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I have made mention of my family in the past. My parents are lovely, sporty types but did not lead my brother and me on nature hikes along the Blue Ridge, or to weekend excursions camping in the National Forest. They left such activity to our Girl Scout and Boy Scout leaders and instead, taught us how to swing clubs, bats, field balls and dive with our heads down.  So when I confess to friends that my all time favorite childhood memories are connected to an annual walk in the woods, they look surprised.

Every year, on a Saturday morning (usually the last Saturday in November or first in December) we four would load up in a borrowed old, rusty pick up truck before the sun rose, and head West. Hats, gloves, jackets were packed for the half day trip. I seem to recall naming many of these trucks. One named blue baby was used multiple times until her floor board became so rusted we risked losing shoes, hats and other belongings on the way.

I grew up in a small corner of Northern Virginia which used to be pristine. Mountain Road connects Loudoun County to Fauquier, the village of the Plains to Middleburg and we lived along its winding path East of the Blue Ridge. In 45 minutes we could be in Washington (sans traffic) or in West Virginia. Our annual expedition however, always took us in the same direction. Clarke County, a still rural county West of Loudoun, near Winchester.

Once in Clarke we would stop for breakfast in a lovely small diner. No one can recall the name of the place as it was torn down in the early 1990’s and replaced with a McDonald’s. I  recall crying at the sight of the golden arches and the disappearance of the large plastic dairy cow that had lived in the diner’s front yard for so long. Even now, 20 years later, we all remember the restaurant’s decor and food. Pancakes and hot chocolate were often my breakfast choice. Thick mugs so heavy with chocolate and cream a small child could barely lift the ceramic to her lips with two hands. I imagine my parents drank coffee, ate eggs, toast and after a relaxed and extravagant breakfast, we would re-load the truck for our final destination.

Around 9am we would be the first to arrive at Mr. Sipes tree farm in White Post.

Acres and acres of white and scotch pine, a small hut with crafts and treats and no where to be for hours. Without looking back my brother and I would take off up the hill in search of our tree. When we found one so plump we could not see through it, and so tall we could not imagine seeing the upper branches. When such a majestic tree was found we would all step back to admire and comment.

“This is the most beautiful tree we have ever had,” my Mom would remark.

“This is the biggest tree we have ever had,” my Dad would add in. Clearly both understood the goal – bigger, better….

When we had reached a unanimous decision, Mr. Sipes would find us at the tree with his large pole to measure the size, and chain saw. As sawdust flew we would jump and cheer much like the Peanuts do in Charlie Brown’s Christmas special.

Then my Dad would drag the tree back to the truck, Brett and I attempting to help by grabbing a branch of the pine as she traveled from her home of 20 years to our house.

I am not sure why our Christmas tree search meant so much to me then, or continues to mean so much now. My husband and I have been married for almost 5 years and he is gracious enough to join in my annual hunt. Now we live too far from Mr. Sipes so we have searched SW Virginia for the same type of experience. We bought our tree in Craig County last year as soft white snow fell around our feet. This year we traveled to Floyd county and found what I really believe is the most beautiful tree I have ever seen.

I know it may not be a good use of a day, and perhaps wasteful to drive a great distance to cut a tree… but this annual walk in the woods is still important.

So as you and your family begin to create Christmas memories, don’t underestimate the importance of being together, in a rusty old truck, drinking cocoa, driving West. The local tree stand is lovely, but imagine the excitement  of bringing something tall, round and full of sap into your home, even for a few weeks.

Need a few recommendations as to where to go next year? I’ll be happy to share my thoughts.


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