The farm
The journey
Tree sellers
Christmas in New York
Home at last
O Christmas Tree
 Chapter 1: On the farm

he tree loved its spot on this sunny slope, nestled in the hills outside the village of Ham-Nord. 

It thrived here among the acres and acres of Christmas trees that the farmer had planted in long, wide rows that look like green stripes on a woolly scarf. 

In summer, yellow-rumped warblers and red-striped woodpeckers made nests in its boughs. In winter storms, moose and deer took cover under the fir tree’s branches. In springtime, squirrels, foxes, voles and mice arrived to munch on the seeds hidden inside its cones.
With loose and loamy soil in which to spread its roots, space on all sides to branch out, and plenty of rain in summer and snow in winter, the tree  grew into a fine and mighty evergreen.
At 10 years old, the Balsam fir stood almost six feet tall, its wide base of branches narrowing as they whorled upwards into a point like the steeple of a church. Magnesium in the soil here in this pretty corner of south-central Quebec had turned its needles dark blue-green.
Christian Morin surveys the treelings in his outdoor nursery.
Christian Morin had been tending this tree and 200,000 others on his Christmas tree farm since long before his sons grew up and moved to the city, one to become a musician, the other a filmmaker.

Morin grew all of  his trees from  seeds from mother and father trees chosen and bred for the sturdiness of their branches, the  blue-green of their needles, and also for the tendency of their buds to open late in the spring when the danger of damage from unexpected frost had passed. 
After a year, the baby trees are about as big as a toonie.
Every spring, he planted the winged brown seeds, each no bigger than a grain of rice, in a sheltered garden behind the old shingled barn. In this outdoor nursery, the seeds germinated and grew in tight-knit clumps that looked more like moss than Christmas trees.

After a year or two, when they were just a few inches tall, the baby trees were dug up and moved to another nursery where there was more room to grow. Every summer, Morin and his workers pulled out the weeds and wild grasses. In five years the thigh-high saplings were hardy enough for the open field, where they  grew for another 10 years or more.
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Just like his Christmas trees, the farmer, too, was rooted in this region called Bois-Francs, named after its hardwood forests. His eyes filled with tears when he talked about his ancestors.

It was a hard life. Morin’s forebears tapped sugar maples for syrup, gathered wild apples and hunted deer, partridge and rabbit for meat. When enough of the forest had been cleared and converted to grassy pasture, they bought cows for milk and butter.  
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As a boy, Christian helped his father on the dairy farm that had been passed down through five  generations of Morins.  He loved working outdoors, but he hated the smell of cow dung and the relentless morning and evening milkings. So the dairy farmer’s son went to college to study forestry. 

When he graduated, Morin and his father bought a small tree farm in a neighbouring village. It came with the names and phone numbers of five Christmas tree sellers in New Jersey who placed orders every November. The Morins, père et fils, bought another parcel of land and planted more Balsam firs. Before long, the cows had all been replaced by Christmas trees.

Now it is Christian and his wife Doris Vargas-Mora who own the farm, which has expanded to 1,200 acres. When you sit at their kitchen table and look out the window, there are only Christmas trees for as far as the eye can see. Ideal Plantations they call it.

 On a frosty mid-November morning, in the grip of the first real snow storm of winter, Morin was out in the field. The Christmas tree orders were in. It was time to harvest 10,000 trees, some big and some small, to wrap them up and ship them out.

Sometimes, Morin said, he feels a twinge of sadness just before he cuts down a tree. He thinks of all the time it has spent in Ham-Nord, of all the love and work that went into growing it; the hundreds of hours that it took, over the years, to prune the tree into its fairy-tale shape.  

“Each tree has its own personality,” the farmer said as he finished up a big bowl of homemade pasta after a long morning of tree-cutting. His cheeks were still red from the sting of wind-whipped snow. “Every one is different, like you and me. Some grow faster, some grow slower. Some are tall, some are short.”  
Christian Morin as a boy on the farm with his father and uncles.
The Balsam firs do best on a sheltered hillside.
The Balsam fir on the hill was ready. All day, snow had been falling in fat, fluffy flakes, frosting the landscape like vanilla cake. Morin brushed the snow away from its branches, walked in a circle around it, stepped back and declared it a perfect Christmas tree.

 In a few days the trees from Quebec will be on their way to New York City.
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 Next chapter: The journey >>