Editor’s note: This article is reprinted with permission from Agri News. It originally appeared in the July 31 issue of the Agri News.
You are driving down North Winn Road near Hesper and you come upon a small, dead evergreen tree filled with colorful hats. It's in the neatly mowed road ditch of Philip and Joyce Richert's Century Farm.
We'll call it the Hesper Hat Tree.
When asked about the tree, farmer Philip Richert just grins and says, “There is quite a story to that.”
He's planted several evergreens at the field edge of the road ditch. Some grow, some struggle and some die, such as the Hesper Hat Tree.
Richert was thinking last fall he'd probably have to cut down the dead tree and start over. Then, one day close to Christmas, he noticed that someone had decorated the little tree with a big ornament.
“It was just like the Charlie Brown Christmas tree,” he said. “It was just one ornament.”
You know the one. Charlie Brown finds a scruffy tree and when he puts an ornamental ball on the top, the branch with the ball on it flops over. Charlie Brown at first sees it as a failure but soon realizes the tree gives everyone hope.
This story needs a sound track to accompany it. Just think of the Vince Guarldi Trio's rendition of “O Tannenbaum (Oh Christmas Tree).” It's the song that plays throughout The Charlie Brown Christmas.
Soon, everyone was calling Richert's tree the Charlie Brown Christmas tree. One woman who frequently passes the tree took her elderly mother, who is in a Decorah nursing home, out to see the tree.
Eventually, the Christmas bulb disintegrated.
“I thought that was the end of it,” Richert said. “But then just before Easter, I drove by one day, and the tree was covered with Easter eggs.”
The colorful eggs stayed on for a couple of weeks.
Then in mid-July, someone covered the tree with colorful new hats. The hats advertising Pioneer, Randolph, the Crosby Group and Iowa Concrete. One says, “Bride,” and another says, “I Love Iowa.” There are plaid hats, green hats, white hats, orange, blue and red ones.
Richert has no idea who has done the decorating. He has a few suspicions, but none seems quite right when he thinks about it.
“Everyone sees it,” he said. “My wife had Circle and they all asked who decorated the tree. A lot of cars slow down and look. People mention it to me on the street.”
Richert said the hats remind him of a farm sale he went to as a boy.
“Everyone was in the pole shed looking up at the rafters,” Richert said. “I looked up, and there were a bunch of old chewed up seed-corn hats. The farmer would start each spring with a new hat. He wore it all summer. When he finished combining in the fall, he'd throw the hat in the combine, and it would munch it up, spit it out, and he'd tack it up on the rafters. There was a story behind each one of them. People do funny things.”
Richert plans to leave the tree just as it is for a while to see what happens.
Fade to “O Tannenbaum.”