Gifts — and memories — for the ages

HCN staff and board members on their favorite green holiday gifts.


Trading the shortest days of the year for the longest is the best gift my wife and I have given each other for several years now. We leave our home in western Colorado during the short days of winter and go on vacation to someplace warm …. especially below the equator, where the days are long! Don’t need things … travel is much better.

—Andy Wiessner, board member


I never expected to start a note with “Thank you for the giant black orb.” But that’s what I got as a nice Christmas gift from my mom a few years back. It was a cool, perforated compost ball, about 3 feet tall and 3 feet wide: You’d fill it up with garden refuse, add water, roll it around the garden for a few weeks and voilà! Black gold. Thanks, mom.         

—Cindy Wehling, art director



My first shotgun, which was a Remington 20 gauge model 1100 semi-automatic that I received at the age of 12 back in my home state of Iowa. It was a miraculous gift, and it set me on a path to be a hunter and ardent conservationist for life. In fact, on Christmas Day, my dad took me to the woods behind the house, and I shot my first squirrel with it.                

—Sean Benton, board member


In 1971, for my 11th Christmas, I got a horse: “Flaxy,” a liver chestnut with a flaxen mane and tail. She was the kind of gift that “built me” into the person I am today. Working and training a horse can help you deal with every type of person that comes your way in life.

—Stephanie Kyle, circulation staff


I was living far from friends and family on a tiny atoll in the Pacific Ocean, and my mom surprised me with a visit. She called the day before she was going to arrive and asked if I could pick her up from the airport. I had been feeling culturally isolated and was missing home, so her visit was the best Christmas gift I could’ve received.

Krista Langlois, editorial fellow


I was 3 1/2 years old, and on Christmas morning under the tree sat a large, red wooden rocking horse on springs. It was intended for my older sister and brother, not for me. But my sister wanted the doll I got (which I didn’t want), and my brother was eying my stocking full of nuts, candy and a large orange. By noon, the horse was mine.  

—Christine List, development assistant


At first, I longed for stuffed animals, horses and dinosaurs; then I fell in love with books. One year my older brother gave me a paperback Sherlock Holmes. Over the next few snowy, quiet, homebound, no-school days, I snuggled in with “The Red-Headed League,” was terrified by “The Speckled Band” and unexpectedly moved by the Christmas-themed “Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle.” I still reread those stories every winter, though that particular copy fell to pieces long ago.

—Diane Sylvain, copy editor


When I was 21, a friend gave me my first cross-country skis, a pair of Karhus. From then on, I spent every winter weekend exploring the backcountry trails around Cameron Pass, west of Fort Collins, Colorado. They’re long gone now, but I’ve always loved those blue skis and the silent, snowy world they introduced me to.

—Jodi Peterson, managing editor




I flew from my home in Fairbanks, Alaska, to western Colorado to surprise my mom one Christmas.  While she was out hiking with a friend in Colorado National Monument, I hid behind a bush as they were coming down Serpent’s Trail — and then stepped out. She told me she thought she was seeing an apparition. The look on her face was fantastic, and we hugged and got teary and had a great time.

—Gretchen King, community engagement


Eagle Optics Ranger 10x50 binoculars. We’d just gotten back from a trip to Florida where we’d been birdwatching in the rain, and after every excursion I had to unscrew my old binocs and dry them out. So my partner got me a pair of waterproof/fog-proof binoculars, and I’ve been happily birding in the rain ever since.

—Laura Helmuth, board member


I must have been 6 or maybe 7, and I remember waking up at 6 a.m. and creeping downstairs in the dark. The living room had been turned into an enchanted forest consisting of one giant, lighted and decorated tree, silver dripping from its branches. And the best present that day — and at every Christmas afterward? Snow falling into a new world.

—Betsy Marston, Writers on the Range editor


The one gift that really has always stood out for me was a rocking horse that my dad made. He cut out the outline of a running horse, painted it red with black spots, and hung it by springs on a wooden frame that he had built. It was pretty darned cool and worked well. I think of that rocking horse more often then you would imagine, and I appreciate the love that went into making it.              

—Wayne Hare, board member


Close to 20 years ago, a friend I often hike with noticed how tentatively I took descents on a trail. I think she was impatient and wanted me to move faster, but she never criticized. Instead, that Christmas, a box arrived on my doorstep with two brand-new, ultra-light Leki hiking poles. I’ve gone downhill much faster ever since.   

—Judith Lewis Mernit, contributing editor


Loved olives so much as a kid — you know, sticking 10 of them at a time on my fingers so my hands looked like those of a black gecko — that my mom started putting a jar or two in my stocking. I think that’s when I began to suspect that there was no Santa Claus: I mean, I was pretty sure his elves were not at the North Pole canning olives.  

—Alyssa Pinkerton, development manager


Every Christmas (and sometimes multiple times a year) my mom, with love, makes a dense, decadent batch of “Wild Kat Granola” to give to friends and family. Not only is it delicious and gives her house a mouthwatering aroma, but it serves as my breakfast and snacks until I get another batch in the mail.

—Brooke Warren, associate designer


Ten years ago, a close friend gave me a remarkable gift. In a patch of local woods, he’d found the beautiful, near-flawless skull of a deer. He’d bleached the skull, placed it in a shoebox, and into its cranial cavity inserted a tiny lightbulb; when I flipped a switch, the skull was warmly illuminated from within, eerie and exotic on my nightstand. It cast just enough light to read by.            

—Ben Goldfarb, correspondent

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