Thursday, November 23, 1989

Getting a Christmas Tree in Sonoma County, long version, no tear sheet


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 Scandinavian means to "be well."

And of course, there's the Yule Log, usually a pine log decorated with evergreens and berries that Good King Wenceslaus 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 foliage. 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 Marti. "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 positive Romanian children. The organization has developed a national network to help children with AIDS. "Locally, we're offering support to families with HIV 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 CPITS 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 helps 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 11, 1989


           —F. Stop Fitzgerald

In a Bedouin's darkened tent, a pinhole
projected images of camels upside down
on the far wall.
It was first recorded
on a Paris boulevard in the fall of 1838,
a man stopped for a shoeshine,
the horses moved faster
than the speed of silver on sunlight.

Here in America, manifest destiny
focused in on silent, grim poses.
Metaphysical stealer of souls—
all we have left of entire nations
is recorded on gelatin plates.

Obscure rooms, the heart of darkness,
the mecurial greening of plants—
art and science wrestle under bedcovers
with the names of war—
the battle of Gettysburg,
the Japanese womam bathing her hibakusha daughter,
the running Vietnamese girl, napalm on her arms—
these images burn into the cornea.

You prefer to do it in the dark,
then wait to see what develops
but this is not a negative image—
every lining has its silver cloud.

A king in the attic of Banquo's ghost
never milled redwood on the Slavianka.
Jose Revere herded cattle not far south of here.
Did he recall his grandfather's famous cry?
Silver solution put into babies eyes
at birth keeps them from going blind.

date? 11/11/1989 
rev. 7/15/94 (last saved version)
see  EQUIVALENTS  11/11/1989, expanded version



In a Bedouin's dark tent, a pinhole
projected images of camels
an upside down mirage on the far wall.
This phenonemon was observed under certain conditions
and blue stones were cast to protect them from evil.
No one wanted to talk about what wasn't there.
Who could believe children and horses
were running across the sky,
no one could keep the world righted.

"Man is made in the image of God
and no man-made machine
can fix the image of God,"
shouted an enraged man
when artists built small dark rooms,
the camera obscura
to gain a better world perspective.
They copper-coated plates with silver
and let them tarnish in sunlight
but the image only lasted hours
before it returned to night.

The painter Daguerre named after war,
finding no solution to fix these images
depressed, left the plates overnight
in his studio and mecurially
they remained in the morning.
The first photograph of a human being
was in the fall of 1838, a man stopped
long enough to get his shoes shined,
early morning, long shadows,
buildings toothing the sky.
Horses in the Paris boulevard
too fast for light to capture them.
Photos of asylums, a child's death in white
the mourner in black with a bowed head.
Lola Montez. Andrew Jackson—
Thousands posed for a piece
of God's likeness in silver.

Matthew Brady packed glass plates
across the southwest recording the Civil War.
Confederate camels in the distance,
not Bedouin tents, but hospitals.
He followed the contract undertakers
to record the spoils of war.
After the Battle of Gettysburg
he arranged bodies for more impact
as if death was not enough for the final act.
A gangly Abe Lincoln with General Hooker
posed in front of the white tent
while Hooker's women tended to their needs.

The camera forged west. Timothy Sullivan
& William Henry Jackson glimpsed hell on earth
in the sulphurous geysers and fumaroles
of Yellowstone. Who would have believed him?
After traveling across the U.S.
photographing nature's private moments
one of his mules tripped and fell
ruining months of work but that didn't stop
the expansion westward.

Edward Muybridge resolved for once and for all
the argument of galloping horses—
did their feet really leave the ground?
His studies of motion showed horses with hooves
tucked under but he murdered his wife's lover.
Art and science wrestle under bedcovers.

A Baptist minister discovers the color spectrum.
The world no longer appears in black and white.
"When the time is right I will let you know"
but takes his secret to the grave.
Everybody is looking for an audience.
He sends long rambling episodes of his life
when others asked how to take the world in color.

we carry them around the globe stealing souls.
This the Indians knew
but Edward Curtis was persistent.
Perhaps they were right,
perhaps disease and war
is caused by the stealing of souls
slowly over time, eroding the self.
Silver solution is put into babies eyes
at birth to keep them from going blind.
All we have left of entire nations
is recorded on film.




Below the mission outpost of civilization,
three cultures clash with time:
tarpon roll in the Múlege River,
holding midnight's secret under their skins.
Desert palms clatter, venetian blinds in a storm.
Copper women walk barefoot & wash laundry by hand.
We live in a hostal with feeble electricity,
by the prison walls, satellite disks track quasars.
You are my companera of the mythical journey,
my lover whispers, buying me with turquoise.
We don't look too far beyond condemned flesh
and eat only what is offered—sea turtle steak
under the bouganvilla arbor of El Candil—
rationalizing: the turtle's already dead anyway.
A tide of carmine blossoms eddies at our feet.
Even from the beginning, we were planning
the extinction of love, silent tapers in the church;
the turtle's plight beyond salvation.

11/11/89, Mulegé, Baja

1993 We Are Not Swans, with Cecelia Woloch

Sunday, November 5, 1989



How many men have sworn undying love
under the last full moon of summer,
bartering for it like blankets in native markets
of the Andes, Oaxaca, orTikal? In Iqiutos,
where the Spaniards sailed upriver looking for El Dorado,
and dolphins are thought to be half-human,
men still rub dolphin oil on their pricks,
calling them bufeos, then fuck them for good luck.
The canoejueras, plying their profession from bank to bank,
who harvest gold with their porpoise mouths,
suck and lick the river with such skill, it is said
they can make even the dead come in the rocking boats.
A woman walked along the banks of the Amazon—
where truth becomes a seductive blur—
miscarried a small dolphin,
and they burned the poor creature
who flew up into blue smoke.

I believe in anniversaries.
If you want to talk, go back to that night
when the stars wavered under a moon so full,
there weren't enough arms to hold it,
and undo those promises made on the road to Oaxaca—
because something in my reptilian brain
still waits for you under the marriage blanket.
But an unseasonable seed sprouted
in my garden, and so, you wanted my death
in the Temple of the Jaguar at dawn.
I should have known darkness devoured each shadow
our feet planted and we never escaped the jungle.

The cats are fighting tooth and claw again.
At least each knows the other, and in this knowing,
the separate sheets of memory are shrouds
for the eventual death of stars and angels.
Something of the past resurrects in telephone lines,
satellites orbit loneliness and other notions of guilt.
After your call, the house rustles, things fall from shelves,
I think rats & opossumsóno, the earth is trembling again
and I blame it on my wildly beating heart.
Inconsolate weeping has little to do with why we failed.
And so, we wear this badge, our voices prayerwheels
carved from heartwood of felled ceiba trees.
Mending broken shards to tell the future by
is almost like reconstructing the past to fit our needs.
The cat does his laundry with his tongue.
Southern birds rub wings with a milder winter.
If you go south long enough, it becomes north.
One can argue almost anything but I'm tired & want to sleep.
This poetry which preserves us
is our final inheritor,
our final judgement.




To break night's spell
the sun rises each morning.
We spell words on white paper
to break the silence
& night spills onto the page.

What is unwritten is more infinite
than what is written.
Therefore, every time we make a choice
we exponentially reduce the choices left.
When we think of the future

the archaeology of knowledge
meets the contradictions in the self.
Genetic code holds the memory
of the ancient world
before there was language.

When we define it, we must begin again
because poetry is the structure
inhabited by stromatolites,
the first "I am" life uttered.


1992 Santa Clara Review

Wednesday, November 1, 1989



The story is unlikely:
a dream of white walls, oak sills
twin beds, the north-facing window,
a radiator, Bing Crosby croons from the stereo,
a deluge of words that make no sense:
snake betrayal of the earth.
I must have known something, but how?
Like when the Challenger blew up, I saw something
from the Möbius strip teaser of time, convoluted
amoebas blossoming against a blue-mantled sky.
Tell me why we share dreams even now,
on opposite sides of the earth
with day and night between us?
I worry about where Einstein sleeps
and write elegies for the dead.
The Chernobyls, t he Manhattan projects haunt me—
my cousin helped to build the bomb.
The age of enlightenment burns words right off the page.
There's more work to do, I'm not sure what it is.
Think of the secrets locked inside stone,
where does the memory of the earth sleep?
Gaia. No wonder she trembles,
shaking parasitic cities from her skin.
I've planted a stone in the garden for you.
What else is there to do?
They say the role of the poet is to reinvent the myths.
It's not the accumulation of knowledge,
but something deeper, akin to the group mind of Neanderthals
born with the mythology of an entire species intact.
We work with a genetic cuneiform,
and have no rosetta stone to decode,
only vague hunches we call by the name of poetry.
What do we leave our children—
is this truly the last of the line—
venerable dinosaurs of the modern age?
Maybe none of this is real: we're fictional
characters, suspicious we don't exist.