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Rob Curley: Among the Christmas trees, Hutton Settlement’s Trevor McArthur finds place and purpose

Trevor McArthur helps customers Judy and Morris Wigen at the Hutton Settlement Christmas tree farm at the childen's home in Spokane on Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2018. Trevor is a resident at Hutton, a senior at West Valley High School and enrolled in Running Start at Spokane Community College. (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)
Trevor McArthur helps customers Judy and Morris Wigen at the Hutton Settlement Christmas tree farm at the childen's home in Spokane on Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2018. Trevor is a resident at Hutton, a senior at West Valley High School and enrolled in Running Start at Spokane Community College. (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)

It’s the smell.

Not the warm and familiar fragrance of the trees, though he loves that scent as well.

For Trevor McArthur, the smell of the holidays at the Hutton Settlement is that campfire that crackles each night during the annual Christmas tree fundraiser. Actually, it’s how all of it smells together that makes him feel like he’s home.

“The way the campfire smells here, with its smoke, all mixed together with the pine, it’s just a beautiful smell,” he says while lifting a portion of the hoodie he’s wearing up to his nose. “I’m sure my clothes smell like that right now.”

They totally did.

Trevor had just finished another evening selling Christmas trees at Hutton, the nearly century-old home near Millwood that serves those in our region who might be without a family of their own to take care of them.

And the 17-year-old is really good at selling trees – so good, that at least during the holidays, some of the other kids at Hutton call him “Tree Var.” Whether he likes the nickname or not, it makes him smile when he hears it.

When the Hutton Settlement was built, it was an orphanage. Then you could probably call it more of a foster-care home, with an emphasis on a keeping brothers and sisters together. Now, it has Children’s Home in its name.

For Trevor, it’s just home. He once left Hutton to live with a family. He liked them. But it wasn’t home for him, so he asked to go back.

At this point he’s been at Hutton for almost a decade. For most of that time, he’s worked at the Christmas tree lot when it opens each winter after Thanksgiving. Not because he has to, but because he loves to.

Trevor – whose 16-year-old brother Gavin is also at Hutton and is pretty good on the lot, as well – can explain the differences between the all the trees available. Some are from the area, but most are from Oregon. You can cut down your own tree if you’d like.

This is where you begin to see just how thoughtful and perceptive he is.

Some people clearly need help when picking out a Christmas tree. A lot of it, actually. Others want to have the experience be their own, something just shared between family members. Trevor’s remarkably good at picking up on those nuances.

He’s also super friendly, incredibly knowledgeable and always helpful. Before you head home with your tree, he’ll make sure you know how to take good care of it.

The noble firs and grand firs are the most popular trees for sale at Hutton because they have the shape and size most people are looking for, he explains, but he prefers the grand. Trevor says they’re the best-smelling tree, have a very nice color to them and are full. They hold ornaments well.

You can also get a Nordmann fir or blue spruce. Or if you’re looking for something that’s a mixture of local and a little more natural-looking, there are some wild alpine firs and wild grand firs from Mount Spokane.

“They’re kind of Charlie Brown trees,” he says, knowing that’s exactly what some people want.

This is the 13th year Hutton has had the Christmas tree fundraiser. About 8,000 trees have been sold over that time. Each year, the fundraiser grows.

This year, there were about 1,000 trees. You may or may not still be able to get one from Hutton. Some there think they’ll sell out this weekend. Not Trevor. He thinks it will be early in the week that they sell the last trees this year. But definitely they won’t make it until next week.

So if you want one, best head to Hutton quickly.

What do the others who work out there think about the tree sale? Well, they get paid $10 an hour, and the money raised goes to campus programming and trips decided on by the kids who live there.

“For a lot of us, this isn’t about the pay, it’s more about the experience we get from it,” Trevor said. “We enjoy being out there. You can tell who is out there to enjoy it and who is out there just to get paid.

“But most of us really like being a part of it and you can see that.”

So much so, that Trevor eventually wants a career in helping things grow and making sure agricultural sustainability is a big part of this planet’s future.

He wants to study horticulture and permaculture. He’s already been to a camp focused on those issues. He has an internship this summer at a permaculture farm in Port Townsend.

At Hutton, depending on the season, you’ll find Trevor almost daily in one of the 2,100-square-foot gardens there. He says they grow everything you can think of – broccoli, kale, tomatoes, corn, potatoes, winter wheat and winter lettuce.

They raise egg-laying chickens. There are 15 fruit trees there.

On the weekends, Hutton has brunches for those who live there that are cooked just from what is grown on-site. Those are some of Trevor’s favorite meals.

He definitely sees college in his future and wants to go to Washington State to get a sustainability degree.

What about after he graduates?

“I want to work at place similar to Hutton, or maybe even at Hutton,” he said. “I would love to manage a sizable garden, teaching people about it and giving them the skills to take care of it.

“Showing people how to grow their own food means they’ll be able to take care of themselves.”

When Trevor talks about Hutton, he describes it as the place where his family lives. He uses words like love, community and relationships. Most of all, he loves being around his family, his Hutton family.

Especially when that campfire is going during the holidays. It’s the smell of home for him.