Part of our annual holiday experience over the last three years has been a trip out to the countryside of Virginia to cut down a Christmas tree. The first year we ended up at an overpriced tourist trap of a tree farm with very few trees. Sure it was in a picturesque spot, but we refused to pay $50 to cut down our own three-foot-tall tree, so Rudi and I left, deciding to head elsewhere.
We were working off a list of tree farms from the Washington Post that was divided up by county. By chance, I recognized one of the other town names in Loudon County as being the home of the British Pantry and back in a homeward direction. So we pulled out the map, found where the appropriate road was, and trundled off.
And Creekview Farm was just what we were looking for. New Road is a misnomer. It’s an old dirt/gravel road filled with potholes and roller coaster hills — just like back home. The yard wasn’t packed with tourists and we ended up cutting down the first tree we came to. The farmer kidded us that we hadn’t even had time to stretch our legs yet.
I have a hard time making many decisions, but picking a tree is not one of them. This comes from my earliest childhood years when my folks used to wander the farm to view each and every tree. One year the farmer came out looking for us, fearing my 8-month-pregnant mother might have come to some difficulty. I couldn’t have been much more than 6 or 7 when I first began whining and demanding to be left at my grandparents while my parents spent hours for the perfect tree. Since then, my philosophy has pretty much been, if I can’t find a lovely tree in the first five minutes, I’m doing something wrong. (This rule obviously does not apply to tree farms lacking firs over waist level.)
So now each year on the first Saturday of December, we pack ourselves into the car, point it in a westward direction, and drive until the air is fresh again.
Farmer John Hutchison greets you with a smile and familiarizes you (if necessary) with the four varieties of trees he grows — blue and Norway spruces and white and Scotch pines. We like the Norway spruce. The pines don’t tend to have enough strong branches to hold some of our heavier ornaments, and the blue spruce is terribly prickly. (As it is, both Rudi and I usually break out in a rash from where the needles poke the skin.) But the Norway isn’t too itchy, holds its needles well, and has a decent number of weight-bearing branches.
If you have a preferred tree variety and/or height, Farmer Hutchison will point you in the general direction of where you’ll find the ideal tree. If you don’t, he encourages you to wander the lots, which is probably a mere two acres. Then he sets you loose with work gloves (if you need them) and a saw.
When you return with your prized tree, the teenage boys working the farm take it and put it into a nifty machine that shakes loose the extra grass, needles, and critters, before baling it and attaching it to your car roof.
In the meantime, Farmer Hutchison gets you a steaming cup of apple cider to warm you up before your drive home. If his wife has been around, you can buy one of her wreaths or swags.
This year, as Rudi and the teenage boys were hoisting the tree onto our roof, I got a chance to talk with Farmer Hutchison and to ask how he’d fared in the area’s drought. He said that he’d avoided shearing the trees (to give them a more ideal shape) that summer in order to keep them alive, so he hadn’t lost any of his older trees. His new seedlings, though, had been lost. In fact, he said that he’d kept 25 dead trees in pots in the back just to show anyone who gave him a hard time about surviving the drought. He was hopeful for next summer, though, and said he was going to double his normal order (which is double what gets cut down at Christmas). Given that it takes 7-12 years for a tree to reach the mature height most people are looking for, hopefully there will be time for him to make up this year’s losses.
I wish I’d remembered to grab my camera because Saturday was an absolutely gorgeous day, but you’ll just have to close your eyes and imagine yourself there with us. Midafternoon’s blue skies with some streaks of “horse hair clouds.” A nip in the air that makes you glad of your warm scarf and mittens. A meadow filled with trees and the scent of pine. A stream at the bottom of the hill and tall pines behind the shed. Now open your eyes and just breathe in the memory.