GORHAM – After I helped Lee Randall lay a 6-foot-long balsam fir on the roof rack of a Jeep Cherokee, he handed me some twine and asked “How are your knots?”

That’s something I’d never pondered. But now, as I helped Randall sell Christmas trees on a Friday evening at O’Donal’s Nursery in Gorham, my knots were definitely in question.

I quickly wrapped the twine around the roof rack three, maybe four times, to make sure it would hold. Then I tied a knot — the only knot I know how to tie, but don’t ask me its name. Then I doubled it, and tripled it, and quadrupled it.

Then Randall tied the other end of my twine to the other side of the roof rack.

After the tying was done, and the customer got his tree safely home (I hope), I asked Randall about his knots.

“I guess I use a half hitch,” said Randall, 48, who is the nursery’s field manager when he’s not pulling tree-selling duty. “Or the farmer’s knot is a good one, if you want to make it really tight.”

He proceeded to show me how to tie both knots on a chain-link fence. The half hitch sort of looked like half a shoelace. The farmer’s knot looked like the sort of combination of angles that used to thoroughly confuse me in geometry.

Luckily for me, the next customer of the evening was a man with a Volvo station wagon. He said he wasn’t going far so we could put the tree in the back of the wagon.

While some Christmas trees are displayed on lots with their branches all folded up from a long truck drive from Canada, the trees at O’Donal’s are displayed in their unfolded glory, hanging from the rafters of the roof structure that covers the tree lot.

Randall had cut about 50 trees from O’Donal’s woodlot earlier that day, so they had never been folded.

Because the tree was nice and full, it didn’t fit very easily into the Volvo. Randall told me to put the narrower end in first, so it would come out easier.

I started to shove the tree in, bending the branches a little. Randall told me that rather than shoving the tree, I should rock it from side to side while slowly sliding it forward.

This took a few minutes, but it worked. Still, many of the branches were really crammed in there.

One thing that was easier than I thought it would be was making the fresh cut on the tree that most people want, so their tree is ready to drink up water.

It was easier because O’Donal’s has a Black & Decker electric handsaw. I was afraid I’d have to use a chain saw. But this saw was sort of like a big pair of shears, with two handles that have to be pressed at the same time to engage it, and a two-pronged cutting mechanism that grabs the tree as it cuts.

It stopped cutting a couple of times. Randall told me to move the saw more as I cut and it would keep cutting. It did.

The electric saw was easy, but Randall said that on busy days, when workers are helping four or five customers at a time, some of the cutting has to be done with a hacksaw.

I asked Randall before I started if there is a correct way to carry a tree to somebody’s car. “No, you just dig in and pick it up,” said Randall, adding that for some bigger trees, he uses a cart with wheels.

The night I was there, I helped Randall carry the trees. But one customer wouldn’t let me help; he wanted to do it himself.

“I want to feel like I’m a kid bringing my tree out of the woods,” he said with a laugh.

At one point, we carried a tree out to an SUV with two barking dogs in it. As we put it on the roof and began to tie the tree on, the dogs poked their noses through the little space where the windows had been left open a crack.

With every move we made, they barked more and more.

“It’s OK, as long as they stay in the car,” said Randall. “Don’t open the doors.”

After I tied one end of the twine, Randall told me to tie the other a little tighter. And he showed me where to pull to get the most leverage, which isn’t easy to do when dealing with an SUV roof that is more than 6 feet off the ground.

Then he tied a third piece of twine, not far from mine. “Just to make sure,” he said.

Because when you’re tying a Christmas tree to someone’s car — and their whole family is waiting for that tree — you want to be sure.

Staff Writer Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-7454 or at:

[email protected]