Hi Folks,

This has been a comparatively peaceful year at Shady Pond; finally a lull. The tornado of 2003 is now becoming a fading memory. The renovation of the milking barn ended and the machines were moved in mid summer. Garage repairs are well underway. Secondary tree losses have subsided and only two burn piles remain. They will sit until conditions are right.

The anticipation of Ivan did provide some tense moments however. But since an Interstate evacuation (which proved to contain massive defects in planning) did not seem warranted, that storm was a non-event. And even as these words are crafted for you, Matthew's rains are torrential and have continued for several days far exceeding what Ivan had to offer. But the annual fall drought has ended and the trees are pleased.

The year long Southern Living project came to a close in late September when the article was reviewed, edited and approved. Be sure to pickup a copy of the December issue. Also see the December issues of Reader's Digest and Newsweek for more content from Shady Pond.

With fewer distractions, the trees received extra attention this summer and are ready to participate in your Holiday celebrations. So, we hope to see each of you again this year.

Merry Christmas,

Shady Pond Tree Farm

    Christmas Tree Varieties:

  • Leyland Cypress-
    a stately beauty from England.
    Leighton Green, Castlewellan, Silver Dust

  • King William's Pine-
    a unique tree from the Orient.

  • Silver Smoke-
    a selection from New Zealand.

  • Carolina Sapphire-
    the aroma of lemon and mint.

  • Deodar Cedar-
    from the western Himalayas with silver needles.

  • Hoven's Blue Cedar-
    a southern Christmas tradition.

  • Virginia Pine-
    the memories of Christmas past.

Map to Shady Pond Tree Farm

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Tree Farm Schedule:

The schedule shown below is a bit intricate but it worked well last year and we are using it again. As always should a Christmas tree emergency arise, call ahead and we will make every effort to accommodate your needs.

Cow Birds

Cattle EgretMatthew has been the steadiest worker of late and has spent untold hours riding the Farmall Cub cutting grass. Late one hot August afternoon he stopped in at the milking barn to advise his progress. He added a footnote to the report saying, "Mr. Clarke, there's a bird following me as I cut. You should see it. It's really neat looking. It's white with brown feathers on its back and head. It seems to be eating bugs in the grass." I explained the sighting, "That's a Cow Bird and if there's one there'll be more."

My botanical bent leaves me with only a passing interest in birds. Nonetheless having seen the white birds following cattle herds in central and west Louisiana, it seemed natural to call them ‘cow birds' when they arrived here. Admittedly, I never bothered to verify the accuracy of the Shady Pond vernacular; until now.

Shady Pond's ‘cow birds' are actually cattle egrets or buff-backed herons. Egret in FlightThey were originally found in Africa following herds of wild beasts and feeding on the insects they dislodged while grazing. Ornithologists believe they crossed the Atlantic to South American and eventually made their way here. It is interesting that their migration from the Old World to the New was not so different from our own.

Flock of Cow BirdsIn years past their numbers at Shady Pond were far greater than they are today. There have been occasions when flocks of 30, or more, cattle egrets could be seen following the trimmer up and down the rows of Christmas trees; quite a sight. But in recent years ‘cow bird' visits have been rare. Nonetheless, cattle egrets are believed to outnumber all other egret varieties combined.

In 1753 the father of taxonomy (scientific naming), Carl Lannaeus, took note of these birds and named them Bubulcus ibis. But at Shady Pond, they're ‘cow birds'. And they just love to follow the John Deere.

The cab on the tractor makes it difficult for them to see the driver. So they have convinced themselves that there isn't one and that the tractor is just a really green wildebeest that stirs up a whole lot of bugs.

Circling TractorDuring this summer's visit the cow birds became so comfortable with the new tractor that ‘pushy' is the only word that comes close to describing some the aerial maneuvers. In tight formation, the entire flock would make sharp banking turns from the right side of the tractor around the front inches from the hood and land on the left side of the cutter where food was abundant. They adopted this technique as standard procedure and repeated it over and over again without any sense of just how risky it was. These guys were going to get hurt. It was just a matter of when.

At the peak of the growing season, grass production in South Louisiana is mammoth as we well know. The grass volume is often so large that it exceeds the cutter's ability to discharge it to the rear as designed. When this occurs, the secondary path of discharge is actually out the front of the cutter and just behind the tractor's left rear tire. The trajectory is the result of the counterclockwise blade rotation and the velocity of the wads of grass is high. They often travel 30 or 40-feet before coming to rest.

Legs Down, Wings CuppedI made my way to a particularly thick area. The birds followed along using their standard flight pattern. They had dropped their legs and cupped their wings expecting another helping of grasshoppers, crickets, and small frogs. Just as their feet touched down the cutter went in to overload. Wads of grass were flying out the front of the machine and birds were rolling everywhere. Some took the hit right in the beak which was open of course since they were ‘doing lunch'. Watching an egret gag on grass clippings was not an experience I ever expected to have in life. The looks on their bewildered little faces seemed to say, "Hey look, we were named by Lannaeus, one of last millennium's most important scientific figures. We flew across the Atlantic then over the Gulf of Mexico just to get here. And this is the treatment we get. We're going back to Africa where we don't have to put up with this kind of abuse from the wildebeests or the elephants."Back to Africa

Well apparently they did, I haven't seen the cow birds since...................Clarke

Are Christmas Trees Art?

Well they are to Melissa Smith.

Last March a note arrived in the mail box asking permission to paint at Shady Pond. The request was definitely unique but it seemed legitimate. A meeting was scheduled for Melissa and Lucy (her canine companion) to tour the Farm.

Melissa and LucyWithout delay Melissa picked her first work area at the southeast corner of the Farm near the Welch property on Sticker Road. Her van is a rolling artist's studio complete with easels, paints, brushes, canvas and cleaning supplies. Her first painting is a panorama of the fields 1- foot high and 6-feet wide with Christmas trees in the foreground and natural growth in the background. It's really quite nice.

Melissa is an established artist represented at the Heriard-Cimino Gallery on Julia Street in New Orleans. The field panorama will be displayed there when complete. She will also have smaller paintings of the Farm included in the Miniature Exhibit of the New Orleans Academy of Fine Arts ( Magazine Street near Jefferson Avenue) running November 6 to December 4.

She received a Master of Fine Arts degree from Tulane University, and has taught painting and drawing courses there as well. Melissa's work is part of the permanent collection displayed in the New Orleans Museum of Art in City Park.

So if you enjoy original paintings, visit one of Melissa Smith's showings this Fall or next Spring.

Visit Shady Pond Tree Farm on the Internet.