There are many places in America where "the perfect Christmas tree" seems to grow. One of them is here, on a small farm near this village in the Mid-Hudson Valley.
At least, that's what the family that lives at Echo Valley Farm seems to think.
The family first came to this farm in 1943 after searching for nearly a year. Almost every Christmas since then, they have scoured the farm's 102 acres at holiday time looking for just the right tree to fill the big bay window of the General Grant-era farmhouse where they live.
That window probably was designed especially for Christmas trees to stand in. For when a tree fills the bay, its lights gleaming out across the front lawn and beyond the classic white picket fence into the darkness, the holiday season is at hand.
The family includes the mother, her six children and nine grandchildren. Like most American families, this one is scattered all around the United States but comes back when possible to spend Christmas together. Now the farmhouse is filled with children and grandchildren, and there is a spillover of relatives at the house of one of the sons, which stands nearby.
Of the six children, three are here. The farm is in continuous movement -- 50 sheep to be fed, three pigs to be looked after, two dogs and the horses, George, Lily and Brandy. The tractor has endless chores, dogs bark, children scamper and gangly teen-age boys spend hours on the main floor of the big red barn playing chocolate-thunder-flying-Gus-Johnson-crying-rump-roasting-bun-toasting-earth-shaking-glass-breaking-slam-bam-I-am-jam-in-your-face basketball.
There are two girl cousins here -- one 17, one 12 -- and amidst the four boy cousins and all the bustle of the farm, they add their own more refined notes. They play the flute together in preparation for a carol sing with friends and neighbors, and they are plotting an intricate treasure hunt through the woods and fields after Christmas.
Of the three children who are not at the farm, the oldest, Taylor, now is living in England; greetings have arrived from Oxford, where he is on sabbatical. Christopher will spend the holiday in Washington, where he lives with his wife and two children; and a sister, Deborah, is in Los Angeles with too little time and too far to go to make it home this holiday.
The children present are Woody, a lawyer in Red Hook; Victoria, the youngest, who lives in New York; and another son, Kevin, the Washington Post correspondent in Chicago.
It is Woody's house that stands near the white clapboard farmstead. He built his house from a farm outbuilding which itself was the original house, but had been used as a barn for more than 100 years after the big white General Grant house was built. Thrifty people, these Yankees.
Some years, the family found the perfect Christmas tree hidden away in a wood lot or forested hill behind the fields. Other years the family never found the tree they were looking for on their own acreage. Then the search ended, as so many searches do in our times, at the local supermarket.
When one too many of the Christmas tree searches wound up with a dessicated, store-bought pine, the family did something about it. They planted seedlings from the state one spring weekend in 1968 and began waiting for the moment when their Christmas tree supply would be just right.
They learned a lot about life from those trees. The first thing they found was that a watched tree never grows. Year after year the children went back to the "Christmas tree field" with ax and saw -- and returned empty-handed. The seedlings never seemed to get any higher than your ankle. They gave up, and for a unknown number of years avoided the field.
And then, one Christmas about seven years ago, a great cry went up and the whole family turned out to gawk. The annual search party had returned with a Norway pine just tall enough and full enough to fit right into that bay window. It was a wonderful Christmas.
The next year, the trees in the Christmas field were 25 feet high. Or so it seemed. Now the search party goes with a chain saw, ladders and tractor. Or so it seems.
Although they have gotten far too tall for the ceilings of either house, the Christmas trees still seem a miracle. And no matter how tall, or how old, or how young, or how small, it seems there always will be, for our American Christmases, the perfect tree. Merry Christmas from the Klose household.