MENDON - First I hear the shrill cry of children. It is music to my ears.
“Mommy, mommy, over here!’’
Keegan and Mackenzie Veazey prance across the rolling field, followed by their beaming parents. They have sharp bow saws and a metal push cart.
I stretch my limbs and preen. I am a perfect specimen, in ideal shape, a tad over 7 feet tall.
“It’s big and pretty!’’ Keegan, who is 10, shouts. But she is not pointing at me. She runs to one of my siblings. The family follows. None spares me so much as a glance.
Oh, the indignity.
For I am a Fraser fir. I was raised to be your Christmas tree.
The competition is stiff. I am one of 10,000 evergreens that grow on 10 acres at Vandervalk Tree Farm in Mendon, a small town beyond the southwestern reaches of Interstate 495.
I stand in a long row of Fraser firs, all of us perfect pyramids of deep green; fragrant of scent, strong of limb, with needles soft enough for a toddler’s touch but tough enough to stay on the tree long after other evergreens have shed.
Nothing against the trees on sale outside your supermarket, but conifer connoisseurs, especially those who like to choose and cut, consider us Frasers the best in the business.
“This tree is absolutely perfect,’’ says Casey Vandervalk, the owner, pointing at me. I blush a deeper green. “But people will think it’s too small,’’ he adds, and I seethe.
“These aren’t likely to sell,’’ Vandervalk says, indicating our row of 7-footers.
That is because people have a tendency to buy trees too big for their living rooms. So when they set out from Vandervalk’s barn armed with saws and loaded up on hot cider and cinnamon crackers, they head right for our 8-foot brethren. Even if that means they will have to whittle them down once they get home and realize the star will not fit.
That means today is my big chance; with the tall ones sold out, people might actually look at me. It is also my last chance this year, because at the end of the day Vandervalk is going to close for the season.
Next year we will have grown the extra foot, but I am 12 years old and tired of waiting. To woo buyers, I have worked to cover my one obvious flaw. Vandervalk points out a large space between my branches on one side. To fill it, I have sent out shooters from lower branches that turn upwards.
“It realized that it had a hole and grew a branch,’’ he explains. He really gets me.
Now, some of you might wonder - why would a tree want to be cut down?
Fraser firs, native to the high country of the Appalachians in Virginia, Tennessee, and North Carolina, are valued for our timber. If we grow to our full 80 feet, chances are we end up as lumber. How would you rather play out your existence? As a two-by-four holding up somebody’s woodshed, or as the sparkling, festive centerpiece of someone’s holiday?
I say it is better to burn out than to fade away.
Tree farming is a serious business. I get high-nitrogen fertilizer to make sure my needles are nice and green on top, silvery on the bottom. The farmers shear me after each season to maintain that perfect shape (kind of like the way fashion magazine editors airbrush pictures of supermodels). Vandervalk keeps away pests that would turn me yucky brown.
Here come Moira and Rob Connolly, who drive all the way from Milton each year. Their children are waving saws.
“Mommy, mommy, there are better ones over there!’’ shouts one of them and the family wanders away. Never even looked at me.
I am pretty far from the road. A rock outcrop is blocking the sun. It is chilly. Maybe my bottom is a little fat. . . .
“Three, two, one - timber!’’
A family is cutting down a tree over to my right. They look so happy. I kind of hate them.
A woman notices me.
“It’s got a nice shape,’’ she says, running a hand over my branches. “But it’s not tall enough.’’
I find myself wishing my needles were dipped in curare.
Then I hear familiar voices.
“Right here! This is the one!’’
It is Scott and Ellen Lotufo of Millville, who have been coming here for 16 years.
“We’re gonna have to cut a little,’’ she says. She knows her ceiling well.
He notices the hole I tried to cover up and checks out my good side.
“It presents well from this side,’’ Scott says as he puts on a pair of ochre work gloves.
Ellen holds me tight as Scott lies on his stomach and begins to saw.
Does it hurt? Sure. But it is a good pain.
Because I am a Fraser fir. I was born and raised to be a Christmas tree.
And now I will be.