Halleluiah, its Christmas time. The weather has cooled (too little or too much depending on where you live). In less snow-covered areas, fallen leaves on the ground create a distinctive nature-made ‘crunch’ sound when walked upon.
For many folks, the yuletide season focuses in part on the Christmas tree. The popular song “Oh Christmas Tree” was written by German Ernhst Anschütz and published in 1824 – that’s almost 200 years ago.
I’ve proudly walked many circles around Christmas trees as a grower – from planting seedlings, to shearing trees only Charlie Brown would decorate into near-perfect versions – to managing pests and diseases during the year.
The Blake family’s Christmas tree heritage is proud and rich - Christmas tree growers from the 1960s through the early 2000s until family health issues led to its closure.
For those 40 years, God blessed us with green thumbs and shared his touch in the farm, the first “U-Cut” commercial Christmas tree operation in Mississippi. Varieties including Eastern red cedar, Arizona cypress, and several fast-growing pine types dotted the hilly landscape.
My brothers and sisters and I learned our strong work ethic from farming trees – a true gift from our parents to prepare us for future responsibilities.
Growing Christmas trees was hard, year-round work; not just a fall seasonal job. This was complicated by hot, humid sticky summer days when the state’s unofficial bird – the mosquito – nipped at the body from head to toe and places you hadn’t seen in a while.
Simply walking through the tree plots could suddenly stir up a scream. Suddenly, shoes, socks, and legs could be covered with fire ants with ADD; inflicting burning pain for hours. There is a reason the tenacious insects are called FIRE ants.
Another challenge was planting young seedlings in the ground on 30-degree days in January amid rain, sleet, and occasional inches of snow. Drought took a heavy toll too many years.
Some regular customers would come to the farm months before Christmas to tag (save) their perfect Christmas tree for later yuletide cutting.
Other families came out the day after Thanksgiving through Christmas Eve, spending hours searching for the perfect tree, enjoying picnic lunches, strolling through the woods and valleys. A sudden yell usually meant a ‘perfect tree’ was found, or fire ants.
With saw in hand, customers slowly gnawed at the lower tree trunk, eventually followed by the family’s sudden ‘T-I-M-B-E-R’ yell as the tree met the ground.
One of my Dad’s favorite responsibilities was an opportunity to educate folks on the importance of trees to people and the earth. Gathered around a campfire, folks tuned in closely to his message while enjoying toasted marshmallows.
In summary, the world today certainly has its list of problems, yet it’s simply amazing how a simple decorated Christmas tree - real or artificial – can bring out the best in us and generate peace and hope.
Merry Christmas and God bless!