The first year of our marriage we cut down our Christmas tree in a logging camp in California. It was illegal, as signs all over the place kept warning us, but I felt it was ethically justifiable. After all, we were going to give a moment of glory to a tree that would otherwise be unceremoniously turned into lumber or, worse still, newsprint.

After several hours of uphill hiking and much discussion, we found the perfect tree. Then came the hard part: dragging our find down the mountain. Every time a logging truck came barreling down the road, which was frequently, we had to take the tree and ourselves off the road and hang precariously over a precipice. It was almost dark when we finally got to the bottom, which made it easier to elude the gun-toting sheriff who was prowling around. The tree, which had looked reasonable small in the forest, took up our entire living room. It made us the envy of our friends and it started a family tradition of cutting our own Christmas tree.

Now that we're older and more cautious, however, the tradition has been modified slightly. We cut our tree from stand on my in-laws' land in northern Pennsylvania.

We usually cut our tree right after Thanksgiving dinner, a trudge up the mountain being a perfect antidote for the logy feeling. We take a hand saw, pruning shears, a camera to photograph the tree in its natural habitat, and our two daughters to pose in front of the tree.

The first phase of the expedition is choosing the perfect tree, a task fraught with controversy. We both like blue spruces, since they blend into our living room well. But I tend toward trees that are "pagoda-like" - with symmetrical branches that stick straight out - while my husband prefers the more conventional full-blown beauties with upswept branches. We inevitable forget to bring bright ribbons to tag the trees we are considering while we look at others, so we usually end up with the tree we are standing near when everybody gets too tired and cold to look further.

Before sawing, we trim off some of the bottom branches with the pruning shears. (They will be used for greens). Then one of us saws with a back and forth motion while the other pushes the tree trunk in the direction we want it to fall. After a ceremonial yell of "Timber!" it's time to drag the tree down the mountain.

The return usually involves three trips: one to carry the children; one to carry the tools; and one to drag the tree. For the tree-dragging, thick leather gloves are essential. Once out of the woods, the tree invariable looks too tall for our 10-foot ceilings, so we measure it and saw it to fit. (You have to allow about a foot extr for a tree-stand or bucket.) Then we lay the tree on an old sheet and wrap it tightly with strong twine, to compress it enough so we can get it into the back of the station wagon and let it hang out the open rear window, despite my father-in-law's die warnings that we will die of carbon monoxide poisioning on the way home.

Once we get the tree back to Washington we cut an inch off the bottom and stand it in a pail of warm water in a spot protected from wind and sun. Just before we bring the tree inside, we cut another inch off the stem.

While I'm not at liberty to divulge my in-laws' address, there are several places in the Washington area where you can cut your own tree - legally.