Seeing the Forest for the Tree
Rockefeller Center’s celebrated Christmas tree is selected every year by a Farmingdale graduate.
You might say that Erik Pauze does a tree-mendous job.
That’s because he has one of the most fascinating vocations imaginable—finding the iconic Christmas tree that lights up Rockefeller Center every December, one of America’s landmark scenes that has been featured in countless movies and TV shows.
Pauze (’88), is head gardener at 30 Rock and responsible not only for selecting the Christmas tree every year, but also for arranging the delicate process of transporting it to New York City.
“I’m very lucky,” he says. “I say that I don’t need an alarm clock to get up in the morning to come to work. It’s a lot of fun looking for a tree and meeting people and their families. Yeah, it’s a fun job.”
Pauze has been traveling highways and back roads for a decade now, looking for the perfect tree as each Christmas approaches. He got his job right after earning his Associate degree in Horticulture. While still in school he worked as a gardener’s helper at Rockefeller Center, and was hired full time once he graduated. FSC, he says, helped prepare him for what has to be one of the most unique occupations anywhere.
“Everything I needed to go on with my career started there,” he says. “I had a lot of good professors who made the classes fun.”
Working in a garden became fun for Pauze as a young boy, when he’d plant twigs in his aunt’s yard. But things didn’t always work out the way he planned.
“I’d go back and couldn’t figure out why they’d never grow. Then I figured out that she would rip them out right after I left.”
Now Pauze enjoys driving the countryside and scouring private properties looking for trees—not only in New York State, but as far away as Ohio.
“If I’m going to visit somebody I always take a different route to see if I can find anything,” he says.
When he does find a tree that meets his standards —a Norway Spruce about 70 feet high and 45 feet wide—a negotiation with the property owner ensues. Pauze says he’s never been turned down, but on occasion the owners are skeptical he’s who he says he is.
“Sometimes they believe me right away, and sometimes it’s like ‘Nah, no way. You’re not the guy from Rockefeller Center.’”
The process from getting permission to take the tree to erecting it in Manhattan is a long and arduous one. The tree has to be properly watered and fed. There’s also climbing into the tree to make sure the wood is healthy. Sometimes he needs permits to move overhead wires along the route back to the city; other times it’s a permit to use a particular road. It usually takes four to five months from acquiring a tree to getting it ready for decorating.
“Each tree has its own cool story,” says Pauze, who gives us a very special Christmas gift every year.