I live in Southern California, home of really good burritos, crystals to align your chakras — which I think is something served at Starbucks with whipped cream and cinnamon — and environmental regulations galore.

But in my cholesterol-clogged heart, I am a Midwesterner, which means I was raised to revere as art of the highest order the National Lampoon’s Vacation film series, in which Chevy Chase did very dad things in the ‘80s.

Which means that I have always thought that every father had a responsibility to chop down the biggest pine tree in a wild forest for Christmas, like Clark Griswold did in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.

Turns out the legality of such action is, let’s say, in question. However, my wife and I had our first child this Winter, and as many a Chicago politician has concluded, laws are meant to be broken.
Here’s the layout of the heist. Presumably, in neighboring Nevada, you can chop down any tree as long as you leave a few crisp hundreds for the forest pit bosses. But California is like its own country, fortified by checkpoints where they question you about foreign vegetation you may be bringing in, and I suspect a giant uprooted tree strapped to the roof of my car may attract scrutiny.

So it must be a California tree. I briefly consider chopping down a Joshua tree — the Dr. Seuss-looking growth protected and worshipped in psychedelic corners of the desert — but decide against spending the rest of my life in a maximum-security federal prison.

For the same reason, I quickly decide I’m not chopping down a giant pine either. However, SoCal is home to long stretches of desolate highway, lined by scraggly little trees baking in the hot sun.

One night at dusk, my car — not even a hybrid, so you can imagine how popular I am out here — throws up a cloud of dust as I skid to a stop next to one such little tree. I have a hacksaw. It requires one hack.

My wife doesn’t question me bringing home a shrub and adorning it with ornaments. If you’ve ever weathered a newborn, you known that bizarre is quickly accepted as the new normal, and any development that does not threaten your family’s immediate safety is probably best ignored.

I can’t say I’ll do this every year, particularly as following the publication of this article the California Department of Fish and Wildlife is likely to have a black helicopter tailing my movements. But for now, there’s nothing more festive than basking in the majesty of nature in my living room — after clearing the old Skittles bag from its branches, of course.

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