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Live Christmas Trees Are Making a Comeback

Eric Nei - Tuesday, December 11, 2018

What is your Christmas Tree Story? For me it always involves a live Christmas tree, so I was totally jazzed when Wisconsin Public Radio ran this piece, in audio, on the comeback of live Christmas Trees.

Here's my Christmas Tree Story. I grew up in Door County, Wisconsin a couple miles east of Valmy at the north end of Glidden Drive in a small community called Whitefish Bay. Don't confuse this with the Whitefish Bay just north of Milwaukee. Our little community was founded by Moravian fishermen. My childhood home was built on the foundation of the community's Moravian Church. During the years I lived there the community was anchored by seasonal visitors, Glidden Lodge, the Hitching Post just a small swamp away, and Armand Tipler's commercial fishing and land excavating company. (Armand was the last commercial fisherman to operate out of this once vibrant commercial fishery.)

Getting back to Christmas trees, here is our family ritual as I remember it. (Not to be confused with an actual, factual narrative.) 

Before snow fall, my family would head south on Glidden Drive. Just before Glidden Lodge, we would turn south onto a tree canopied dirt two-track. There was no sign, but all the locals knew about it. From the perspective a little kid, we would drive dozens of miles down this adventure track before coming to a clearing filled with 3 to 15 foot spruce, balsam and pine trees neatly trimmed for Christmas. We were met by an older couple that I'm sure were part of the Santa clan. I remember they had a tiny cabin, always had something hot to drink ready, lived somewhere else when not having to tend their tree farm, and had bird feeders that would come to life with fleeing Grosbeaks Chickadees as we approached. 

My Mom would chat it up with this forest couple for what was always way too long. Then we would casually wonder the tree farm with a piece of yellow plastic ribbon that had our name written on it. The tree farm displayed anything but modern tree farming. It was laid out as if the caretakers wandered the property each spring with tree saplings in one hand and a bottle of Scotch in the other. Any open space would do. It was a great place to stay out of sight until my Mom went from just checking on me to sounding a bit panicked that she couldn't find me. 

When we found the right tree, always just a bit bigger and taller than planned, we would tag it with the yellow ribbon, return to the cottage and describe the tree we picked. Santa's cousin would look at our car, look at my mom, size up my brothers and me, gaze for a moment at the sky and the woods, almost like he was consulting with an unseen retail manager, and give us a price. Cash was paid but the tree stayed there for a few more weeks.

The day after Thanksgiving we would return to the tree farm for more hot drinks, prolonged chatting with the forest couple, and go fetch our tree. If snow was on the ground it was as likely as not the forest couple had departed for the season. We would drag our eight foot wooden toboggan around the tree farm until we found the yellow tag with our name on it. Our tagged tree was always hard to find the second time It was as if the tree we picked had grown legs, walked to a different location in the tree farm and re-plated itself in an effort to avoid a brief and fatal indoor life. The tree was unceremoniously dropped while snow and pine needles dropped on the prone lumber jack, my brother, wielding a mean looking, red handled, bow saw. It was then tied to the toboggan for the 100 mile hike back to the car. When we got to the car, the entire package, toboggan and tree, were lashed to the top of the car. 

The tree would eventually end up in our living room, decorated to perfection and it would stay up until needles on the floor gave a clear sign of mid January. 

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The comeback of live trees seems timely in an age when so much is becoming more artificial. It is my hope and prayer toward my readers that you find Christmas anything but artificial. Feel free to share your Christmas Tree Story as a comment on this blog post.

Blessings to you.

Eric Nei, The Cleaning Guy

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