‘Twas two months before Christmas, when all through the cabin,
Festive lights and fun decorations did gladden.
Snowflakes were hung in a bedroom with style,
Though St. Nick wouldn’t be by for a while.
Merry holiday signs covered the walls,
And a chiming wall clock crooned “Deck the Halls.”
Sipping hot cocoa from a Christmas wreath mug
With the AC cranked — to not be too snug.
Or so the stanzas might have gone had the “A Visit from St. Nicholas” poet enjoyed an unseasonably warm October stay at the Christmas Tree Lane farm outside of Ozark.
Yes, stay at a Christmas tree farm.
Not only is the farm a charming location to purchase Christmas trees and make memories in November and December, it’s a playful place to lodge and live the magic of the “most wonderful time of the year” all year long. Think not just Christmas in July but January through June and beyond.
Jim Lane and his wife, Karen, who met at Arkansas Tech University, founded Christmas Tree Lane early in their marriage in 1990 -— with no farming experience.
All they had was a befitting last name, the land and a wild idea, which was sparked when the couple visited a Christmas tree farm north of Dover.
Seated at the cabin’s long table — upon which a buffalo-check Christmas tree cake stand nests next to a Hallmark Channel Holiday Edition Monopoly game — the two, joined by their soft, sociable St. Bernard puppy, Moose, recall how it all began.
Karen says, “We saw the trees and thought, ‘This is a neat idea.’ And we wanted to have lots of kids. And we thought, ‘Well, this would be a good way to teach kids how to run a business.’ Jim’s family had quite a few businesses.”
Jim adds, “I grew up in a self-employed family. We were inclined that way.”
When Jim was 10, his father, who owned a manufacturing business, moved the family from California to Arkansas — to the same 140 acres where the Lanes, who are Arkansas Valley Electric Cooperative members, run the farm and a carpet/flooring business and live today.
“They had never farmed; they weren’t a farming family like most people around here are,” says Karen, who in addition to helping with the family businesses, directs the school at Calvary Baptist, the couple’s church.
As the wall clock celebrates a new hour with a chorus of “Joy to the World” in the background, Jim says, “We decided we wanted a little hunk of it to plant trees on and thought if it didn’t pan out, we’d just have some trees.” He adds, with a laugh, “We planted 500 trees … and mowed it with a push mower.”
Karen says, “We didn’t know it would turn into this.”
This being a working farm where their four children — Levi, Landon, Lincoln and LeighAnnah — were raised
and where their grandchildren now play. And where some 5,000 trees in three varieties — Virginia Pine, Leyland Cypress and Carolina Sapphire — are grown each year (with additional fir trees, which Arkansas’ hot climate doesn’t support, shipped in). And where families come year after year seeking a tree and tradition. And where hundreds of school children in non-pandemic years come for field trips to frolic on the grounds, take hayrides and engage in scavenger hunts. And where a seasonal retail business is run in the same Christmassy cabin that — via sites like Airbnb.com and Vrbo.com — hosts guests from all over the state, country and even the world the remainder of the year.
“That’s what has surprised us the most,” Karen says. “We’ve had (guests from) Australia, England, New Zealand. We’ve had people from all over.”
O Christmas tree farm
An enchanting evergreen fragrance greets visitors at Christmas Tree Lane where fluffy conifers — planted mainly by Jim — line the path.
While two of the Lanes’ children still “help when I need help,” Jim admits, “I pretty much do the farming myself. I’m pretty protective of who’s out there doing stuff. I don’t usually need help. I usually just do it all myself.”
Though Christmas tree farming might appear to be a seasonal job, Karen says, “It’s a lot of work all year long. He’s trimming, spraying, taking care of bugs, mowing. … He’s out every day.” And for several early hours each morning.
Outside the rustic cabin, a red, retro Chevy pickup is a perfect prop when posing for “elfies.” At night, twinkling
lights are aglow.
North Pole vibes continue inside with a roaring fire — well, the flickering image of one — on the living room TV screen, which serenades with mellow acoustic versions of carols like “The First Noel” and “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.”
The tree-mendously cheerful cabin is Buddy the Elf’s dream home. Everything — from the living room and kitchen to the two bedrooms to the upstairs sleeping loft — is decked with red and green, greenery, lights, snowmen and such. Even the two bathrooms, which offer wintery soap products, are similarly spruced.
Just admiring all the “St. Nick-nacks” is a pastime in itself at Christmas Tree Lane, but there’s more mirth to be
had! Shelves of board games offer hours of indoor enjoyment.
And there’s plenty of outdoor amusement available: strolling the grounds, rocking on the front porch and playing games like a Christmas-themed bean bag toss.
After, it’s time to cook dinner to enjoy on holiday plates and platters (or maybe drive to town for takeout), roast marshmallows (always stocked in the kitchen) and watch a Christmas movie or two from a large family-friendly collection. Then it’s time to call it a silent night and get nestled all snug in Christmas-quilt-covered beds with visions of sugar plums dancing in heads.
Such is a typical cabin stay from January through October. And the Lanes say the cabin regularly stays full of
holly-jolly Christmas connoisseurs seeking a Hallmark Channel-like getaway.
Jim says, “We have another (rental) place in Fort Smith that’s an apartment, and what we’ve found is that up there is sort of a substitute for a hotel. … But this is more of a destination. So they see the Christmas theme, they’re wild about Christmas and say, ‘Oh, we’ve got to go stay.’”
Karen adds, “And we’re always surprised. Of course there are things they can drive to. There’s Mount Magazine, there are the rivers … places where they can canoe and hike and ATV. But we’re not there. We’re in the middle of nowhere, and there are no restaurants. You have to drive 10 minutes to get to a store.”
For many, that remoteness is appealing. Jim says, “It’s part of the charm.”
Also part of the charm is reading through the cabin’s guestbook filled with notes of gratitude. Like this one from a Monroe, Louisiana, family who stayed for a week in mid-October for a delayed anniversary trip.
“Thank you for having a true slice of heaven for us Christmas-loving people! Those of us who try and celebrate Christmas all year because it makes everyone a little kinder and smile more.
“And in 2020, we have surely needed more to smile about.”
A winter wonderland
Giving families a reason to smile is what the Lanes have been doing for decades with their tree business.
“We’ve been selling trees for close to 30 years,” Jim says. “And we take pictures of each family every year. And then the next November, we mail them their picture. Some families have been coming for 25 years, so they have a picture of their family every year at our farm. … We really feel like we’re part of their family, and they feel that.”
For these Arkansans, visiting Christmas Tree Lane has become a treasured annual tradition.
Karen says, “One of our specialties that I think people come back for is cookies and hot chocolate; we’ve always given that away. People come and make a day of it. It’s not a come-and-get-your-tree-and-leave place. There are a few people who do that, but most families come, some even bring their lunches. Or they’ll run to town, eat and come back, and they let their kids play, and they watch a movie; we have movies
playing all day long. They’ll come in and play checkers. It’s very family-oriented.”
The Lanes expect they’ll have to do things a bit differently this year, due coronavirus concerns. How the COVID-19 pandemic will ultimately affect their business remains to be seen.
Still, the Lanes have weathered serious challenges in the past, crediting their faith. To them, Christmas is about much more than trees. As Jim testifies in his personal note in the back of a binder of information about the cabin: “Karen and I are Christians, and I would be remiss if I didn’t share with you the hope that comes from a relationship with Christ.”
In 2011, a tornado ripped through the area, and the Lanes feared it might be the Grinch who stole Christmas.
“It just flattened us,” Jim says. “It was horrible, and we thought, well, you know, maybe (customers) are going to start going other places. That Christmas, we were a wreck around here.”
But, he says, the customers came, assuring him, “‘We’re not going anywhere else.’”
Families have continued to visit Christmas Tree Lane. And families have continued to grow.
“We have a second generation that is coming out now,” Jim says, with Karen adding, “The kids are now married and having kids and bringing their kids out, and that’s pretty neat.”
Call it a Christmas miracle.
8102 S. Arkansas 23, Ozark