Since I was a tiny child way back in the last century my Christmas memories have centered around a large fir tree reaching to the ceiling, its branches twinkling with light and covered in shiny ornaments, its smell filling the house.

The tradition of a real tree at Christmas is disappearing from our landscape and our way of life, but it is one that I have found impossible to give up.

For me, the start of the Christmas season begins with my frantic search for the perfect tree to light up our family’s holidays. This often takes me to the far reaches of our county, as I travel on country roads from one end to the other on the hunt for that symbol of Christmas I love so dearly.

And just like the slow disappearance of having a real fir, our countryside and our rural way of life in Cherokee County is also slipping away.

I have visited tree farms and sellers from the beautiful valleys of Salacoa to the deep countryside of Hickory Flat, from the very edge of our county where it meets Fulton County to the rural landscape of Ball Ground in the search for the perfect tree. There were once many, many Christmas tree farms in Cherokee County.

But slowly and surely, those tree farms where families go each year to find the most beautiful of trees are vanishing.

Sometimes I travel alone until I find the perfect tree and some years I coerce my reluctant husband into joining me on my hunt, knowing that he is going to pressure me to make a decision sooner than I would like, and for a smaller tree than I really like.

This year we sprang into our old pickup truck and headed to one of my favorite places to find a tree, Deerwoods Christmas Tree Farm off Henry Scott Road at the edge of the Macedonia community. I was hopeful.

As we turned off East Cherokee Drive and headed out toward the tree farm I began to notice a difference in the scenery from trips in past years. New homes were springing up where once there was just farmland and rural countryside. The old ways were vanishing.

But as we got closer to Deerwoods, I stepped back into time to visit what much of Cherokee County once was, even just a few years ago. At a neighboring farm I spotted donkeys eating their hay and ambling along a fenced enclosure. I saw chickens and barns and garden spots faded with winter.

The road became narrower and eventually turned into dirt for the last few yards leading to the tree farm.

The family-owned Christmas tree farm has been in operation for 33 years and offers acres of trees growing where families can go out into the fields and pick and cut their own or choose from some precut firs.

Fortunately for my husband, there were plenty of large Fraser firs to choose from and we quickly found one we thought was perfect. The young men of the family were there to politely help my husband wrestle it into the back of the pickup.

Inside the barn where you settle up, a wood fire was burning and older family members were sitting around on old sofas chatting, with dogs peacefully sleeping at their feet.

Something was brewing in a pot behind the counter and Christmas decorations lined the walls up to the rafters. The scene was right out of our memories of times long past.

Coming back home along Highway 20, I noticed many farms and landmarks already gone, as the state Department of Transportation makes way for a six-lane road through what was once rural countryside.

I saw a chicken house being dismantled stick by stick and some farmhouses, businesses, and restaurants I remembered were already completely gone.

I know we need this new highway to move the growing amount of traffic, but it is hard to see the history of Cherokee County rapidly vanishing before my eyes.

I can remember when east Cherokee County was filled with farms of all sorts, and the landscape was jam-packed with chicken houses, when we were dubbed the broiler capitol of the world and proud of it.

I am thankful Deerwoods Farm is still there, and hope against hope that not every vestige of where we came from vanishes.

When I was growing up, I remember walking out a long dirt road toward Pettit’s Lake just before Christmas to gather holly and fir branches for my mother to make wreaths. I remember the miles of unspoiled land, the quietness of the forest, the sound of birds, and the sight of deer and squirrels, and even occasionally the glimpse of a red fox streaking through the woods.

I remember sitting under our Christmas tree, smelling the scent of fresh cut pine. I remember warmth and family and love of the season.

I know I cannot hold onto everything from the past, but I can hold on to the magic of a real Christmas tree, at least for now.

Rebecca Johnston is a lifelong Cherokee County resident and former managing editor of The Cherokee Tribune.

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