DUMMERSTON -- Elysian Hills Tree Farm doesn't usually let customers cut their own Christmas trees.
But owners Bill and Mary Lou Schmidt made an exception Tuesday for Gov. Peter Shumlin, who came to select a tree for the Pavilion complex that houses his office in Montpelier.
After offering apologies for dressing like a "city boy," Shumlin donned protective headphones and started a chainsaw while standing next to Bill Schmidt in a wet field lined with pines.
"A governor who cuts trees with a chainsaw in a suit -- now, that's something different," Shumlin said.
Elysian Hills, on Knapp Road, has been in business for more than three decades. But Tuesday was the first time a governor came by to collect a holiday tree for Montpelier, Mary Lou Schmidt said.
"Peter's the first," she said. "We know Peter personally."
Shumlin, a Putney native, concurred.
"I've known Bill and Mary Lou since I was a kid," he said. "I've bought Christmas trees here over the years with my family."
It was apparently a coincidence that Shumlin dropped by just as the Schmidts, who already have a protective conservation easement on their farm, have sought the assistance of Vermont Land Trust to sell the property.
The couple intends to reside on the land, but the trust is seeking interested parties to own and operate the farm.
The governor's visit, Mary Lou Schmidt said, is "a great culmination to what is probably our last year" running the business.
Shumlin's trip to Dummerston was delayed for several hours by Tuesday's announcement that F-35 fighter planes will be based in Burlington. The governor arrived at Elysian Hills around 4 p.m., as daylight was fading and the temperature was dropping.
He and Bill Schmidt, accompanied by several reporters, walked down a muddy road and up a sloping field. They admired two imposing "stone trees" fashioned by Jared Flynn, president of the Dummerston-based Stone Trust, before stopping near a cluster of mature pines.
"You're the pro," Shumlin told Schmidt. "They're all beautiful, but you know trees."
They settled on a balsam fir, about 7 feet tall. Shumlin made quick work of it with the chainsaw, then helped to carry the tree to a waiting pickup truck.
"The state of Vermont is lucky to get a Bill Schmidt-grown, Elysian Hills tree. We're honored to have it," Shumlin said.
"The great thing about this tree is, it will be enjoyed by a lot of school children who come to the Statehouse and to my office," he added.
While selling Christmas trees is a seasonal business, raising them is not. The farm's trees require regular care and shaping, and Schmidt said the tree Shumlin selected is 12 or 13 years old.
The governor's tree is considered average-sized. Mary Lou Schmidt said Elysian Hills also offers larger trees -- loosely classified as those that stand 8 to 14 feet tall -- that are popular with a certain segment of the business' clientele.
"We sell a very large portion of big trees. We almost specialize in them," she said. "That's why we have a big customer base in New York."
The Schmidts work right up through Christmas Eve; one year, Mary Lou Schmidt recalled, Elysian Hills even sold a tree on Christmas Day.
And the couple know their customers well, rewarding long-term loyalty with free wreaths.
"We've been doing this for 34 years," Bill Schmidt said. "We've got some customers who've been coming for 30 years. It's a lot of fun. There are people who come back year after year."
Mike Faher can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.