Sunday, November 25, 1990

Getting a Christmas Tree in Sonoma County


One Christmas we had two trees. At the tender age of five, I was scandalized when my grandmother brought home a madrone tree instead of the usual Christmas tree.

Already on shaky ground with the concept of Santa Claus not fitting down the stovepipe, I was convinced it was an unwritten sin NOT to have an evergreen tree.

I wasn't prepared to let go of the Christmas Tree symbol, so I trudged up the hill and dragged home a spindly Douglas fir that was more seedling than tree.

The two trees stood side by side, my tree too weak to hold ornaments or lights, and the red skinned bare-branched madrone aglow with silver glass balls and birds.

I begrudgingly admit her tree was beautiful but it just didn't feel right--like a dog eating cat food.

If you're wondering why the tradition of Christmas trees arose, it's a remnant of a pre-Christian symbol, like Easter eggs and Hallowe'en.

In the Nordic countries of Europe, when a house was built, a pine tree was tied to the eaves or chimney to ensure good luck. In the Ukraine and many parts of Russia, the fir tree, covered in red bows, was used for wedding processions and festivities.

During the mid-winter holidays, pine and fir boughs were spread on the floors and other evergreen plants wreathed around each window-—perhaps to remind the sun that even in the midst of darkness, life flourished—though the rest of the ground be barren.

My Victorian grandmother said Christmas trees didn't exist in Ireland and England until recently, but evergreens were traditionally brought into the house--especially the holly, the ivy and the mistletoe.

The ballad, "A Wassail Song" claims the wassail cup is made of the rosemary tree.

"Here we go a wassailing among the leaves so green."

Wassail, in Old Scandanavian means to "be well."

And of course, there's the Yule Log, usually a pine log decorated with evergreens and berries that Good King Wenceslas warmed his feet by.

The Oxford English Dictionary claims a recent adoption of the custom of the Christmas tree during the early reign of Queen Victoria. The Christmas custom of the small fir tree decorated with candles, ribbons and presents probably originated in Germany.

I found an early reference in 1789, from a Mrs. Papendick's journal, "Mr. Papendick proposed an illuminated tree according to the German fashion."

According to Hazlett Brand's "Popular Antiquities" published in 1870:

"[T]he Christmas tree...came to us from Germany directly...and is still (1869) a flourishing institution among us."

O Tannenbaum, O Tannenbaun
Wie treu sind diente Blatter!
Not only green in Summer's heat
But also winter's snow and sleet,
Oh Christmas tree, oh Christmas tree
With faithful leaves unchanging
...hope and love and faithfulness
Are precious things I can possess.
Oh Christmas tree, oh Christmas tree,
Your leaves will teach me also.

And Christmas trees are still a flourishing institution among us.

* * *


If you're like many, chances are you won't get out to the lower south forty acres of your back yard to cut down a Christmas tree but will visit a Christmas tree farm to select your own. Those sad and wizened parking lot Christmas trees from Oregon just won't do.

One likely place to start the search for the perfect tree is the Spirit of Christmas Tree Farm on Gravenstein Highway just north of Sebastopol. There are Monterey and Bishop pines (long-needled varieties), Sequoia, and Douglas Fir to choose from--and all are native species.

The selling season which begins Nov. 18, open seven days a week, and runs through Christmas is "short, sweet and intense" according to Cliff Davis who has been in the tree business since the early 80s. Spirit of Christmas is a family owned operation. Davis and his wife Laurie corner all friends and relatives to help out during the busy season.

Even the business next door, the Green Valley Tree Farm, is run by Davis's cousin, Dell. Davis is an old name in West County. I live off Davis Street in Forestville and Cliff's cousin Ray is a neighbor.

Davis and his clan look forward to the intense selling season. He says, "I enjoy the concept of Christmas. It's a fun thing for families to do, it's a joyous occasion."

Davis stakes out an enormous green and white tent each year, lights a fire in the potbelly stove, where you can warm your mittens, sip hot mulled cider and listen to Christmas music--while the kids squabble over which perfectly shaped tree is more perfect for the living room.

For no extra charge, they'll clean out dead needles and evict the occasional mouse or lizard shacking up in the dense foilage. They'll also fireproof your tree, "though, a live long needle pine tree kept in water is naturally fire- proof," instructs Kathy Douglas, a kindergarten teacher at Bellvue Elementary School in Santa Rosa, who also works in the family business during her spare time.

Kathy advises anyone who needs a fireproofed tree (all trees in public or commercial buildings MUST be fireproofed) to allow a few extra hours for the tree to dry.

There’s no better place to wile away your time at the Davis Tree Farm. I dropped in for a quick half-hour interview and stayed with my new friends sipping hot cocoa and swapping stories one memorable December afternoon. (I even got a skeleton idea on a prose story, which you read at the beginning of this article.)

They also have pre-cut trees for those of you who haven't the time to cut your own. Tree prices run anywhere from $10 to $36 and up, according to Davis, who sells them by the foot.

Most families prefer to saw their own trees, but Davis or another employee are always around to lend a hand or a saw for those would-be loggers who tackle a tree bigger than their house.

Davis estimates that he moves anywhere between 2,000 to 4,000 trees a season. "Our business increases each year," says Davis. But one rainy weekend can drastically dampen sales. Davis figures he has about 1800 trees per acre. With nine acres planted in trees, that's over 15,000 trees that need year-round care.

"It's a labor-intensive operation," says Davis, who also has had to rely on an outside source of income as a commercial fisherman.

Davis claims the survival rate of trees growing to harvest is about 75%. "Some years, it's as low as 50%--especially among the firs," says Davis, surveying a Monterey pine he's just trimmed with a machete.

Today's Christmas trees are pruned and pampered into the perfect conical shape Mother Nature never mastered.

"There's pruning, planting, weeding, watering-—just like any agricultural business. And there are the usual pests, be it gall rust fungus, spider mites, scale or a jack rabbit sharpening his teeth on a seedling," says Davis.

"Once we caught a skunk instead of a jack rabbit in our Have-a-heart trap," chuckles Davis. "At first we didn’t know how we were going to get him out of the cage but then I remembered that skunks are nocturnal, so I waited until mid-day before letting him out."

His cousin Kathy Douglas said, "I caught a weasel in my 3- inch irrigation pipe. The line wasn't working and the little fellow drowned, poor thing." And I didn't even know that we had real weasels in West County!

Planting new stock begins right after Christmas. The Davises purchase seedlings from wholesale nurseries and the U.S. Department of Forestry. They begin irrigation in May and water each tree every two weeks until the rainy season begins.

Says Ms. Douglas, "I like outside, physical work versus the indoor, mental work. There are lots of blackbirds and quail. In the morning when it's nice and quiet and the trees are covered with dew, it's fragrant and beautiful here."

* * *

Owner of Canfield Tree Farm, Edward Zidek, a retired salmon party boat charter fisherman moved to Sebastopol in 1963. "I'm retired and I love plants. We've been in business five years and it's slowly getting better each year." Zidek sells mostly Monterey pines. Prices range from $10 to $20. Canfield Tree Farm will be open for business the day after Thanksgiving.

NOTE BENE: I think this is now called Fisher Tree Farm.)

* * *
At the monastic Starcross Community in Annapolis, Brother Tobias (Tolbert McCarroll) and Sister Marty sell Christmas trees and wreaths "to help raise funds to support our work with children with AIDS and their families," said Sister Marty. "We started this venture ten years ago and we sold our first crop two years ago."

The Starcross Community was a one of the first charitable organizations in America to begin taking in infants with AIDS in January of 1987 and it supports four HIV positibr Rumanian children. The organization has developed a national network to help children with AIDS. "Locally, we're offering support to families with iHIV positive and AIDS infected children."

(NOTE BENE: 2007 marks the 31st anniversary of the founding of Starcross, located in the peaceful hills of northwest Sonoma County.

I first met Brother Toby, an author and human rights lawyer, one afternoon on the long slopes of Annapolis in the early 1980s where I was teaching a poetry residency at Annapolis School. I've been a long-distance fan of his ever since.

Since 1986, Starcross Community has adopted, fostered, and been advocates for children born HIV positive. Starcross continues to support Houses of Hope for children orphaned by the AIDS pandemic in Romania and Africa. —MH)

When asked how many AIDS infected children lived in West County, Sister Marti said, "Fortunately there are few cases....yet."

Sister Marti estimates they sold about 1,500 trees last year. Both Brother Tobias and Sister Marti affirm, "It's a full-time, year round occupation for one person, and during tree shearing, several of us work full-time." Then there's the sick children to care for as well.

While they were waiting for the Christmas trees to mature-—it was seven long years before they saw their first harvest-—Sister Marti said, "We made dried fruit wreaths and wreaths from the clippings." Wreaths, shipped all across the country sell for about $30 plus tax and shipping. This income helpes to raise critical funds to support their AIDS hospice work.

Starcross Christmas tree prices range from $25 on up. The most popular variety is the Scotch pine which isn't really a pine tree, but a fir tree. Trees can be purchased from Starcross and shipped nationally through UPS, or delivered to Santa Rosa.

You can also visit the 30-acre plantation in Annapolis (above Sea Ranch) and choose your own tree. Starcross Christmas trees will be available Thanksgiving weekend. Says Sister Marti, "I think our trees are exceptionally beautiful...we grow them with love." Indeed they do.

(NOTE BENE: I'm not sure if Starcross still sells Christmas trees. Call them first. Since 1989, when this article first appeared, Starcross has since diversified and planted olive trees. Last year, 2006, they saw their first harvest They do welcome visitors to help harvest olives in mid-November. Call Sister Julie at 707-292-4669.

Sister Julie's premium olive oil will be available at local wineries in February. Olio Nuovo, the "in your face oil" as Chef John Ash calls it, will be available along with Sister Marti's Olive Oil and Lavender Balm at Starcross on Saturday December 15 and Sunday December 16 from 1-5 pm. For more information call 707-886-1919 after December 1st.)

* * *

Another Christmas Tree option is to go renewable: buy a live potted tree from your favorite nursery. Then, if you have the room and a green thumb, you'll have a resident Christmas tree for years to come. It'll become an old friend. Or you can wild release it at one of the Christmas tree farms.

* * *

WHERE TO GO: (updated 11/2007)

Starcross Community, 34500 Annapolis Rd, Annapolis, CA (707) 886-1919

Davis Christmas Tree Farm, 3800 Vine Hill Road, Sebastopol; (707) 823-8733. Hours: 8 a.m. until dark daily.

Spirit of Christmas Tree Farm, 3660 Gravenstein Highway North, Sebastopol; (707) 823-6751. Hours: 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily.

Fisher Farm, 2870 Canfield Road, Sebastopol; (707) 823-4817. Take Highway 116 west, two-plus miles west, then follow Fisher Farm signs. Hours: Friday, Saturday, Sunday, 9 a.m. to dark.

Buddy's Christmas Tree Farm, 8575 Graton Road, Sebastopol; (707) 823-4547. Hours: 8:30 a.m. to dark daily.

Frosty Mountain Tree Farm, 3600 Mariola Road, Sebastopol; (707) 829-2351. Weekends: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., weekdays: noon to 5 p.m.

Garlock Tree Farm, 2275 Bloomfield Road, Sebastopol; (707) 824-0361; Hours: noon - 5 p.m. Fridays, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekends to Dec. 17.

Reindeer Ridge Farm, 3500 Mariola Road, Sebastopol; (707) 829-1569 or 707-823-4845. Hours: 11 a.m.- 6 p.m. weekdays, 9 a.m. - 6 p.m.weekends.

Santa's Trees, 11389 Barnett Valley Road, Sebastopol; (707) 823-6635. Hours: 9 a.m.- dusk Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

Victorian Christmas Tree Ranch, 1220 Gravenstein Highway North, Sebastopol; (707) 823-0831; Hours: noon - 7 p.m. Tuesdays - Fridays, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. weekends.

© Maureen Hurley 1990?, 2007 The Western Sonoma County Paper

Saturday, November 10, 1990

Andrei Vosnesensky, National Poetry Week

Andrei Vosnsensky reading my CPITS/CAC poetry book, Poem for a Russian Child.

I spent an afternoon with Andrei Vosnesensky, who was the headline poet for National Poetry Week, ar Fort Mason, San Francisco. I was attempting to give Andrei a tabloid anthology I had edited with Oleg Atbashian, Soviet Poetry Since Glasnost. Herman Berlandt published the tabloid, via National Poetry Association.

Andrei Vosnesensky commenting on our publication, Soviet Poetry Since Glasnost, National Poetry Week, SF, 1990. Oleg Atbashian was my co-translator from Cherkassy.
Little did Oleg know that within a year (1990), he'd be in San Francisco, frantically working with me round the clock in an old military complex-cum-art center, Fort Mason, pasting up a newspaper-style tamizdat journal, "Soviet Poetry Since Glasnost," (Mother Earth), in time for Herman Berlandt's annual National Poetry Week. From 1989 to 1991, we published many new Soviet poets including Yan Martsinkevitch, and Viktor Kulle. (See also.)

Poetry Unites the World by Dr. Andrei Bantaş 

Soviet Poetry Since Glasnost 

Letter from Oleg Atbashian
The New Zamizdat

Oleg Atbashian—my jacket, my guitar.
National Poetry Week, SF, 1990.

Maureen Hurley I think Celia Woloch took this photo

Alastair Ingram Is that Oleg Atabashian? The guy I recorded with when he was here?
Maureen Hurley Yep! He went back to the USSR, then it fell and he came back to NYC, he's a political commentator for the Russian Community. Google him.

Alastair Ingram Wow. That was quick! I will google him. I really like the recording we did together. Have you heard it?

Maureen Hurley Yeah, I'm having a bit of a nostalgia moment here. Pulled out my negatives to find a guy who was imprisoned at Manzanar—for a blog I'm writing and I got VERY distracted. Scanned my Galapagos prints too, Don't think I'll get them up tonight.

Oleg went back to the USSR, & to his wife, had another kid and she began stalking me in the internet...too creepy. Haven't talked with him since 9/11. He was next door in the AMEX building but he overslept and missed his train.
Now he's become the loose leaf darling of the ultra right teabaggers.

compiled from Facebook notes 4/24/2016