Ch’wala’ka’a the Celebrity Spruce of the Chugach

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The first significant snowfall of the year was apparent as my plane touched down on the tarmac of O’Hare International Airport in Chicago. Once again I had dodged the weather. Having fallen the day before I was happy to see the ice and snow melting in the sunshine of a clear afternoon that would not delay my return flight home to Madison, Wisconsin. After almost four weeks on the road and more than 6,000 miles of travel this was just one of the many wonderful things in my life for which I am eternally grateful. But most of all I am thankful to the many thousands of people who followed my coverage of the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree on its long journey from its home in the Chugach National Forest near Seward, Alaska to where it now stands on the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington DC.

The Unwrapping from The Joy Trip Project on Vimeo.

Since this adventure began on October 26, 2015 almost 500 new fans have become followers of the Joy Trip Project. Whether on this blog, Facebook, Instagram or Twitter a vibrant community of supporters has formed to receive periodic updates of the Tree’s progress from one city or town to the next. You’ve enjoyed my photographs, videos and essays detailing a bit of the excitement that has welcomed this 74-foot Lutz Spruce with every visit. And as much as I have tried to comprehensively tell the story of the tree that the First Nation Kenaitze Tribe of Alaska call Ch’wala’ka’a or “Big Spruce” an ambassador of the Earth so grand as this it is almost impossible to capture with mere words and color images. Like the great Alaskan wilderness from which it came this wonderful gift of our public land that we call the People’s Tree is an icon whose enormous impression upon the national landscape is almost impossible to comprehend.

For those followers who are new the Joy Trip Project much of what I do is try to put into context the critical issues we face in the world today. With a particular emphasis on outdoor recreation and environmental conservation I aim to tell to the story of how people in our community, each in their own way, work to make the world a better place. As an advocate for the wisdom of public/private partnerships I enjoy reporting on the intersection between corporate and non-profit sector organizations where they cooperate with federal and local governments toward the practical application of policies and programs for the benefit all American citizens and humanity across the planet.

The Capitol Christmas Tree project lead by the nonprofit Choose Outdoors brought together many corporate partners to fund the passage of Ch’wala’ka’a from Alaska to Washington. Despite its mandate by Congress to deliver a Christmas tree to our nation’s Capitol each year the U.S. Forest Service is restricted from using federal funds in support of this enterprise. But with the help of sponsors and through the diligent efforts of the United States Coast Guard, the Air Force, paid professionals and dedicated volunteers the initiative was meticulously planned by public relations specialist Jodi Petrich and lead by Choose Outdoors President Bruce Ward. Orchestrated and executed with intricate precision right down to the last detail Ch’wala’ka’a was successfully transported across the North American continent in an exquisite ballet of mutual cooperation and selfless harmony.

Designed for maximum economic efficiency and minimal environmental impact Choose Outdoors delivered the People’s Tree safely to Washington D.C. From the moment crane operators delicately lowered it onto its trailer to be transported by truck to a cargo ship Cha’wala’ka’a was lovingly transferred from the hands of one courier to the next. From where it was placed on a second truck in Tacoma Washington after a long voyage by sea the Tree set out on its trek across the country. At every stop on our mission it touched the hearts and minds of many thousand American citizens along the journey.

Enlisting the common values of peace, love and fellowship that embody the Christmas spirit Ch’wala’ka’a stands as the embodiment of all our hopes and dreams of a bright future full of promise. Though visitors to the Tree could only catch a glimpse of its evergreen bows through the plexiglass windows of the 100-foot trailer that carried it everyone seemed to envision with their minds’ eyes this big majestic spruce adorned with twinkling lights and ornaments towering high toward the havens. As people of all ages from every walk of life signed their names to the enormous banner that covered the truck, trailer and tree they sent along their wishes of good will toward all mankind.

But in a world currently ravaged by hunger, poverty, terrorism and war it’s not difficult to meet the idea of a celebrity spruce tree with more than a little cynicism. On its face the very notion of a conifer with the power to unite a nation and its people is nothing less than absurd. Perhaps though it is in the defiance of logic that we can experience the inherent magic of the holiday season. And in the coming New Year maybe we can suspend our disbeliefs just a little bit longer to imagine our world as place where the impossible morphs into reality and dreams come true. Having witnessed first hand the love and generosity of complete strangers as they shared with one another their passionate desire to live in peace.

As it happens my flight from Chicago to Madison was delayed after all. The late arrival of the pilots and their crew members pushed back our departure, but by only 45 minutes. Through the span of 28 days on road the idle time hardly registered as an annoyance or even an inconvenience as I passed the spare moments making plans for my next adventure. With the help of Expedia as I sat in the embarkation lounge I booked a flight back to Washington D.C. to arrive in time for the lighting of the People’s Tree on December 2, 2015. Decorated with more than 4,000 ornaments made by the children of Alaska as well as artist and ordinary citizens Ch’wala’ka’a will be adorned as a glorious display of color and light for all the world to see. I’ll be there to cover it. And I hope you’ll follow along for what comes next on The Joy Trip Project.

The Joy Trip Project is made possible thanks to the generous support of fans on Patreon.com

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The People’s Tree Project is supported in part by Polartec Osprey Packs and Backpacker’s Pantry

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Author:James

I'm a freelance journalist that specializes in telling stories about outdoor recreation, environmental conservation, acts of charitable giving and practices of sustainable living.

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