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As Long as We Remember...

December 12, 2002

Hunting The Perfect Christmas Tree

Ronald W. Wolf

Frederick County has a number of cut-your-own Christmas tree farms that take advantage of the hilly, rocky slopes. They're the place to go to hunt the perfect Christmas tree.

On a typical December day, it will be bitter and windy, and possibly, a trace of snow will be on the ground from the night before. As this is written thereís still six inches of snow from the early December snowfall, and rain is placing a sheet of ice on everything. Donít let snow and ice stop you. Snow makes hunting a Christmas tree even more fun. And it will keep the crowds down.

Cut-your-own Christmas tree operations often have hot cider for sale or a free hayride out to the fields with the trees. They have shakers to knock the dead needles out of the tree and a baler that ties the tree up and makes it easier to handle. And they have handsaws to loan, so you don't have to bring your own.

Cutting your own tree requires thought and strategy. A choice needs to be made of the type of tree. Douglas fir, white and scotch pine, and blue spruce are commonly grown varieties in Frederick County. Although white pine has long, softer needles, they donít support heavy ornaments well. And once the needles start to shed after the tree is indoors, there are more to clean up. Scotch pine and Douglas fir can be prickly; blue spruces are pretty but usually cost more.

If you have a typical home with an eight-foot ceiling, you want a tree thatís six- or seven-feet tall. Many people, particularly those with newer homes, have a great room or a room with a vaulted or cathedral ceiling reaching 10 or 12 feet, so thereís room for a 10- or 11-foot tree. Remember 10-foot trees have a thick trunk, making them heavy. Thatís why, if you want a tall tree or one with a wide girth, a couple of burly teenagers should be brought along to carry the thing.

Since you brought the family along, be advised there are many opinions as to the best tree. Leave one child to stake out a nice tree while you hunt for one better. Then leave a second by the next candidate. Soon you'll have family members all over the place, each guarding their tree. Hunting the perfect tree takes time and warm socks.

This may seem a no-brainer, but itís easier to carry a tree downhill than up. Scout the lay of the land, and head up a hill to hunt for a tree before you head downhill. Itís also easier to carry a tree a short distance rather than a long one, so a cut-your-own operation that has a tractor and wagon to haul you and your tree back to the parking area provides a useful extra service.

Once the tree is back home, despite the insistence of a certain mother-in-law that the stump of Christmas tree seals over instantaneously the millisecond it is cut, thus preventing it from taking up water, you canít hold the tree underwater to re-cut the stump. Just cut the tree to square it off when you get ready to put it in the tree stand. Add packet of that stuff that's supposed to make the tree last longer to the water. Other than that, add water when necessary and forget about it.

By the way, a fresh-cut tree isnít always a guarantee that the needles will stay on longer. Last yearís fresh-cut tree, presumably because of the fall drought, began to lose its needles the minute it came into the house. But generally, fresh-cut trees do well, sometimes even into February, although you might want to take the tree down by March regardless. A safety reminder: Don't leave trees unattended with lights on and never place lit candles in them.

For those of you who criticize the cutting down of trees, remember that itís not the same as cutting down a tree in an old-growth forest. No spotted owls are endangered. The Christmas tree farmer is growing a crop, and heís going to plant more trees or, if not trees, corn or dairy cows. Plastic Christmas trees are for a plastic Christmas.

Turns out, despite the trudge uphill and down in the snow, if there was a perfect tree, itís long gone, so settle for a tree thatís good enough. Despite the hard work, the tree you cut looks pretty good once itís up and decorated.

The perfect tree, it turns out, is not so much the shape of the tree or the scent of evergreen or how the lights glow in the dark or the special ornaments on it. The perfect tree is measured by the spirit that it brings to Christmas and joy it brings to children. It's out there; go find it.

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