Families find joy, make memories at TreeLand
There are close to 3,000 green-as-a-Grinch Christmas trees towering toward heaven on Rhonda and Chris's TreeLand near Watertown.
Customers have their pick of any tree on the 14-acre plot but one.
That would be the 24-foot-tall Virginia pine with the sign at the foot of the tree that reads NOT FOR SALE.
"That was the first tree I planted here in 1997. We opened about six years later in 2003," said Chris Leauber, whose idea it was to start a Christmas tree farm on their 90-acre estate.
"We call her 'O,' like 'O Christmas Tree," said Rhonda of the very special pine. "It was just a seedling no more than 12 inches tall when we planted it. It's been fun watching it grow with our marriage, our family and our tree farm. Everybody gets their picture taken with it."
Rhonda and Chris' TreeLand
Close to 3,000 Christmas trees grow on 14 beautiful acres near Watertown. Virginia pine, white pine and Leyland cypress are ready for you to choose and cut with prices based on height: 7 feet, $40; 7-8 feet, $45; 8-9 feet, $50; 9-10 feet, $55; and over 10 feet, $65. Only open for two more days, Dec. 5-6, the Christmas tree farm is about 11 miles southeast of Lebanon on Highway 70 going toward Smithville. Turn right on Beech Log Road, go about two miles and turn right at the fork (there is a small sign), go about 300 yards and turn left onto the farm. Address: 2054 Beech Log Road. Phone: (615) 237-9304. Web site: Treelandtn.com.
"I plant an average of 750 trees a year," said Chris, who works for the Wilson County Water Authority and holds a degree in forestry and watershed. "We've got about 3,000 trees here: Virginia pine, white pine and Leyland cypress. We've got hit a number of years with drought and freeze out."
Not to worry. There are plenty of ripe trees for the plucking.
Getting started cutting down
TreeLand is a choose-and-cut Christmas tree farm. Once you arrive, the Leaubers' granddaughter, Faith Pulley, 13, a seventh-grader at Watertown Middle School, will greet you, hand you a saw and show you where you can get a pole (to measure the height of your tree) and a cart (with which to tote it back to the shed).
Prices for a tree begin at $40 for a 7-foot-tall tree and go up to $65 for a 10-footer. You also will be treated to hot chocolate, cookies and marshmallows, but this corner of Tennessee countryside is more than a place to fetch a Christmas tree for the living room.
It's where families come to make memories and to begin or continue a tradition, just like the four generations of Ray Griffin's family.
Close to a dozen of the clan, all who live in Shop Springs, were seated around the campfire Saturday morning heating and eating marshmallows.
"There's 17 of us here in the family," said Tina Arnold. "We only get one tree for Nana and Pawpaw (Mr. Griffin). The children all take a turn sawing so all have a cut on Nana and Pawpaw's tree. We've cut down a tree for 18 years. This is our seventh year here."
Mt. Juliet family find their tree
Coming to TreeLand for the first time were Nathan, Chaya, Elijah and Savannah Foster of Mt. Juliet.
"We found it on the Internet," said Nathan.
"Just this morning," said Chaya.
"We started this tradition his first Christmas six years ago," said Nathan, referring to his 6-year son, a first-grader at Tulip Grove Elementary School. "We'd been going to Murfreesboro the past couple of years."
The foursome amble among the trees, sizing up the flora and try to decide which tree will be that special one they will invite into their home to be decorated and have colorful packages and gift boxes laid beneath its branches.
"Let's look and see what they got," says Nathan as he sizes up the forest.
"These are dark and pretty," Chaya notes.
"We're going for tall not fat," said the father.
"That one or that one? I know it's small but it might be good," chimes in Elijah.
"What's wrong with this one?" asks Nathan.
"Yeah, that'll work," affirms Chaya. "What do you think, Elijah?'
"Yep!" says the lad.
In less than two minutes father, son and 2-year-old Savannah saw the tree near its base and, timber!, it topples to the turf.
The best part of all this for Elijah? "Cutting it down."
And for Mom? "Making the memory, that's my most fun. We grew up cutting our own trees down. That's what I like."
Nashville residents pick out a 14-footer
Among the many that were in the hunt for a tree at TreeLand over the weekend were Doug, Mary and Johnny Ensminger of Nashville. They wind up with a 14-foot Virginia pine that may actually be longer than their car.
"We went to another place last night, but they didn't have a tree tall enough," Mary said.
"We've got big ceilings, so we wanted a big tree," said Doug, who got what he wanted.
"I love the holiday excitement, especially for my son," said Mary, "and nothing smells better than a real tree."
TreeLand will only be open two more days, this Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 5 and 6.
"We open for the long Thanksgiving weekend and the first weekend of December and then close," said Chris. "Probably 90 percent of customers buy their trees on these weekends."
Besides the assistance of their granddaughter, Rhonda and Chris receive helping hands from their daughter and son-in-law Brook and Matt Pulley and friends Rayan Downing and Shaun Rainone. The latter three help shake and bag the trees and tie them to the top of vehicles.
No plans to grow
"We like not having Christmas music or selling gifts. The only thing we are selling are the trees and experience of people being out in nature. We're not planning on growing the business but just want to keep our customers happy," said Rhonda. "I enjoy the people. I love watching the families come with their kids and how excited they get."
Chris, too, enjoys meeting the tree seekers. "There are so many people who don't seem to have the opportunity to enjoy the country. They come to my farm in the countryside. I feel entrusted to manage the land for them to enjoy and they do," he said.
Only in recent years did Chris discover that his passion for selling trees for the merriest holiday of the year was practically his birthright.
"My great-grandfather used to cut trees in Canada and ship 'em by train to Philadelphia where he sold them. I never knew that until my father showed me some old photos a few years ago," said the holly-jolly Christmas forester.
Writer Ken Beck may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.