Picking out the perfect tree

Officials search high and low in county for holiday spruce that's a cut above the rest

November 05, 2006|By Laura McCandlish | Laura McCandlish,Sun Reporter

The first tree, in Sykesville, is too green from lack of sunlight and on the large side. And the third tree, in Westminster, is too squat and might be diseased. But the second tree, in Hampstead, is just right.

With lush, balanced branches tinted a true blue-green, the blue spruce lives up to its name.

"That is pretty darn close to being a perfect tree," says Jim Slater, Carroll County's environmental compliance officer.

The winning tree will be chopped down within two weeks, trucked to the County Office Building in Westminster and propped up outside on a stand in the water fountain to prepare for the holiday tree-lighting ceremony Nov. 28.

It's fast becoming an annual tradition.

The commissioners revived the tradition in 2004 after more than a 30-year hiatus. For unknown reasons, the tree lighting at the county office building had been discontinued in the early 1970s.

About 930 possible trees from 24 county properties were offered as candidates for the county tree this year, according to Vivian Laxton, the county's spokeswoman.

Normally, a van full of tree hunters treks out to choose the tree. But this year, it's Slater and former Westminster Mayor Kevin E. Dayhoff alone in the front seats of the cavernous county van. What they lack in numbers, they make up with enthusiasm.

Though on opposite ends of the political spectrum, Slater and Dayhoff are friends who share a passion for all things arboreal.

"We are the two grandparents of environmentalism in Carroll County," Dayhoff says as the van sets out for South Carroll.

Though it's early November, it's an unlikely day to search for a Christmas tree. The balmy weather, hovering around 70 degrees, and a vivid blue sky scream spring.

Westminster also took advantage of the mild conditions by starting to hang the city's holiday decorations last week.

Slater drives the van by dried cornstalks and rolling green pastures bathed in sunlight, framed by trees painted in fall colors - green turning to gold, crimson, rust and burnt amber.

The county's Environmental Advisory Council is in charge of selecting the tree. Member Brian Rhoten, who is an arborist, couldn't make it. He was busy judging a tree climbing contest.

During the drive, Dayhoff gleefully identifies passing trees.

"That's a beech over there," he says.

And later: "Oh, the holly trees are just outrageous!"

He and Slater extol the merits of various species of Christmas trees.

"The concolor [white] fir is the best Christmas tree ever," Dayhoff says.

Slater agrees.

"I believe it was originally bred in North Carolina, at the Biltmore Estate," Slater says. "I had one last year."

Why the concolor fir? They're aromatic, soft and supple to the touch, yet strong enough to withstand the weight of lights and ornaments.

"When you're decorating a blue spruce, you come back bloody," Slater says of the trees' sharp needles.

That's not a big issue for the county's outdoor tree. In fact, all three of this year's finalists are blue spruces.

"Another one that's gotten real popular is the Frazier fir," Slater says.

The first tree being considered, which partially obstructs the view of Joan Candy's home on Country Fair Lane, stands about 35 feet tall.

"It still has lights on it," Slater says, inspecting and snapping photographs of the spruce.

"Yeah, I used to decorate it when it was little, but I gave up," Candy says.

She planted the tree. How long ago?

"Long enough that it's grown that big," Candy says. Her husband, Albert Selby, a former Carroll Orphans' Court judge, died last year.

"It just seems appropriate to have the tree end up at the County Office Building," Candy says. "Maybe I could hang a little ornament on it with his name."

No one is home at the North Woods Trail home in Hampstead. But Slater and Dayhoff are instantly sold on the tree.

Heading to the third and last stop in Westminster, the sun melts toward the tree line. It's 4:30 but the sun is already starting to set.

There are two spruces in the yard at the home on The Strand. Neither will do. Nor will the more rampantly growing Norway spruce in the backyard.

The Hampstead tree ended up beating out the others. But Dayhoff said he appreciates all the offers.

"We like the idea of folks donating a tree grown too large or otherwise scheduled to be cut down," he says.

For the holiday tree-lighting on Nov. 28, the Winters Mill High School chorus, a flute quartet from Sykesville Middle School and an adult ensemble will all perform.

In addition to Christmas music, Hanukkah songs were sung in past years. Theresa Bethune of Westminster has volunteered to bake cookies for the event. The Westminster Ridge retirement community plans to donate hot cocoa.

More cookie bakers are also needed, Laxton said.

laura.mccandlish@baltsun.com

To volunteer, contact the Office of Public Information, 410-386-2804.

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