The owners of Pine Lake Christmas Tree Farm in Derby found themselves in the role of their customers last week.
Glen and Celia Goering set out to choose the perfect Christmas tree. But their idea of "perfect" took on a bit of a different standard compared with those brought by most families to the tree farm. The Goerings had been charged with choosing the governor's Christmas tree.
They were given some criteria: The tree had to be a Scotch pine. It had to be 8 to 9 feet tall. A traditional choice for a traditional house — Cedar Crest, the governor's mansion in Topeka.
The Goerings wandered their field of 7,500 mostly Scotch and Austrian pines at 6802 S. Oliver in Derby, sizing up the specimens and carefully measuring the ones they thought might fit the bill. They found close to a dozen from which to make the final, er, cut.
"It was kind of hard to narrow it down, actually," Celia said.
She and Glen showed me a few of the trees they considered, and looking at them provided a lesson in Christmas tree decisions.
One pine that was in the running spoke to me. But it had one flaw.
"I saw this hole," Celia said, "and I didn't know how they were going to be decorating the tree, if they were going to be using large ornaments. I'd put a big teddy bear or a Santa in it. I'd put it in my house in a heartbeat."
But for all Celia knew, the governor's staff could be using tiny ornaments on the tree, and then a hole of any kind wouldn't do.
Another tree fit the bill, but not quite all the way.
"I didn't like the top of this one," Celia said of a tree a few rows over. "The height was a bit much, but we could have taken an extra foot off the bottom. You can always adjust the bottom if the proportions are right. And someone may need a bigger tree, and here it sits and waits for them."
The final choice was a handsome Scotch pine whose only flaws are the type that confirm it as the real deal, not some artificial tree spit out of a mold. This one had grown at Pine Lake at least 12 years.
"Here there were no goofs," Celia said. "It has a straight trunk. It had to be uniformly full and yet have room to hang ornaments. It has a good top."
Still, Celia said, "this is one person's view. Everyone has their own idea, and you might not even be able to put what that is into words."
That is true. That's why I said that the one tree "spoke to me." I still don't know what it said.
The Goerings cut down the governor's tree on Friday, put it in the back of their pickup and drove it to Topeka, where it was welcomed in a ceremony at Cedar Crest.
While that may seem early, the Goerings' previous customers will be allowed at the farm on Sunday to pick out and tag their trees for later cutting. And at least one customer has asked to cut hers immediately, to have up before Thanksgiving.
"They'll stay nice and fresh if people take care of them," Celia said.
At least one other area farm, Windy Knoll, also in Derby, will open Sunday, and Pine Creek in Goessel will open Tuesday. Most other Christmas tree farms, including Pine Lake, open officially for cutting the day after Thanksgiving. The busiest weekend is always the first one in December, Celia said.
I asked Glen if he felt a little more pressure than you and I would when going out to choose a tree for the governor.
"I guess so," Glen said, but didn't sound too convincing.
"I always say almost any tree is gonna look nice once you get those ornaments on it."