Arden Cogar Jr. can chop down a 12-inch-diameter tree in 13 seconds. A lawyer by day, Cogar spends his weekends traveling to lumberjack competitions from his Hamlin, W.Va., home. A member of the U.S. National Lumberjack Team, Cogar has earned 32 world championships in wood-chopping and cross-cut sawing. He's a regular in ESPN's Great Outdoor Games.
"My dad and his dad were loggers, so I grew up doing this," Cogar says. "To me, it's second nature."
To most Chicago-area dwellers, though, wielding sharp saws and axes is not second nature. But, once a year, you can be a lumberjack for a day at one of the area's Christmas tree farms that allow customers to do their own tree-chopping. Most of the farms listed here offer saws, but bring your own just in case. "Buy a new, double-bladed one," Cogar says.
Most also offer free tree-shaking (to get rid of loose needles) and baling. The farmers supply twine, but suggest you bring a blanket to protect your car from scratches and help keep your tree from drying out. Some accept only credit cards, while some accept only personal checks.
Most important, says Cogar, "Be safe and be careful."
Anderson Tree Farm
Three miles west of Plainfield on Illinois Highway 126. 815-436-2140. Hours: 10 a.m.-4:30 p.m. daily. Trees: Scotch and white pine, Douglas, balsam and Canaan fir. Cost: $6.50 per foot for most trees. Attractions: 100 animals including emus, alpacas, miniature horses and wallabies; free hot chocolate and popcorn; free hayrides, golf cart rides to the trees. Also available: gifts, wreaths, roping.
Ben's Christmas Tree Farm
Ryan Road off Illinois Highway 173, five miles west of Harvard. 630-279-0216. www.benstreefarm.com. Hours: 9 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Nov. 26 and weekends, 10:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. weekdays through Dec. 19. Trees: Fraser, balsam, Douglas, Canaan and concolor fir; Scotch, white and red pine, blue spruce. Cost: Scotch, white and red pine, $19.95-$39; fir and spruce, $8 per foot (6-foot minimum). Organically grown and pesticide-free. Attractions: Santa Claus, free horse-drawn wagon rides, farm animals, craft shop, nature trail, cider doughnuts, free hot drinks. Also available: Fraser fir wreaths, garlands, boughs, tabletop trees, cathedral ceiling trees up to 14 feet, pre-cut trees, spike stands.
Ben's Fraser Fir Farm
One mile south of intersection of Illinois Highway 173 and Capron Road, west of Harvard. 630-279-3227. www.benstreefarm.com. Hours: 9 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Nov. 26 and weekends through Dec. 19. Trees: Organically grown Fraser, balsam, Douglas and concolor fir 6-10 feet, variety tabletop trees, unpruned cathedral ceiling trees 14-16 feet. Cost: Most $8/foot except some $40 Frasers. Attractions: free wagon rides, hot chocolate, coffee.
Bengtson Christmas Tree Farms
On Laraway Road, between U.S. Highway 45 and Harlem Avenue, Frankfort. 815-464-0352. www.christmastreefarms.com. Hours: 11 a.m.-7 p.m. weekdays; 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Sat., 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Sun. through Dec. 23. Trees: Scotch pine and variety of firs. Cost: $40 for Scotch pine, $55 for firs. Also available: pre-cut Colorado spruces, wreaths.
Camelot Christmas Tree Farm
16380 S. Somonauk Rd., DeKalb. 815-756-6599. www.camelottrees.com. 10 a.m.-4 p.m. weekdays, 9 a.m.-4 p.m. weekends through Dec. 19. Trees: Balsam, concolor and Fraser fir; Scotch and white pine. Cost: $30. Attractions: free hot chocolate, coffee and homemade cookies.
Cupola House Tree Farm
Take Illinois Highway 102 four miles northwest from Bourbonnais, then go south on N. 3000W Rd. and follow the signs. 815-932-6635. Hours: 8:30 a.m. until dark daily through Dec. 21. Trees: Scotch and white pine; Fraser, balsam and Douglas fir, Colorado blue and Norway spruce. Organically grown and pesticide-free. Cost: $4 per foot for pines; $6 per foot for firs and spruces. Attractions: wood fire, hayrides, hot drinks. Also available: balled-and-burlapped live trees, potted trees, wreaths, garlands.
Family Christmas Tree Farm
Illinois Highway 59 and Petite Lake Road, Lake Villa. 847-949-0172. Hours: noon-dark weekdays, 9 a.m.-dark weekends through Dec. 23. Trees: Scotch and white pine. Cost $38. Attractions: hayrides. Also available: pre-cut balsam firs for $35 to $90, wreaths, roping, crafts.