Country Christmas tree farms and other holi-day trips.
Over the hills and through the woods to Seiler's Christmas Tree Farm outside of Seguin we go, looking for the perfect evergreen to decorate the house. The dirt driveway from the county road leads to a field of green cones in a variety of sizes covering the rolling landscape.
"This job is lots of fun," says Dorothy Seiler, who operates the tree farm with her husband Russell. "We get to be with all those happy children -- many we've watched grow up."
Among the rows of trees the sound of children's laughter and yelling seems to come from every direction. It is hard to tell whether the young cries of joy are from finding the perfect tree or from the excitement of being in the country.
The Seilers' field is nearly as fragrant as it is beautiful. The pine trees are almost too perfectly green, and the air carries the scent of a kitchen cleanser. Towering alongside the evergreens are tall pecan trees that sway in the wind.
Originally from farming families in South Texas, the Seilers got into the Christmas tree business 15 years ago when Russell decided to try the holiday vegetation along with his pecan orchard. The success of the Christmas trees has encouraged the Seilers to plant additional acreage over the years. They now have about 22 acres of Leyland Cypress, loblolly pine, and the popular Virginia pine.
Dorothy explains that the Leyland Cypress is a cross between an Alaska cedar and a Monterey cypress tree. It looks more like a yard decoration than a living room piece, but lots of people like it because it has a different sort of look, lasts longer than most pine trees, and has no needles to scatter around the carpet. The loblolly pine has long needles and is native to East Texas, but grows very well in Guadalupe County's sandy soil. The Virginia pine has a medium-length needle and is often imported from out of state for sale at supermarkets.
But why have a tree of unknown dryness when you can have a tree cut fresh from the farmer's field? What kind of holiday tradition is taking the kids to a department store parking lot to pick out a tree? The Seilers' prices are actually a few dollars cheaper than most grocery stores' prices. Enough of a savings to pay for the gas to drive 62 miles south of Austin.
All of the Seilers' trees get a lifetime of tender loving care. In order to maintain the perfect pyramid shape, the trees are trimmed twice a year, Dorothy says. Along with trimming, the bushes are sprayed to protect against insects. Because of the drought, Russell has had to irrigate more this year than usual.
"It's a lot of work," Dorothy says with the pride of a farmer's wife. Grey-haired and slender, raising five children and enjoying the grandchildren hasn't dimmed the friendly twinkle in her eyes. Mr. Seiler fills the image of a Texas farmer equally well. A former iron worker, he is kind of short but built like a fireplug, and wears his gimme cap low on his forehead. Somewhat reserved, he's a no-nonsense kind of guy, but the four grandchildren have him wrapped around their little fingers.
On the weekends the entire Seiler family works the farm to be sure that other families have a wonderful time. Besides the trees, the farm also sells wreaths and pecans (shelled and unshelled). From TX 123 about 14 miles south of Seguin, turn at the Mesquite Junction store onto the twisting Jakes Colony Road and follow the signs about five miles to the farm. The farm is open through December 22, 9am-6pm. For information, call 830/379-3468.
Other Christmas tree farms in the Austin area:
Evergreen Farms is west of Elgin off U.S. 290, take a right on County Line Road, left on Monkey Road, and follow the signs about three miles to the farm. Open Fri.-Sun., 9am-dark, 512/281-4833 or http://www.evergreen-farms.com.
Loma Alta Tree Farm is 5.5 miles east of Bastrop off TX 71 -- go north on Alum Creek Road. Open daily 9am-5:30pm, 512/360-2005 or http://www.flash.net/~lomaalta/.
Nature's Way Tree Farm is the original Elgin Christmas tree farm and is off U.S. 290 east of Elgin on Roy Daves Road. Open until the weekend before Christmas, Sun.-Fri. noon-5pm, Sat. 10am-5:30pm, 512/281-5016 or http://www.alpha1.net/~nwtreefarm.
Santa's Enchanted Forest north of New Braunfels has been struggling with keeping the trees growing and has supplemented their crop with pre-cut Nobel fir. The farm is off I-35 at exit 191, take FM 306 to FM 1102 and follow the signs. Open daily at 10am, 830/629-4518.
To find a list of tree farms around the state, call the Texas Christmas Tree Growers Association at 817/831-0595 or visit their Web site at http://www.texaschristmastrees.com. The Texas Department of Agriculture also has a list of tree farms at http://www.agr.state.tx.us.
Coming up this weekend ...
Hill Country Lighting Trail lights up 11 picturesque communities through New Year's Day. Blanco, Bulverde, Dripping Springs, Fredericksburg, Goldthwaite, Johnson City, Llano, Marble Falls, and Mason will have special displays and events during the season. 830/997-8515.
Country Christmas in Chappell Hill turns the downtown business district into a holiday festival with carolers, parades, and Santa, Dec. 11. 800/225-3695.
River Walk Crafts Fair in San Antonio lines the River Walk Extension with the wares of artisans from throughout Texas, Dec. 10-12, 210/227-4262. On Sunday the Las Posadas Celebration along the River Walk from Mansion del Rio Hotel to the Arneson River Theater is one of the most beautiful events of the season, capped by a piñata party at Maverick Plaza, Dec. 12. 210/224-6163.
Coming up ...
New Year's Eve at Gruene Hall features Joe Ely. Tickets are now on sale. 830/606-1281.
10 Cool Winter Cultural Events is a new Web site developed by the Texas Commission on the Arts. Updated quarterly, the list identifies a variety of events, attractions and activities around Texas at http://www.artonart.com.