On a brisk November morning, the Pratt family is jaunting about Enumclaw’s Mt. Rainier Nobles tree farm, on the hunt for their next Christmas evergreen.
It doesn’t take them long. But as the rest of the family quickly give their approval to the blue-tinged Noble Fir, Jeff Pratt is still analyzing.
“Just looking at it from all the angles,” Pratt, 50, says.
“Papa, you’re always so picky,” his granddaughter Charlie, 7, replies. “I’m just saying, he’s always picky about the trees.”
“Is that a bad thing?” Jeff asks.
“Yeah,” she replies. “Cut it down!”
Dutifully, Jeff kneels down and gets sawing.
In a time of pandemic uncertainty, supply chain headaches and what can feel like an ever-divided national political stage, there’s something nostalgic — perhaps even quaint — to holiday traditions like cutting down a Christmas tree.
Christmastime has always been “grounding” for their big family, said Jeff and Lynn Pratt’s daughter Emily, a musician and the mom of Charlie and Kacey.
“You all get going in your lives, and especially in the last few years … with the changes, and everything else going on, we weren’t able to get together as much as we normally would as a family,” Emily, 28 said. “And so the holidays are that one time of year where you know, things might be crazy, but we all get together.”
It doesn’t hurt that the family already gets along pretty well, she added: “No big family feuds or anything.”
That day, the tree-chopping Buckley family was made up of grandparents Lynn and Jeff Pratt, both 50, Emily, and Emily’s daughters Charlie and Kacey, who is five years old.
“We sometimes take for granted just being able to go out to a Christmas tree farm,” Emily said.
Emily decorated the tree at her grandparent’s house as a kid, and now she brings her daughters to her parent’s house to do the same. The family used to collect their trees up in the snowfields on Mt. Rainier, but now pick them up closer to home. Emily, though, still took her kids along with Jeff and her brother Jameson to get a genuine Mt. Rainier tree.
Jeff and Jameson are both airline pilots, which means having them back home during the busy the holiday season can be a dicey prospect. Jeff, originally a Boeing employee, “always wanted to be a pilot,” Lynn said. So when Jameson started pursuing that career, Jeff quit his Boeing job and made a mid-life career turn to pursue piloting with his son, the two earning their flight hours on bush planes in Alaska.
The Pratt family’s Noble Fir is a silvery-blue variety that naturally grows with a little more space between branches. The other brand offered at Mt. Rainier Nobles is the thick, glossy-green Nordmann, according to Anthony Stair, who manages the tree farm this time of year.
Stair’s parent’s, Lynette and Richard Stair, purchased the farm this year from Mark and Lorraine Buckingham, who planted the first trees about 26 years ago. A former airline pilot, Mark purchased the Enumclaw property as a hobby for his retirement.
The Buckinghams ran it until Mark, who died in 2020, became too ill to manage the farm on his own. The Stairs helped run it over the last three years or so before purchasing it.
Lorraine still helps out at the tree farm, and with how it’s grown from Mark’s small hobbyist operation, he “would be thrilled with this,” she said.
The tree farm closed for the season Dec. 5, and the Stairs plan to plant around 1,500 trees this spring, Stair said.
Aside from the pretty workplace, the Stairs have another reason to be thankful: Frowns are few and far between at a Christmas tree farm.
In other jobs that interact with the public, “it’s hit or miss if someone you interact with is happy,” Stair said. “Maybe there’s one bad apple in the whole season, but for the most part everyone is happy to be here.”
If this winter holiday season and the last have felt more fraught than those before, perhaps there’s a lesson to be learned from the two sisters whose ages only add up to 12.
During a hay ride around the farm on their tree-cutting expedition, Charlie and Kacey breathlessly recounted their recent letters from St. Nicholas, who wrote to say they both made his good list. Charlie said that’s because “me and Kacey have been playing together and working out fights.”
“When me and Kacey have fights … Mom helped us sort it out, and we became friends again,” she said. “At the end of the day, we’re back to sisters.”