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Musings About Family, Travel And Gardening With Allen Martinson.


Good and Sticky

CHRISTMAS TREES have arrived I always know it’s the Christmas season because this time of year everybody in the nursery business has sticky fingers, a pocketknife on their hip and wearing clothes they don’t mind ruining. That means Christmas trees have arrived. The trees come this early because setting up each tree so they can be inspected from all sides is a long process. We want the trees to be shopable the week before thanksgiving because that’s when lots of people get together with their families and have a tradition of picking out their trees while everyone is together for the last time until the holidays begin.

The trees come in tightly bound with string. One of the reasons they are tied up like this is because of shipping; they can get more on a truck that way. Another reason is that most of the Frazier Firs for sale around Mississippi have been trucked here from North Carolina. They are groomed and grown on the steep sides of the Appalachian Mountains at around 2,000 to 4,000 feet above sea level. There is no way to walk the cut trees down these mountains so it’s easier to send in helicopters with big platforms hanging from them. They come in low to areas where the workers have cut, tied and piled a platform’s number of trees. The trees are loaded on the platform and flown down to where the 18 wheelers wait in line to be loaded so they can disperse the trees all over the country. It seems like it never fails for mother nature to remind us who’s boss again by sending some nasty weather to that area during shipping week just to make the logistical nightmare just a little more challenging.

The trees are sized and graded while they are still uncut. The graders will use different colored ribbon to indicate the size of the tree because they are sold to us by the foot. I’ve been on the receiving end of 18 wheelers full of trees and wreathes and garland for 44 years, (well, I missed four or five Christmases at home while off gallivanting around) and I can tell you that on some years the guy sizing and grading the trees can be very generous or not so much. Sometimes the tree with a blue ribbon meaning a six to seven-foot tree is easily eight feet tall or the opposite can be true. We don’t really know what we are going to get until we open up those truck doors, unload the trees and cut the strings, we are counting on the integrity of the grower to send the very best. We’ve had years that we know we’ve been sent bad trees. It’s a disaster.

Families come in to get their Christmas tree with high hopes that this will be the best one ever. It’s rare that we get a bad load, I can think of two times it’s happened, but it keeps me up every year the night before the trees are scheduled to arrive.

One year, about 30 years ago, Mimi and I took off to North Carolina on a Christmas tree farm scouting trip. We visited six gigantic growers so we could see who grew the best trees and of course to get in some hiking on the Appalachian Trail. We weren’t married yet, but I was pondering it mighty hard right before that trip. Once we had found our favorite grower and made a deal with them, we headed for a camping area near the Appalachian trail. We were in our Technicolor Volkswagen camper with two bikes strapped to the back. That poor van did her very best getting up those hills. We were those people you get behind on those mountain roads that make you crazy while you wait for a chance to get to a straightaway so you can pass them. With the crazy paint job on this van, I think there were 10 colors and abstract shapes, we got a lot of honks and hand signals, some nice, some not so nice. We got a laugh from people’s reactions. We didn’t have a care in the world other than hoping we’d make it to the top so we could start a hike. We made it to the campground near the trail head to Clingmans Dome which is the highest point in the smoky mountains at 6600 feet above sea level.

Like it is prone to do in the Smokies, it started raining hard and didn’t let up for two solid days and nights. During that time if it ever did show signs of letting up, we

would ride our bikes just to keep from get- ting too cramped up before a good long hike.

I DON’T KNOW IF YOU’VE tried camping in a Volkswagen camper but there is an art to it.The top pops up to make a bed and some headroom. Down below is a little kitchen and a table with two bench seats. You have to take turns moving around when you are rained in for two days. We got along splendidly except a few times when we would get a little too competitive during our 88th game of spades or Uno. Neither one of us likes to lose. On the third day the weather got right. We had a four-day window we would have relatively less rain. If you’ve hiked in these mountains you know there will be some wet moments. We were prepared as the clouds and fog up high there make for some incredible scenery.

We hitched a ride to the trail head in the back of someone’s truck. We threw our backpacks out and got going on the hike with lots of pent up energy from the rainy wait. The first thing I noticed was that I was going to have a hard time keeping up with Mimi, but of course I wasn’t going to mention it. It seems like every one of her steps were two of mine. I’d have to hike faster.

We found great places to set up camp and cook our meals on all the nights out and I slept really well after keeping my poker face while struggling to keep up with Miss Cross Country Champ. I made up my mind halfway through the hike that when I got home, I was going to get an engagement ring and ask Mimi if she would be my wife. She was more than I ever expect- ed and we both loved the same things, plus something about barely being able to keep her pace made me even more crazy about her. It’s been that way ever since.

We puttered home, downhill this time, with no engine problems. The van had made another successful journey and I was with my fiancé to be, hopefully. Mimi and I love backpacking and camping still. We also still love camper camping and have accumulated campers over time. We have a pull behind camper we frequently use to camp in Mississippi and Alabama campgrounds. We strap on our kayak and bikes and spend great weather weekends getting away. We also have a 1967 Greyhound bus that is decked out for road trips and I have a small vintage camper I use for deer camp weekends. We’ve had two Volkswagen pop up campers, and our pride and joy, a bright yellow 1966 Volkswagen 21 window van. I guess we are officially camper nuts.

We also have a yurt in our backyard on a wooden deck we use in the winter months. It’s got a king size bed, a heater and a space for making and sipping on a cup of coffee. The floors are covered in Moroccan carpets and you can just imagine the decor Mimi has put together complete with solar lights. We sleep there more than in the house during the good weather nights. It’s a good way to keep away from the news and end another day at work.

NOT ONLY DID WE have a great scouting trip, but we also had made a great connection with a Christmas tree grower we used for years until they sold out to a bigger company and the quality began to deteriorate. We have had great quality and no problems with the tree supplier we have used for the last four years. I think there should be a shortage of Christmas trees this year with the fires out west. Those regions will be looking east for their truckloads of trees. I’m glad I buckled ours down back in May so hopefully nothing funny happens.

I do think it would be a good idea to come in early, like now, to pick out your tree. We can put it on a stand, keep it watered and deliver the tree to you on whatever date you’ve chosen. I know of two places in our area that usually sell a huge number of trees that have thrown in the Christmas tree towel. I think for some of the places that open seasonally, like pro- duce stands, it just isn’t worth it. Those places that stay open 12 months kind of have to do Christmas trees. It’s not a money maker but it does help drive customers in to see all the other cool stuff that happens at garden centers in December.

When you are buying unique gifts for the people you care about garden centers are really great places to shop. The gifts can be for gardeners on your list or they can just be downright quirky and different than the gifts you might purchase from some of the more traditional shopping places. I tell Mimi all year long that if a person can’t knock Christmas gifts for ever


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