So the streak of real Christmas trees in our household will continue this yuletide season, based on a non-scientific survey of its citizens.
Should we keep going out to a local tree farm to fell a festive fir? Sure. Yeah. OK. This is what passes for enthusiasm in a home with two teenagers. I was overwhelmed.
But I wasn’t certain where consensus would fall. The kids are getting older. The fake trees are getting more impressive. A neighbor put one up a couple of weeks ago. Some nights, it’s bathed in jolly colorful lights. On other nights, classic white lights sparkle. It’s like two trees in one.
We’re certainly not anti-plastic evergreen. We have a fake tree that adorns our dining room, pre-lit and installed with almost no effort.
But the main event remains our tree farm trip. They started in my childhood, when my family finally swore off the giant flocked trees we bought annually through the 1970s from a local greenhouse. We turned to a nearby tree farm for a hefty Scotch pine. A little full, lots of sap.
After a college hiatus, my trips started again after I met my wife-to-be. We rolled out of Fort Dodge and into the countryside, returning with a spruce tied to the roof of my Honda hatchback.
And the outings have continued, through multiple moves and the blessed acquisition of multiple children. They used to fall asleep in the car on the way to the farm. Now they fight over which tree to pick. Peace on earth, but only after we settle a brief civil war.
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We’ve cut down Christmas trees in shirt-sleeve 60s and in teeth-rattling teens, in deep snow and soggy muck. At least twice we’ve raced to a tree farm ahead of an approaching winter storm, once hauling our tree home on roads glazed by freezing rain. Did I mention taking a very wrong turn on that fateful day, pre-GPS? Non-Christmasy words were spoken.
We’ve hacked at trunks with borrowed saws of varying sharpness. We’ve taken our cocoa and cider hot, or at least warm, and had our tree shaken and netted. We’ve perused many a gift barn.
For all of those efforts, we’ve come away with some fine pines and firs. Some fuller, taller or straighter than others, with bald spots always turned to the wall. After years of wrestling with our tree stand’s chain, hooks and chords, it’s a miracle we’ve had only one topple.
One cold and snowy year, we took home a tree after a hectic search only to discover it was two trees conjoined. I inadvertently separated them trying to make a second cut for watering. It took some skillful drilling and plenty of wire to reunite the halves.
Good as new. Well, good enough for now.
Our Achilles heel on the tree front is watering. We’ve followed all the rules. We’ve purchased the recommended tree stands. We’ve tried water at multiple temps, and always keep the bucket filled. But every year, after a few days, maybe a week, the (beeping) tree stops taking water.
By Christmas Eve, I gaze upon its splendor with joy tempered by the fact I’m basically looking at a large torch wrapped in electrical wires.
But we’ll try again. You can’t give up on a Christmas miracle. I heard it on the Hallmark Channel.
I’d like to say we continue our tradition because of the environmental benefits. Tree farms, generally, have a positive effect on soil health and runoff reduction while also providing wildlife habitat. Cut down one 7-year-old tree and two or three seedlings will be planted to replace it, according to the Iowa Christmas Tree Growers Association.
Iowa is home to roughly 100 tree farms, producing jobs, income and that fresh evergreen scent.
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Those are factors we keep in mind, to be sure. But just being all together for a couple of hours amid the hectic holidays and having our small annual adventure are the real draws.
I’m not sure how long our tradition will endure. Maybe a few more years, until our kids take their own college hiatus. Or maybe it will end when fake trees start arriving by drone, installing themselves and spiking my eggnog.
Cheers to the future.
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