O Tannenbaum O Tannenbaum…. I can hear the song in the wind as I walk through the patch of spruce, fir, and white pine in the shadow of Mt. Whiteface. When the opportunity to join a small Christmas tree enterprise with our neighbors was presented to me, I said yes without hesitation.
Years ago, Kay and I used to hunt for wild Christmas trees along the Kancamagus Highway with a tag purchased from the Saco Ranger Station and it brought back fond memories of those holidays. The wild Christmas tree is a beautiful thing. It may not be as perfectly shaped as a farm tree grown in perfectly spaced rows, but it retains a timeless charm, an aesthetic authenticity that has lingered all throughout America's holiday history. To go out into the forest and pick a tree that’s just right – with a little bit of character—drag it home through the snow, pretty that thing up and sip a cup of tea by the woodstove, nestled in for the most wonderful time of year.
Our neighbors, Richard and Megan, who have a flower farm stand called Your Neighbor’s Flowers, got permission to sustainably harvest some Christmas trees from a plot of land nearby, and since we both share similar values concerning responsible, regenerative land management (and first names!), it was a natural fit to tackle this enterprise together. Sandwich is a town which prides itself on localism and environmental stewardship, and what better way is there to celebrate the holidays than with a Christmas tree which grew just miles away? And the added benefit of improving the land quality of a locally-enjoyed recreational resource makes me happy as well.
You see, the Christmas tree patch in question is way up in North Sandwich, on some privately-owned land which is maintained for recreational use – nordic skiing, mostly. It has excellent views of Mt. Whiteface as well as lookouts to the west and north, peeking at the Whites. It’s a marvelous, quiet place for a sunset hike this time of year – orange and pink sky reflecting off the ice-encrusted babbling brook which skirts the trailhead. Branching off the main trail loops are myriad footpaths, and other cul-de-sacs and dead-end runoffs. There is endless meandering through hemlock, white pine, spruce, and fir. Years ago, swaths of the property were clear-cut for various reasons, a normal part of forest management. In the meantime, certain conifers of the Christmas spirit have crept up, offering themselves for their optimal use – yuletide merriment.
At human height, these trees are at their handsomest; if left to grow indefinitely, they will form an impassable thicket, resulting in lots of leggy trees with no room to spread out. To maintain the spirit and purpose of this land – a recreational sanctuary – it is beneficial to thin these patches of trees. This means more trails, more access, and more enjoyment of the property. By thinning the larger and fuller trees now, we are releasing the rest of the competition to grow big and full as well. There’s an aesthetic appeal to a shady grove of tall spruce or pine, but note that each tree is straight and narrow, and all the lower branches are dead and brittle. There’s also very little ecological diversity in a mature conifer forest. By keeping this patch of trees open, it not only will encourage the more robust growth of the remaining spruce and firs (which means future Christmas trees), it will welcome other species that nature may want to place there – including grasses, ferns, berries, wildflowers, and the critters which enjoy those particular goodies.
And there’s a ton of wildlife in these woods. Birdsong is common, even in these gloomy late days of Autumn. And out of the corner of my eye I spied a fat winter rabbit high-tailing into the underbrush while I passed by. And scat – oh there’s plenty the further back you go. A sign of healthy activity among the local omnivores and ruminants.
We’re cutting the trees down with hand saws to keep things authentic. Because neither of us own a tractor, we muscled a riding mower into the woods with a little cart to carry trees out. We’ve also carried a few trees out by hand – quite the workout!
These trees are as organic as it gets. While it’s probably not a big risk for the family purchasing the industrial farm-raised tree, pesticides are not uncommon on those farms. Even if the chemicals have degraded from the tree by the time of purchase, it still seems icky and I’d prefer to avoid supporting such practices.
And have I mentioned yet they’re local? Very local. Christmas trees are commonly shipped from all over the United States and Canada, depending on where you’re buying them from. It’s a bit of a curious sight to see, a ten-wheeler cruising down the Interstate with hundreds of wrapped-up Balsams on the bed.
It’s been a joy starting a fun enterprise with our neighbors, and hopefully starting a new tradition in town – the sustainable and thoughtful harvesting of North Sandwich Christmas trees. It’s been special, as well, to meet new folks in town and help load trees onto their vehicles and send them on their way.
As someone who wants to live a simple, resilient, purposeful life – and at a time when it’s becoming increasingly difficult to do so because of the industrialization and commercialization of Everything – it will be nice to have a little reminder that we can still stay connected to our land and our community even throughout the holidays.
Note: Our Christmas Tree stand – also with hand-made wreaths from trees thinned out of our own sugar bush – is open during daylight hours on Dow St. in North Sandwich.
On December 4th, 2021 we’ll be hosting a pop-up farm stand at the Corner House parking lot during the Sandwich Holiday Fair. We’ll have trees, wreaths, maple syrup and some other hand-made goodies from our farm.
If you have any questions you can send us a message or find us on Instagram @somethingwildfarm & @yourneighborsflowers.