Every season brings its own blessings — a blanket of fresh snow, a gentle spring rain, warming sunshine of summer, blazing colors of autumn. We held a contest for the best photos and stories based on each of the seasons. Here are the best of the bunch! Thousands of entries came from across the United States, and so did our winners. We were thrilled to be able to celebrate winter in Wyoming and autumn in New York with our readers. Our wonderful entries describe a country full of natural wonders, and the fortunate people who get to live and work around them.
The Perfect Tree for the Perfect Guy
Dad’s good humor and grace keep the family going.
BY CRAIG LAUBACH Nazareth, Pennsylvania
I once saw a 12-foot Christmas tree walk out of our field. To be fair, the tree had a man’s face and legs, but the man in the tree disguise was walking back to the barn with the season’s first cut tree.
Dad and I celebrated the first unofficial day of winter every Black Friday. It’s near the start of Advent, and it’s the start of Christmas tree season.
Dad was 44 when he bought his farm in 1969. I was a senior in high school. We didn’t share the same dream. We grew fruits and vegetables in the warmer months, but a lot of people would go hungry if the world depended on me to grow their food.
Christmas trees were another story; I liked them even at 17. As families pull into the farm, you can see the expressions on their faces change. The whole family comes alive as they pile out of the car, ask for a saw, and head into the trees.
The fun doesn’t end, though, when a family drags their fresh-cut tree to the barn. Kids love seeing the tree go through the baler large and lush on one end, and tied up tightly in a net on the other, for the ride home. Their parents ask if we can bale the kids with the tree.
Dad would always pick a tree for his own family that no one else would want. He said no one knew the difference after the tree was decorated, and he was often right.
One year Dad cut us a tree that had more gaps than branches. Mom was having none of it. As Dad went to cut another one, he left the World’s Ugliest Christmas Tree leaning against the barn. Before he could get rid of the tree, a man asked if it was for sale. The guy called it the “best-looking tree he ever bought,” and Dad came inside with a big grin, waving the 15 dollars.
We now tell these and many other family tales to grandchildren Dad never got to meet.
“See how much joy, peace and life a Christmas tree gives to a family as it gives itself up for them,” Dad would say as he stood by the barn watching people pick trees. “Farming is as close as we can get to God creating life on Earth.”
I learned that giving of oneself in any form is a gift of love. A gift we all can give. A gift we are expected to give.
My wife and I continued selling trees until 2010, but we’re selling the farm this year. When I walked through the trees for the last time, I felt Dad’s presence in the breeze all around me.
As I stood among the trees my dad and I had planted, I was filled with the same peace, love, and compassion Dad had taught me. In my head, I can still hear him telling me, “Don’t keep your nose to the ground; take some time to see God’s creation.
“See the new life, feel His spirit.”
Dogs and farmers alike relish the fresh air and shedding the weight of winter.
BY MARLENE SMITH Homer, New York
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