Charlie Brown's Christmas Tree

… a really cool Christmas card. Found the ornament right away, too! Glad it's back.
     D. C. Smith

We got our first digital camera, a hefty little Canon S50, five megapixel “point-n-shoot”, back in November, 2003. I did my serious work, perhaps less seriously then than now, on film, but we had great fun with the immediacy of the little Canon.

Glacier Christmas cards, 2004-2014

Glacier Christmas cards. Clockwise from center-left, 2004, and then 2007 through 2014, with 2005 and 2006 in center. The red ball ornament can be seen on the 2006 card.

The day after Thanksgiving that year (26 November) we visited Glacier National Park to play in the snow, of which we found quite a lot. While trying to be creative with the little camera I snapped some close-ups of western red cedar boughs covered with snow. Later that evening, looking over those efforts on the computer monitor, Pat and I decided to make a Christmas card from one of the photos. I got some mat-finish card stock with envelopes from Strathmore, laser-printed a seasonally-pithy (i.e.: not very) greeting inside the cards, and printed the front photo and back caption with a little HP PhotoSmart printer. I didn't know it then, but making a Glacier card would become a thing we'd do for the next eleven Christmases.

Sometime during the year, with a Christmas card in mind, I'd make a photo in Glacier. In the car we kept a small red glass ornament, so we'd have it with us everywhere we went. On our winter hikes we'd put the red ball in a backpack. The goal that first year, and every year since, was to find a small, forlorn-looking snow-covered tree, hang the ornament, and make a photo. Thinking of the tree Charlie Brown brings home, to great criticism from Lucy and the rest of the gang, in the animated 1965 “A Charlie Brown Christmas”, we searched, but came up empty that first year. And the second. And the third….

From 2003 through 2009 we made the cards as described above. For the 2006 card I finally got to use that red ball, but not on a little tree as I'd envisioned. The card generated a number of comments from its recipients, about which I wrote in a January, 2007 article. That article has a better photo of the card. That same card has prompted friend Dave, every year since, to say he tried, but couldn't find the ornament in the year's new card. It never gets old.

In recent years I've taken a different approach. The PhotoSmart printer, nearing the end of its life, had begun leaving dark bands on the paper, and the cost of ink cartridges had tripled since the 1999 purchase of the printer. And there's no denying that making 50-plus cards using our one-card-at-a-time method of feeding them through two printers took a lot of time and had become less fun than when we started. After all, I never intended this to become an annual headache tradition.

Instead, beginning in 2010 we had cards press-printed by White House Custom Colour. While I still have to prepare the front, inside, and rear images and text, WHCC provides Photoshop templates to make assembling the card easy. The cards arrive two days after the order is placed, and the results have been very nice. We've used WHCC for the last six years' cards. I should also mention that most of the photos since 2008 have been made with a DSLR. See our gear page for equipment details.

The First, at Last

The Charlie Brown tree continued to elude us; we carried (and still carry!) the little red ornament on most hikes, but we never found an appropriate tree in need of embellishment.

2015 Glacier Christmas card, Charlie Brown's Christmas Tree

Our last (maybe) Glacier Christmas card, 'Charlie Brown's Christmas Tree'. As Charlie says in the movie, “All it needs is a little spirit.”

Until this year (2015). Autumn had been very dry, and by the end of November we'd had no more than a trace of snow here at home in western Montana, at an elevation of 3700 feet (1130 m). That snow would melt away completely over the next few days. We did not get a lasting snow until mid-December. In Glacier, in the Apgar area and along the east shore of Lake McDonald, the elevation is a few hundred feet less, but when we visited on 30 November, we found a bit more snow, with heavy accumulations higher up in the mountains. We entered the park and drove the portion of Going To The Sun Road that hadn't yet been closed for the season, scouting for Charlie Brown trees or any other subject appropriate for a card. Light snow cover along the lake shore left us discouraged, but we stopped frequently, looked carefully, and saw a couple of possibilities. With no one in the park, something we love about being there in winter, we could take our time with no worries about parking spaces or backing up traffic.

On our way out of the park we stopped at the very first “possible” we'd seen coming in. I studied several small trees, any of which would have served our purpose. All had problems, chief among them busy, cluttered backgrounds and poor lighting, as the day continued as it started, dark and overcast. Finally, back into the woods within the Apgar campground, closed for winter, we found the tree that resulted in the photo here. Normally I don't do much processing in Photoshop, preferring instead to get the best possible capture in-camera. This photo, however, needed a great deal of work. I used the clone tool and healing brush to remove some of the clutter, mostly tall grass growing up through the tree. I removed much of the busy background of other trees, downed branches, grass and shrubs. The final vignetting helped finish it off. I never do this much work to my regular photography; I have no interest in doing that, and I pick and choose my subjects more carefully so I get the end result I want. This being a card, a throw-away item and hardly fine art, and in part out of desperation, I threw veracity to the wind and got a card image suited to wrapping up the series.

Once the Glacier card series had clearly become a series I decided I'd quit at ten years. After making last year's card (2014) I realized I'd made eleven, which seemed a dumb place to wrap it up. The 2015 card makes an even dozen, so I'm calling it the final Glacier card. Oddly enough, the last card in the series turned out to be the vision I'd had twelve years ago for the first one. I've no idea what we'll do for 2016. Maybe nothing. Perhaps purchase cards, or begin a new series. Or, who knows? I could find a subject in the park I can't resist. Never say “Never”; maybe I'll have to call it a baker's dozen.

December, 2015

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