Kaitlyn here. During the month of December, I don’t get much writing done. ‘Tis the season, which in our case means Christmas tree season. My husband Sandy and I run an organic cut-your-own Christmas tree farm (http://www.mysticvalleyfarm.biz).
Twelve years ago, Sandy decided to plant balsam fir trees on part of our twenty-five acre lot in the Mystic Valley. You probably won’t find Mystic Valley on a map, but it runs along U. S. Rt. 2 between Wilton and Dixfield and we’re right in the middle of it.
Growing Christmas trees is a ten-year plan in the truest sense, because it takes ten years for one to grow big enough to sell. Two years ago, our first crop was ready. At the same time, A Wee Christmas Homicide came out, with a nice Christmas tree on the cover. What could I do? I opened up my box of author copies and we offered our first twenty-five customers a free autographed book by a Maine author with their purchase of a Christmas tree. We also lured folks in with complimentary hot cocoa and candy canes.
That first year, we curtained off the front of one side of the garage and called it our “gift shop,” offering the books, the treats, and an assortment of the handcrafted wooden objects Sandy makes in his post-retirement second career as a custom woodworker, everything from battery operated clocks and decorative little keepsake boxes to cradles and chessboards. We had a good season, but it was darned cold in that gift shop. The second year, and again this year, we smartened up and curtained off the front half of Sandy’s heated workshop instead. The inventory has expanded, too, since he now specializes in two specific wooden items. He makes magic wands, which sell year around in the Center for Maine Craft. And he makes cat-and-child-proof jigsaw-puzzle tables (http://www.jigsawpuzzletables.com). This year we’re also selling another local product, produced by neighbors down in East Dixfield village at Mystic Valley Maples—real Maine maple syrup.
Of course we mostly sell Christmas trees. Our entire season lasts less than a month, from the Saturday after Thanksgiving until the Sunday before Christmas. Hours are daily 10 AM until 4PM or it’s too dark to see (There are no lights out in the fields). There’s a lot of setting up to do besides the shop. There’s the motion sensor attached to a buzzer to alert us when a vehicle pulls into the dooryard. There’s a hand-cranked netting machine, to make it possible for the tree to actually fit into the trunk of a car or the back of a truck. There are signs to put up, both informative (cash or checks only; no credit cards) and to keep little kids from falling into Moosetookalook Pond, which isn’t yet frozen solid. Yes, the town in my series was named after the pond. It measures a whole six feet in diameter at its widest point and Sandy dug it some years back to drain a swampy area.
Speaking of Sandy, he’s swears this isn’t why he grew his beard, but he does bear a certain resemblance to jolly old St. Nick, especially when he comes out to greet customers wearing a red sweatshirt and a Santa Claus hat. I wear a green sweatshirt with Christmas trees on it. I pretty much stay in the gift shop to write the receipts and collect the money. I did mention that it’s COLD outside. I do venture out, though, when our favorite type of customer shows up—parents taking their children to cut down a Christmas tree for the very first time. I wish I could bottle that excitement. Little kids get a real kick out of picking out the tree, helping to cut it down, and dragging it back in on a tarp. Sandy lets them run the netter, too.
We shut down at sunset on Sunday the 18th this year, a week before Christmas. Most people already have their tree well before that. The season will be over then for another year . . . except, of course, for the next round of planting, pruning, and mowing between the rows. Sandy does all that. I’ll be back in my office, writing more books.