It’s a tradition now.
We have, for as long as the girls can remember, gone to a tree farm in McHenry, IL to cut our tree, and I love to go there with them for many reasons.
I love their enthusiasm for the process of going to get the tree. We get up early on a Saturday or Sunday, make a portable breakfast of hot chocolate and egg sandwiches with a side of tangerines, and jump in the car with as much cheesy holiday music as we can find. Now, my husband is Jewish and I was raised Catholic, so the tree is a holiday tree. Questions of “what are we” will have to wait for another post. We need to wear boots and good warm clothes because we will be out looking for the tree for a while (another reason that I like this process.) The girls cheerfully rise, dress, and travel over an hour in the car on a cold morning. That’s magic in and of itself.
I love the place where we go to cut our tree. Pioneer Tree Farm. They are retired farmers who have “retired” to raise trees. The experience includes a short ride to the trees pulled by a tractor, cutting with a hand saw, carrying your tree back to the road, helping shake out the dried needles and baling the tree. Plus a barn turned warming house with handmade ornaments and goodies – with coffee and more cocoa. They keep chickens, have a small fire going, and are staffed by the cheerful folks from the Environmental Defenders of McHenry County, (formerly McHenry County Defenders). 10 % of tree sales is donated to this organization with a pretty decent mission statement:
The Environmental Defenders of McHenry County is a citizen organization dedicated to the preservation and improvement of the environment. We are committed to building sound ecological relationships between people and the natural world that supports all life.
This year, as they did last year, the farm limited cutting to two weekends to allow the trees to have a chance to grow. The trees aren’t all perfect. In fact, if you are a committed Scotch Pine fan you will be tramping around for a while, and you will have to compromise. But it’s good.
As we tramp around we get to talk about why they are planting different trees now. Pioneer Farm raises their trees organically, and that means that certain species, like Scotch Pine which falls prey to many pests and diseases, are not a good choice for them. We talk about why they need areas where no cutting occurs. We talk about why you let tall weeds stand. We talk. We argue. We laugh. And in the end we compromise, find a delightful tree, cut it down, haul it in, shake and bale it, strap it to the car, get some hot cocoa, and get ready to head home.
Last year our tree was a “regrow” – one that had been cut previously, and the bottom branches had grown up to form the traditional shape. We put a rotating “disco” light on the stump. It was so wide at the bottom that it would neither go through the baler nor out the door once it was time to send it to the compost. We strapped it to the top of the car like Fred Flintstone did with that Brontosaurus rib and cut it up and removed it through the living room window at the end. This year we found a “nice little scotchy” as Bill, the owner of the farm called it. “Where’d you find that nice little scotchy? Out back there? I knew there were some good ones there if you just took the time to look.”
This is a teaching moment for us. It is a storytelling moment. It seems early to cut our tree right after Thanksgiving, but if that is the only way to continue to cut our tree here, well then that’s when it is going to happen. We’ve all learned from the folks at the farm, and I love the stories.