a tree's life

Michigan Christman tree farm

in austin, my family owned a farm. it wasn’t a working farm, and for a long time, i didn’t know what to call it – not a hobby farm, but not just a large piece of land. we had a barn and a big garage, a field and a pasture. sometimes we had people rent the pasture land and horses cavorted among the oaks and down by the creek that wound its way over the acreage. 

eventually i realized and told everyone i grew up on a tree farm. 

the 20 acres close to our house was littered with large oaks, old apple trees, and many many acres of conifers. my dad was partial to blue spruce with their light-blue hue, and long-needled norway pines lined the ditch along the edge of our property. 

springtime brought the UPS man with boxes of wispy bare-root trees that went into the earth we cut open with shovels. they grew a little each year, the new growth bright neon green against the dark green needles. 

as they grew, they each took on characteristics of their name. short needled trees took longer to grow, and if we didn’t cut back the long-needled norways, they grew like weeds into leggy, branchy trees whose trunks you stayed away from unless you wanted a hand full of sap.

springtime also brought birds to the lines of trees along the other side of our property. because the trees were short enough for someone to peer into, we walked along the treeline to see if anyone had made a nest. more than once we found blue robins’ eggs in a tidy little nest. we never touched.

summertimes were glorious – playing hide and seek was a task if we hid among the rows of trees instead of behind the large deciduous trees. most times we had to define boundaries so we wouldn’t be searching all afternoon. 

but come christmas, that was when we truly earned the title of tree farm. after thanksgiving, we opened up our driveway to people to come cut their own tree. my dad painted a large sign that he screwed to our fence post down at the end of our driveway so anyone driving the county road could see. it could have been the size of a door, was painted white with a large green tree on it, with TREES in red. 

they came up our driveway, grabbed a saw, found their tree, and pulled it back. at this point, we brought out the measuring pole (it, too, was painted white with lines at the 4′, 5′, 6′, 7′, and 8′ marks. we charged more for short-needled trees (remember they take longer to grow). then finally the tree would be tied onto a car roof or thrown in the back of a pickup, and off for christmas it would go. it was exciting.

now the farm and its trees have been left to grow. no more trees are planted in the springtime, and no more people drive in during the weeks leading up to christmas to cut their own. the land is almost unrecognizable, the pines that i remember planting already so tall i couldn’t even begin to guess their actual height. instead of trekking out to the backyard to pick a tree for christmas, i drive to someone else’s tree farm and pick one out. from wispy to wondrous.

o christmas tree, how lovely are your branches.

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