laying on the road above the AML facilities. Recalling the time Dad, Nord and I were busted for chopping down a tree inside the city limits, I was relieved to know it had not been hauled down to the police station as evidence.

Finally, I made it to the burn pile. It was blowing so hard waves from a big tide were splashing over the road. I felt a pang of guilt when I threw what was left of the tree in the burn pile.

It had shown true grit. But I smiled at the thoughts of so many Xmas trees of yore, and the particular joys of the past week, in many ways centered around these three trees of 2021.