CAMINO — At less than 24 inches tall, wearing silvery green and blue needles is this year’s gift to U.S. troops from Indian Rock Ranch Christmas Tree Farm — a perfect silver tip fir Christmas tree.
It’s the same gift Larry and Geri Hyder, owners of Indian Rock, have been sending to all troops from El Dorado County deployed overseas since the Vietnam War in the 1970s as part of Trees for Troops. And it’s always well-appreciated. Silver tip firs are the only trees the Hyders send to the troops.
“‘Silver tips hold their color and needles the best,” said Geri, 80. “They are phenomenal keepers. They last the longest and keep the best.”
“We’ve been growing these for years, just for the troop program,” said Larry, 83. “I plant them close together and cut every other one. That way the one that’s left grows bigger.”
These tabletop trees travel to Afghanistan, Iraq, Germany, Kuwait — anywhere an El Dorado soldier is deployed. It takes a while to get to their individual destination and the Hyders want them to arrive green, with pliable needles intact and smelling of home.
Each perfect little tree, fresh-cut from Indian Rock’s plantation of Christmas trees or from the Hyders’ mountain forest near Echo Summit has a sponge soaked in water attached to the base of its trunk. Then, the sponge is wrapped in a plastic baggie and sealed with a rubber band and the tree is placed into a 6x6x28 inch box along with fudge from Able’s Acres, caramels from the Retired Teachers’ Association, letters from organizations and people in the community, candy canes, decorations made by the Boys and Girls Club and Boy Scout troops, packages of dried apples and pears from Apple Hill growers and toothbrushes from the Dental Association.
“We also put in a lot of comfort items as much as we can stuff in the box,” said Geri. Comfort items might include Chapstick, Handi-wipes, lotion, packets of instant beverages.
“We don’t even know all the places the trees travel to,” said Larry.”It’s not ordinary what they go through.”
Geri collects soldiers’ names and addresses from the people who respond after reading a Trees for Troops article in the Mountain Democrat and from Realtor Cindy Romano who collects them on behalf of the Realtor Association. The association sends packages to troops several times during the year. Contributions from Placerville’s Rotary Club help to pay for the boxes to be mailed in mid-November.
Sometimes a tree will come back to Indian Rock. Two returned last year. Larry, who was a 1st lieutenant in the Korean War, said ” I always wonder what happened. Is this from someone who died? I guess you never get over being a soldier. We do this to honor and remember the ones that died in my arms.”
The trees arrive at their far destinations, bringing Christmas with them. Most of them are propped up in gun shells or boots by their owners and put into common areas to share with the rest of the company. One of the most important things inside the box is the bundle of letters from community members, including school children.
“Soldiers have told me that those letters saying the community was standing behind them meant so much,” said Geri. “Some of them give letters to other soldiers who don’t have anyone. We aren’t forgetting them. They are precious to us.”
This is the 34th year of Trees for Troops and although the number of boxes has dropped over the last year since fewer troops are being deployed, the Hyders plan to continue the program.
” We don’t just send to our combat troops,” said Geri, “we send trees to everyone from El Dorado County who is deployed overseas.”
Daughter Karen Hyder is willing to take on the program when Larry and Geri are ready for that to happen. “Our two daughters and their children always helped, ” said Geri. “And now, even when some of them are not living in this area, everyone is still involved in some way.”
Names and addresses for El Dorado County troops deployed overseas are needed by Nov.1 in order for troops to receive their trees before Christmas. Please e-mail names and addresses to Geri Hyder at email@example.com or call Geri at 530 622-4087.
Indian Rock Ranch Christmas Tree Farm is located at 3800 North Canyon Road. Its Website is indianrocktreefarm.com/Hyder/ChristmasTrees.htm.
Contact Wendy Schultz at 530-344-5069 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @WSchultzMtDemo on Twitter.