MARIPOSA -- While many folks dream of a white Christmas, some families prefer "going green" at Christmastime and all year long. They do this by growing their own Christmas trees, and then opening their tree farms to the public during the holidays.
"Real trees take in carbon dioxide and produce oxygen, which helps clean the air," said Jim and Phyllis Larrick of TMR Christmas Trees in Waterford. "We grow mostly cedars and Douglas firs, but have a few Sierra Redwoods. We also bring in pre-cut silver tips, white fir and noble fir trees, which are kept in water, so they are quite fresh."
What prompts a busy, modern family to go to all the trouble of driving somewhere, and choosing, cutting and hauling a fresh tree home to hang their ornaments on, when it's so much easier to just pull a pre-lit fake tree out of a box from the garage?
"Many of our return customers say we have the prettiest trees in the area," said the Larricks. "Our trees have no herbicides, insecticides or commercial fertilizers used on them. We also practice 'stump culture,' which means more trees will grow from the same root system in a much shorter time."
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A visit to the National Christmas Tree Association's Web site provides much information on the benefits of choosing a real tree and the hazards in the production of fake trees.
Besides being attractive to the eye, tree farms stabilize soil, protect water supplies, and provide refuge for wildlife.
For those who don't mind driving up to the mountains to find their perfect Christmas tree, a visit to the Twain Harte Tree Farm is similar to an Alpine getaway.
"People enjoy the beautiful outdoor scenery, coming out of the Valley fog and up here into the sunshine," Don Moore said.
"We have a small forest with trees of all shapes and sizes, where the kids can run around and get lost in," Moore said. He and his wife, Peggy, have lived in the mountains near Sonora for more than 30 years, and the tree farm has become a great home for them and their extended family.
Moore is a retired Air Force colonel and a retired school- teacher. "During the last couple years when Castle Air Force Base was open, we cut two 52-foot trees and trucked them down to the base," he said.
"Our kids and grandkids and my wife's folks come here for Thanksgiving, and then stay for the weekend, when we open for business," Moore continued.
Peggy's father, Bill Hambleton, was on hand to help with the cutting or to drive the tractor around the property.
"There are baby-size trees to great big granddaddies for customers to choose from," said Hambleton.
With a little bit of help, families can cut their own tree, ride with it in the wagon to the parking lot, and enjoy a hot drink in the gift shop before heading home.
The Moores also use stump culture, meaning a tree is cut above the second layer of branches, leaving room for another tree to grow in the same spot.
While standing among the frigid pines, one can't help but notice several giant trees with names on them.
"We named them after family members, and they're the trees that will never be cut. We want to leave them for our children's children as part of their heritage," Moore explained.
The historic Cobb Ranch is another place for "an old- fashioned family Christmas down on the farm," where Christmas trees are grown, and brought in from Oregon for its Christmas festival and seasonal activities.
There's a barnyard with animals for the kids to pet, a fire- truck to ride, photos with Santa, handmade gifts, and a tummy-warming treat of freshly baked cinnamon rolls and hot cocoa.
Christmas tree farm schedules vary, so a phone call is a good idea before heading in that direction.
To get to the Cobb Ranch go south on Freeway 41, pass Avenue 12. Take the off-ramp at Children's Boulevard and turn left. Follow the curve to Rio Mesa Boulevard and turn right. Go south one-half mile on the frontage road. Turn left at the entrance.
Going to the nearest tree lot might be more convenient, but with lower gas prices, taking a drive to a local Christmas tree farm is a viable option. It's not only good for the environment -- it's a family holiday tradition worth keeping.
Debbie Croft writes about life in the foothill communities. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.