Mantra of Christmas tree hunters at Notchview: Chop until they drop

WINDSOR — After more than 30 years of growing Christmas trees for the public, Trustees of Reservation staff have learned something about picking out the perfect specimen: To each his own.

On Saturday, families trekked through snow to a small Christmas tree farm on the Notchview reservation property, where they picked out either a balsam fir or Fraser fir to display in their home this season.

"The kids want us to bring home a tree that comes stocked with woodland creatures," Katrina Cahoon said while her 4-year-old daughter threw herself into the snow among the smallest of the saplings.

Mom and dad would prefer to leave the critters in Windsor, and they were on the hunt for a tree that would fit in their Pittsfield home.

Trustees staff plant about 50 seedlings each year on the 4 to 5 acres near the Hume Brook Trail, across the street from the main reservation on Route 9. The trees take about eight years to become full-grown, according to John Dziegiel, who worked on the farm for 19 years before retiring this spring.

He returned Saturday to volunteer at the event.

Dziegiel said he tries not to make recommendations to families picking out their trees because they have to pick something that will fit their needs.

Personally, he prefers the Fraser variety, which are bushier and sturdier than balsams because they tend to keep their needles longer.

"The Fraser firs hold the ornaments the best, and last longer," he said. "The balsams smell a little better, but shed more."

Lisa Nelson and Stephen Alsdorf of Lenox had their game faces on Saturday. The couple, who brought along their own handsaw, had conflicting opinions on what constitutes the ideal tree.

Nelson preferred a shorter, plumper tree, while Alsdorf had his eye on something tall and skinny.

"He cares more, so he's going to win," Nelson said, jokingly.

"I'm going to let her win, actually," Alsdorf said.

The couple agreed that the one with a more even branch distribution would be the winner.

At the end of the day, Alsdorf said, it doesn't matter what the tree looks like, because once they are dressed up, they all look great.

Decorating, too, looks different for each family. Some make a night of it, carefully placing each glittering ball on the sturdiest branches while drinking eggnog and playing Christmas music. Others just want to get it done.

At Nelson and Alsdorf's home, the process starts by getting out the boxes of ornaments, which they slowly unpack and hang over a period of days. There's some reminiscing, Nelson said.

For Cory Heath and her husband, of Cummington, the firs sold at Notchview are easier to trim than blue spruces they have had.

"These are friendly; they don't hurt when you put the ornaments on," Heath said. "Our tree is a collection of ornaments, largely made by children over the years."

At the Cahoon residence, decorating is a one-night affair.

Last year, their son, Elliot, now 2, was a bit too grabby for his own good, so the bottom 3 feet of the tree had to stay naked, his parents said. This season, they hope to fill it in.

"Eric sits on the couch," Katrina Cahoon said, jokingly, of her husband. "Mommy decorates the tree."

"Last year, we had to keep the balls away from him," Eric Cahoon said, pointing to his son.

There is one thing all the families at Notchview agreed on: Freshly cut trees are superior to those that have been sitting around.

"You can't get them more fresher than this," Dziegiel said.

As for whether they'd consider having an artificial tree, Nelson just scoffed.

"Uh, please," she said. "Never."

"Artificial trees just don't feel as Christmassy," Eric Cahoon said.

Haven Orecchio-Egresitz can be reached at, and 413-770-6977.


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