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What, I Donít Get an Ax?

Christmas tree-chopping in the country.
Thursday Dec 15, 2005.     By Jennifer Wennig
Centerstage Chicago Nightlife City Guide Arts

After a longer than anticipated hiatus from my Traffic Jam adventures, that country itch needed to be scratched. With the holidays approaching at break-neck speed, I knew my city-goes-country resurrection would be in that "Itís beginning to look a lot like Christmas" vein.

On a "perfect tree chopping day," John and I put on our boots, donned hats, leashed-up the dogs and set forth to chop down that Christmas tree. Whenever venturing into the country, I astutely comment that we are "in the middle of nowhere." But this middle of nowhere was also the destination of several hundred other holiday revelers looking to bathe themselves in the smell of evergreens.

We emerged from the car at Matthes Evergreen Farm ( in Ida, Mich., a place that offered sweet treats, warm drinks of the virgin variety and homegrown entertainment in the form of cloggers, school choirs, dance troupes and puppeteers.

Another outbuilding housed locally made arts & crafts and fresh wreaths. Here, Santa Claus listened to the "I want" of the young and old alike. With Rudolph and the gang logging long hours of rest before their round-the-world journey, this Santa arrived Trump-style in a helicopter. Not so country.

Having no idea of how this chop-your-own tree system worked, I set my sights on an assured looking man with an armful of saws. My first thought was "how do you chop a tree with a saw?" Much to my chagrin, I quickly found out that the trees arenít chopped. Trees are cut. Not exactly the Paul Bunyan thing I was going for. I should have worn overalls and a flannel.

With stiff boots rubbing away at my heel, I agreed to walk the snow-covered half-mile path to the evergreens that awaited my once over. Had we left Twyla and Shalek, our aforementioned dogs, at home, we could have hopped aboard a large horse-drawn wagon. But the doggies should have a say in which tree comes home. If they didnít pee on it we knew it passed Husky muster.

I referenced the hand-drawn map that detailed what kind of tree was where. Among the offerings were Douglas Firs, Canaan Firs, Blue Spruce Scotch and Fraser Firs. I donít know about you, but I have a soft spot for trees that look more Charlie Brown than Martha Stewart. Itís like adopting a dog that may be a little long in the tooth instead of the wrinkly-faced newborn pup.

"Oooh, this one?" one of us would call out. Inevitably, each found fault with the otherís choice. And so on, up and down, back and forth, diagonally. We must have covered that ground 20 times, the trees fading in a hot toddy-like blur. Mental note for next year: hot toddy-filled flask.

John began to realize that my embrace of that refreshing cold was beginning to wane (you think?), and with the light of day beginning to fade, we finally agreed upon a Canaan Fir. She was long and lean, with a few branches askew for added charm. I grabbed the saw and put knees to snow.

Lesson one to my city friends: Bring a towel or knee pads because before the blade even touched the trunk, my pants were soaked through. The space from the ground to where the needle-covered arms began was nil, so with a face full of prickly needles, I began to saw. And saw. And saw. And...nothing. Laughing away, John suggested getting it started for me. With the roll of my eyes and a mumbled "whatever," I momentarily relinquished my tool.

Lesson two: Forget fashion. Sure my striped, chenille gloves are darling. But they sure arenít waterproof and proved ineffective at preventing those persistent needles from stabbing away at my chilled fingers.

John went at that tree with lumberjack-like gusto, but I was the one yielding the saw when it cut clear through the trunk. Tim-ber. After the efficient Mattesí staff baled our eight-foot tree, we paid and sought warmth, sipping hot cider and spending a bit of time with Matthes' Tree Farm owner Peg Matthes. Peg, with a button reading "Iím a real live Christmas tree grower" pinned to her holiday sweatshirt, proudly shared stories of the farmís evolution.

I donít think I came close to convincing Peg that I could be a country girl. First, she coyly introduced me to the fresh faced high schooler manning the refreshment stand as "being from the city." She then had a bit of fun pointing to my hat and asking "did those grow from your head?" Iíd forgotten about my sunglasses. What, no sunglasses in the country?

Traffic Jammed
Last Christmas, John and I had an equally "Itís a Wonderful Life" moment selecting a tree from the lot at North and Honore (now the site of a condo building...bah humbug). There was something magical about walking home with tree in hand (Johnís hand). A bit less magical transcending several flights a stairs.

To locate a tree farm a bit closer to Chicago, visit the Illinois Christmas Tree Association at For city dwellers, many garden centers stock fresh trees, including B.A. Florist & Nursery Co., 1000 W. Randolph ( No matter where you find your tree, do take advantage of the cityís seasonal recycling program "Turn Green into Blue. Visit and click on "Recycle My Christmas Tree."


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