Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Meet Gordon Page Of High Meadow Farm

By Meghan McCarthy McPhaul

Gordon and Carolyn Page grow Christmas trees on about 4½ acres on their Strafford property. With 10 acres in current use, including the Christmas trees, the other space is occupied by large vegetable and flower gardens and several fruit trees.

“We’re situated at the edge of the Blue Hills area. We’re up at an elevation of 860-plus feet,” Gordon says. “We’re kind of a microclimate.”

Gordon, a civil engineer who retired 16 years ago from the N.H. Department of Environmental Services, and Carolyn, a retired educator, got into Christmas tree farming as “a retirement project.” They planted their first trees in 1989 and have been selling trees since the mid-1990s.
hey harvest about 400 cut-your-own Christmas trees each year.

We caught up with Gordon June 5 to talk about his retirement project. Here’s some of what he had to say:

Where did you get the idea to start a Christmas tree farm?

My wife has sister-in-law in New Jersey that did it, and we had this land. About 3 acres was in woods. The rest was a former pasture for a horse farm. It’s real flat. The land wasn’t being used for anything, so I thought this would be a fun project.
What kinds of trees do you grow?
I’ve planted quite a few varieties: Fraser fir and balsam, Canaan fir (a balsam that’s native to West Virginia). I’ve got 650 Korean firs now.
How do you decide what kinds of trees to plant?
I’ve had problems the last couple years with root rot with Fraser firs. That’s why the last couple of years I’ve switched to the Canaans and the Korean firs, which are supposed to be resistant. I have a real heavy soil here, and the Canaans do well in heavy soil.
How did you learn about tree farming?
I became active in the marketing committee for the New Hampshire-Vermont Christmas Tree Association. And I picked everybody’s brains every time I’d go to a meeting. I actually made quite a few mistakes in the beginning. The first trees I planted were white spruce, which I found out most people don’t like. I planted about 1,000 of those. Then I planted Scotch pine, which people also don’t like. I finally got to balsam and Fraser firs. We’ve put up an electric fence – the first 500 balsams I planted, the deer devastated them.
Do you have a hired staff?
It’s mainly my wife and me. The last two years we had a friend from Sacramento, California, fly out to help us. He thinks it’s great to be in the tree business at Christmas time. Generally we have one teenager helping us during the selling season.
When does your busy selling season start?
People start coming to tag trees Columbus Day weekend. We start selling Thanksgiving weekend. Carolyn makes a couple hundred wreaths and decorates them to sell. She starts about November 1st making wreaths. You’re supposed to wait until after the second frost to start cutting brush.
Have you been happy in your retirement project?
Yeah. It’s small enough so that if I want to take off and go fishing or something I can do it. There’s nothing to do in January, February and March. It’s about mid-April when you get busy. Last year we went to New Zealand for three weeks in January. We’ve done a lot of shorter trips in the summer.
What’s your favorite part about raising Christmas trees?
I like to be outdoors. That’s one of the reasons I took up civil engineering, but I found myself in an office most of the time. Seeing the people each year. Most of our customers are pretty loyal, they keep coming back. And seeing their kids grow up.
What is something that you don’t enjoy as much?
All the mowing. I try to keep the grass mowed between the trees. That keeps me busy in the summer. There’s the shearing in the spring. But I don’t really mind those things.
What is something the average Christmas tree buyer might not realize about growing trees?
I suppose that they don’t think about that the trees are giving off oxygen. And they preserve the land, which is very important, especially in southern New Hampshire.
What do you do besides raise Christmas trees?
I hunt. Both of us are involved in the Bear-Paw Regional Greenways (a regional land trust). It started out trying to get a greenway between Bear Brook State Park and Pawtuckaway State Park. They’re active in Rockingham and Strafford counties. And I’ve climbed the 100 highest peaks in New England. I’ve climbed New Hampshire’s 48 4,000-footers in winter. Carolyn’s climbed all the New England 4,000-footers. That was in our younger years. We still hike, but we’re not that serious anymore.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

The History of Christmas

The History of Christmas
The history of Christmas dates back over 4000 years. Many of our Christmas traditions were celebrated centuries before the Christ child was born. The 12 days of Christmas, the bright fires, the yule log, the giving of gifts, carnivals(parades) with floats, carolers who sing while going from house to house, the holiday feasts, and the church processions can all be traced back to the early Mesopotamians.
Many of these traditions began with the Mesopotamian celebration of New Years. The Mesopotamians believed in many gods, and as their chief god - Marduk. Each year as winter arrived it was believed that Marduk would do battle with the monsters of chaos. To assist Marduk in his struggle the Mesopotamians held a festival for the New Year. This was Zagmuk, the New Year's festival that lasted for 12 days.
The Mesopotamian king would return to the temple of Marduk and swear his faithfulness to the god. The traditions called for the king to die at the end of the year and to return with Marduk to battle at his side.
To spare their king, the Mesopotamians used the idea of a "mock" king. A criminal was chosen and dressed in royal clothes. He was given all the respect and privileges of a real king. At the end of the celebration the "mock" king was stripped of the royal clothes and slain, sparing the life of the real king.
The Persians and the Babylonians celebrated a similar festival called the Sacaea. Part of that celebration included the exchanging of places, the slaves would become the masters and the masters were to obey.
Early Europeans believed in evil spirits, witches, ghosts and trolls. As the Winter Solstice approached, with its long cold nights and short days, many people feared the sun would not return. Special rituals and celebrations were held to welcome back the sun.
In Scandinavia during the winter months the sun would disappear for many days. After thirty-five days scouts would be sent to the mountain tops to look for the return of the sun. When the first light was seen the scouts would return with the good news. A great festival would be held, called the Yuletide, and a special feast would be served around a fire burning with the Yule log. Great bonfires would also be lit to celebrate the return of the sun. In some areas people would tie apples to branches of trees to remind themselves that spring and summer would return.
The ancient Greeks held a festival similar to that of the Zagmuk/Sacaea festivals to assist their god Kronos who would battle the god Zeus and his Titans.
The Roman's celebrated their god Saturn. Their festival was called Saturnalia which began the middle of December and ended January 1st. With cries of "Jo Saturnalia!" the celebration would include masquerades in the streets, big festive meals, visiting friends, and the exchange of good-luck gifts called Strenae (lucky fruits).
The Romans decked their halls with garlands of laurel and green trees lit with candles. Again the masters and slaves would exchange places
"Jo Saturnalia!" was a fun and festive time for the Romans, but the Christians though it an abomination to honor the pagan god. The early Christians wanted to keep the birthday of their Christ child a solemn and religious holiday, not one of cheer and merriment as was the pagan Saturnalia.
But as Christianity spread they were alarmed by the continuing celebration of pagan customs and Saturnalia among their converts. At first the Church forbid this kind of celebration. But it was to no avail. Eventually it was decided that the celebration would be tamed and made into a celebration fit for the Christian Son of God.
Some legends claim that the Christian "Christmas" celebration was invented to compete against the pagan celebrations of December. The 25th was not only sacred to the Romans but also the Persians whose religion Mithraism was one of Christianity's main rivals at that time. The Church eventually was successful in taking the merriment, lights, and gifts from the Saturanilia festival and bringing them to the celebration of Christmas.
The exact day of the Christ child's birth has never been pinpointed. Traditions say that it has been celebrated since the year 98 AD. In 137 AD the Bishop of Rome ordered the birthday of the Christ Child celebrated as a solemn feast. In 350 AD another Bishop of Rome, Julius I, choose December 25th as the observance of Christmas.