- Associated Press - Sunday, December 13, 2015

SILVANA, Wash. (AP) - It’s the proud home of Charlie Brown Christmas trees.

Not all are perfect, but all are loved.

For about 40 years, Happy Valley Tree Farm has offered 25 acres of unsheared happiness to generations of families.

“People who want a big, bushy, solid tree, they waste their time coming up here,” said retired pathologist Dr. Clayton Haberman, 93, who runs the farm with his wife Barbara, 83.

“It’s not like a Christmas tree farm where they shear the trees and they look like a hedge. I just let them grow. As a result they are natural trees with distinct limbs.”

Clayton is a distinct figure as well. Decked out in his big coat and hard hat festooned with holly, he sharpens the saws that Barbara hands out to shoppers, who are more like friends than customers.

“They go out there and walk around and pick their tree and cut it and drag it through the mud,” she said. “They do the work.”

There are big pots of hot apple cider and a crackling fire to thaw cold fingers and toes.

All trees are $20. Have been for years.

“I don’t criticize the people who sell trees for $50 or $60,” Clayton said. “If you want to raise those sheared trees, it’s lots of work. I tried it in the beginning. I like a natural tree. I used to have a flyer that said ‘Happy Valley Tree Farm, home of designer trees.’ People say, ‘Well, what do you mean by designer trees?’ “

Designed by nature, he explained. Deer damage and all.

“Deer hit them with their antlers and break branches and they make some of the goofiest looking trees,” he said. “Every year a few people come up looking for the most grotesque tree. A Charlie Brown tree.”

Of course, it’s more than a tree. It’s a memory cut fresh every year.

Clayton bought the 25 acres as an investment in 1968, a few years after he and Barbara were married.

“I think it was about $2,000 an acre, if I remember correctly,” he said. “A real estate friend of mine convinced me I should do this. I hadn’t planned to do anything other than to buy it and hold it and sell it sometime later.”

The land had been logged with minimal cleanup.

“I didn’t know anything about growing trees or anything like that, other than when I was Boy Scout years ago I planted some trees back in Wisconsin,” Clayton said.

“I decided, ‘Well, we ought to plant some trees on it.’ So I bought 2,000 seedlings, not knowing what I was doing and planted them on this logged-off piece of property. I just planted it amongst all this slash and brush and everything else on the property. All the other weed brush grew vigorously and we lost all of the seedlings we planted except there’s a couple still standing which are now big trees.”

The couple devoted weekends over the next few years to burning brush, then turned to the county extension agent for help.

“He gave me some idea of what should be done and how to do things,” Clayton said. “I got the idea to maybe sell some Christmas trees.”

Lo and behold, a tradition was born.

Year after year, the couple planted new seedlings.

“He carried the trees and would dig the hole,” Barbara said, “and I’d put the tree in and finish the spot.”

Year after year, people came back, filling the forest with holiday spirit.

“One group, the guy was the choir director and he’d come up with a lot of his choir members and they would bring lunch and be back in the woods and then they’d start singing,” Clayton said. “We’d get churches come up and I’d give them a tree. A big one.”

Happy Valley Tree Farm was a ritual for people at the Everett hospital, now Providence Regional Medical Center, where Clayton and Barbara worked.

Debbie Galuska said her husband first saw a notice about the tree farm in the doctors’ lounge. “My daughter was a year old and we’d just moved back here and we started going out there and have been since,” she said.

That baby girl is now 37 with children of her own. Three generations join the caravan to the tree farm.

“We set up tables and have a big tailgate lunch and just make a day of it,” Galuska said. “The kids love it. They run around. It is so magical. You feel like you are really out in the forest, searching for a tree. It’s not in neat little rows and sheared. It’s a lot of shapes and sizes.”

For the Habermans, the farm is a labor of love.

“I get up there and forget all my problems and enjoy the woods,” Barbara said. “I just like to be outside and get good exercise and breathe in good air.”

“That was my major source of physical activity,” Clayton said. “That’s the biggest job, is to control the weeds. We don’t spray any weed killers, so we have to keep the brush cut.”

The couple moved to Warm Beach eight years ago, during which time they have never put up a tree in their house.

They tree farm puts enough tree in their lives.

“We are up there twice a week, cutting back brush. Last year I planted 200 trees only. I used to plant 500,” said Clayton, who now walks with the aid of a cane.

“He does it on his hands and knees,” Barbara said. “We have a tractor and that’s his legs. He goes to the spot where the tree needs to be planted and crawls over on his hands and knees and digs the hole.”

The tree farm was open only two weekends this year, instead of three weekends and before that four.

“People ask, ‘Are you going to be open next year?’” Barbara said.

Are they?

“Next year, there is going to be a void. This is our last year,” she said.

“Well, we don’t know,” he said.

“I don’t want to even think about it,” Galuska said. “Every year, we cross our fingers.”


Information from: The Daily Herald, https://www.heraldnet.com

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