Buoy Tree Lights Up North Ferrisburgh | Live Culture

Buoy Tree Lights Up North Ferrisburgh

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Buoy tree in North Ferrsiburgh - SALLY POLLAK ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • Sally Pollak ©️ Seven Days
  • Buoy tree in North Ferrsiburgh
Christmas is coming / The buoys are on the tree / Let's raise a glass / To ole Nick Patch / For skillfully making it be

This little riff on the traditional Christmas round, “Christmas is Coming,” is an ode to Nick Patch of North Ferrisburgh. Patch crafted a holiday riff of his own: constructing a Christmas tree from buoys in his backyard.

Buoys have been piling up in Patch’s barn for 17 years — a colorful collection of souvenirs from the Maine coast that his family gathered during vacations at Penobscot Bay. On annual summer trips, Patch and his wife and daughter pick up plastic trash that washes ashore. As part of this effort, they collect lobster-trap buoys that have been run over and cut loose by motor boats, or untethered in stormy weather.




The Patch family brings the trash to the landfill and loads the buoys in their pickup to haul home. Patch said his daughter, Rory, now 20, was the major motivator for collecting abandoned buoys.

“She loved doing that,” Patch, 67, said.

The collection of buoys in the barn at the corner of  Old Hollow and Four Winds roads got bigger until one day there were about 400. But there was no corresponding plan for what to do with them.

“I had absolutely no idea,” Patch said.

A few weeks ago, at the suggestion of a friend, Patch set out to build his buoy tree. His buddy Ben Mayock of Hinesburg saw a picture of a similar tree, and alerted Patch to his find.

Patch is a woodworker who teaches boatbuilding to teenagers at Lake Champlain Maritime Museum.  A buoy tree is within his artistic milieu.  Still, he designed and built it from scratch.

Patch started by sinking an 18-foot center pole a couple feet in the ground. He built a frame of eight pine poles around the centerpiece; each pole is 18 feet by two inches by two inches.

“When I built the frame for the tree, I kind of winged it,” Patch said. “It ended up being almost exactly the [number of] buoys we had. It’s really kind of miraculous.”

Buoy tree in North Ferrisburgh - COURTESY OF NICK PATCH
  • Courtesy of Nick Patch
  • Buoy tree in North Ferrisburgh
He ran parachute cord around the frame, and attached the buoys to the cord with mini-carabiners. Patch topped the tree with two buoys he put together. A big bulb in the center of the tree lights it from the inside; small Christmas lights are strung around it. Patch got help on the project from Mayock and Patch's wife, Judy Elson, a teacher at Ferrisburgh Central School.

“I’m thrilled,” Patch said of the tree. “I wasn’t sure about it. But I think it exceeds expectations.”

Patch’s latest project adds to a festive display of homemade holiday decorations in his yard. These, too, were inspired by Rory, who asked for an inflatable deer when she was a kid. Her wish ran afoul of her father’s aesthetic.



“Being a boatbuilder and a woodworker, I couldn’t have it,” Patch said. “I wasn’t going to go there.
Lit-up reindeer in North Ferrisbugh - COURTESY OF NICK PATCH
  • Courtesy of Nick Patch
  • Lit-up reindeer in North Ferrisbugh
He built a reindeer from logs and tree branches, and made one a year until he had nine. The reindeer summer in the barn with the buoys and are placed in the yard seasonally, bedecked in lights. Near the reindeer is a neat little astronomical light show: a star, the moon, and Saturn formed from colorful bulbs and set atop a pole.

Last year, Patch kept these decorations up longer than usual.

Star and planet light show in North Ferrisburgh - COURTESY OF NICK PATCH
  • Courtesy of Nick Patch
  • Star and planet light show in North Ferrisburgh
“Everybody was kind of blue about the pandemic, " he said. "We all need a little help during the dark days.”

Since the buoy tree went up Thanksgiving week, folks have been stopping by every day to take a look. “People seem to like it,” Patch said.

But Rory, who spotted and gathered the material, hasn’t seen it. She’s at college in Montana.

"She probably thinks I'm a little nuts," Patch said. "But that's what fathers are."