St. Joseph, Mo. Under a bright sun, white pines, red pines, Austrian pines, French Scotch, Belgium Scotch and blue spruce sprout up across two round hills.
The cold air smells green and piney and bites a little.
Jim Current, of Gower, Mo., navigates his truck past a hill of junior Christmas trees and around a small pond at Pik-A-Pine farms.
Parked on the hillside, his three daughters burst out of the truck and begin their yearly search for the perfect Christmas tree.
Mr. Current hikes up the hill behind his daughters. He grew up hunting for the right tree with his grandfather, who ran a tree farm.
"It's kind of carrying on a tradition," he says.
The Currents come to a nice, tall tree with several bald spots.
Caitlin, the littlest at 8, points to the tree: "It's missing spots."
And anyway, they've just begun.
"We've been out here in the rain and cold," Mr. Current says.
Today, sun bright overhead, doesn't seem bad in comparison and soon the girls' jackets are tied around their waists.
"We thought about a fake tree," Mr. Current says. "But it just doesn't have the feel or the smell."
The second tree that makes them stop is tall and skinny.
But no one is sold, just yet.
"First, let's look at the other trees," Caitlin bargains with her family. "Then, let's come back to here."
"I like the short trees," she adds, "'cause then I can put more ornaments on them."
Caitlin carries the saw and passes it to her dad so she can run ahead.
"One year we went to a tree lot and bought one," her dad says, following behind. "It just wasn't the same."
They walk around another tall, round tree.
"I don't like it," Caitlin says over and over again.
They look at the tree a little longer, imagining where the angel would sit, and then they follow the skipping Caitlin down the hill to look at Scotch pines.
At the bottom, trees grow closer together and spaces open here and there marked by stumps and beds of needles.
Mr. Current peeks into the tall pine trees examining branches while Claire, 10, and Caitlin play hide-and-go-seek around him.
"It's nice and full," Mr. Current says, admiring a tall, triangle-shaped tree. "It's kind of cone-shaped. It's cool."
"I think at this rate, I like any tree," Claire says.
They climb back up the hill, past other families out with children and dogs. "Dad, you can get lost in here, can't ya?" a little girl says as they pass by.
At the top, near an earlier favorite, the family convenes.
"Which one, ladies?" Mr. Current asks.
"I like the other ones better," Courtney, 14, says.
"I like this one better," Claire says.
"Boring, boring, boring," Caitlin points at each tree with a skinny stick. "All boring. I'm gonna go back there."
Again, they head down the hill and review their choices. Some years, it comes to rock, paper, scissors.
This year, fatigue seems to triumph sibling rivalry and the Currents stand in front of a nice, 10-foot tree that's a little dry inside.
"I don't care anymore," Claire says.
On his knees in the soft, dried needles, Mr. Current saws away at the winner. The girls keep a safe distance and the sweet, sappy smell of pine fills the air.
"That's it," Mr. Current says.
When the tree falls over, Mr. Current drags it down the hill and a tractor thunders up, hauling the tree around the pond, where it's shaken. The girls watch needles fly while munching popcorn.
Trees grow on these hills for eight years before they're Christmas tree-ready, says Jim Davis, owner of Pik-A-Pine. In April, they'll plant 3,000 to 4,000 more pines.