Christmas tree hunt becomes rite of passage for Bangor youth

Posted Dec. 14, 2011, at 3:59 p.m.

BANGOR — For one Bangor youngster, this holiday season marked a rite of passage: from spectator to participant.

In past years, 11-year-old Peter Blackwell watched as one of his parents cut down the family Christmas tree. On Sunday, Dec. 4, that responsibility fell to Blackwell, who cut down his first Christmas tree with a special tool: his grandfather’s well-worn ax.

“We typically make this trip at the same time every year, as we’re beginning to enter Advent,” said Elizabeth Hansen, Peter’s grandmother. As the families searched for the perfect tree at G&S Tree Farm on the Gardiner Road in Orono, Peter and his father, Bill Blackwell, spied a 6-foot fir tree.

The event was low-key, Hansen said. “Peter had the ax nonchalantly propped up against his shoulder with a real sense of pride,” she said. “This was an arrangement between him and his dad. As the eldest boy, the honor fell to him.”

Peter’s two younger brothers — Gus, 8, and Ian, 4 — watched intently as their big brother started the slow process of carefully cutting down his first tree, Hansen said. They know that when they’re older, the ax will be handed down, and they’ll observe the same rite as Peter.

“No one said a word until the tree was cut down,” Hansen noted. “We didn’t realize what was going on until our own tree was already cut down. Once we realized what was happening we realized we must not hurry through this very special event.”

First, Blackwell cleared the tree’s lower branches away by trimming carefully to reach the trunk, exactly as his father had told him. Once he had a clear avenue to the trunk, he began carefully notching the tree.

“He got right down and did it the right way,” Hansen said. “It was very special for both father and son. Peter started going along to pick out the Christmas tree when he could barely walk. This is a tradition embraced by our entire family, and now we’re adding new traditions as the years move forward.”

Adding a bittersweet note to the outing was the fact that the same ax used to cut down this year’s Christmas tree was owned by Peter’s grandfather, Shady Blackwell, who passed away earlier this year at age 88.

At G&S Tree Farm, even the driver of the tractor pulling a sled behind it paused while Peter diligently worked to cut down his first tree for the family.

“At about six-feet-tall, it was a little smaller than usual, but it was perfect,” Hansen said. “It looks lovely, and he’s very proud of it.”

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