Walking the place in November’s fresh snow, I notice the remnants of an industry – stumps that were left to grow a second, third or fourth Christmas tree. The phrase was “stump culture” and the practice fit in with production of wild Douglas Fir Christmas trees. By cutting high and leaving branches on the stump, it took less time to grow the next tree. Whether the stump kept superior genetics, or had a better microenvironment for producing Christmas trees, stump culture worked. The next tree had the benefit of a pre-existing root system, and, if it looked like it was growing too fast, could be slowed by peeling a bit of bark on two sides.
As the photographs show, it has been a long time since Christmas trees were harvested – the stumps now have 30’ tall trees growing where the Christmas trees weren’t harvested. The stumps, left by my father and grandfather (and a few by me) stand as a monument to a vanished industry.
I entered the Christmas tree industry at age ten – dragging the trees from where Dad cut them to the trail where we would load them on the old Chevy pickup. Unloading them along another old road, and sorting stacks by sizes – deuces, fours, sixes, eights, tens and twelves. Eight deuces made a bale, six fours, four sixes, three eights . . . later I learned to tie, building my sawhorses with guides for the trees, wrapping the twine and pulling the figure eight knot tight, then cutting the butts straight with the smallest one hand crosscut. If I’m remembering correctly, I made 10 cents per bale for tying them. Good pay – ideally fours and sixes, and it wasn’t hard to tie 20 bales an hour. Cutting trees was a good business for a teenager – an axe and an old pickup, and a handshake deal where the landowner got half and you were in business. A hundred trees a day on weekends, cutting and dragging. Memory brings back pay at $2.50 to $3.00 per bale, plus the dime for tying. The landowner didn’t get half of the dime.
Tying trees was the intense season – the load had to go out by Thanksgiving. Cutting started after the first hard frost, so usually around October – tying trees probably in mid-November, and the loads of Christmas trees leaving the valley on Thanksgiving, or the following Friday.
And now, the stumps are left, showing the remnants of an industry long gone.