Overlooking the Clearwater River a crowd slowly gathered to witness something remarkable. Making its way to Washington D.C. from the Payette National Forest in Idaho the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree was due to arrive at one of more 26 scheduled stops across the country. Here at the Nez Perce National Historic Park rangers of the National Park Service had erected a traditional First Nation tipi to mark the arrival of the People’s Tree.
On this clear November day members of the Nez Perce Tribe rode onto the asphalt parking lot stride eight magnificent Appaloosa horses. Well-trained and disciplined the beautiful animals made no sound as their hoofs silently touched the Earth as if walking on clouds through a dream. Taking up positions near the tipi each rider, dressed in exquisitely colorful beaded and feathered regalia, remained mounted, smiling in the sunshine as onlookers took their pictures. Behind them, an American flag waved in a gentle breeze to frame a tableau of cultural pride that Hollywood must certainly envy.
As the massive truck and trailer came rumbling into view I struggled like many in the crowd to pull my attention away from the riders. Not to upstage the featured attraction the horses followed the big rig to join the audience in admiring its precious cargo. The 80-foot Engelmann Spruce, so carefully wrapped by members of the U.S. Forest Service lay in an enormous container. A plexiglass viewing window at the end displayed its uppermost portion, decorated with Christmas tree ornaments crafted to represent a few icons of Idaho’s cultural heritage. People of the Gem State revere the salmon, huckleberries, firefighting smoke jumpers and of course vast tracts of evergreen trees whose forests cover more than 40 percent of the Idaho landscape. Each of the riders came to the side of the trailer to sign their names and a greeting on the banner that would travel more than 3,000 miles to our nation’s capitol.
Members of the Nez Perce Tribe and their Appaloosa horses are themselves a tribute to the citizens of Idaho. Mistakenly named by French fur traders for the practice of piercing their noses, a custom of a neighboring tribe, the Nez Perce are known as “Nimiipuu” or simply “The People”. As the original inhabitants of this great region of earth and sky it is fitting that they would come to sanction and bless this gift to our nation as they are the people who first protected the forests from which it grew. Despite the travesties of stollen land and broken treaties dating back more than 300 years the Nez Perce have preserved their cultural heritage with great pride and humility. In sharing the natural resources of the planet to whom they have been stewards for centuries they honor the American people as a whole with this one tree, a testament of courage and resilience which we should all aim to emulate.
This one tree stands to embody what it is be an American. This one tree is a symbol of the 193 million acres of forests and grasslands protected and managed by the U.S. Forest Service. This one tree embodies the ethical treatment of land and water resources under the watchful stewardship of private land owners, farmers and ranchers whose best efforts assure the preservation of adjacent wilderness areas, lakes, streams and rivers. This one tree represents the conscientious use renewable resources to spur our economy with jobs in logging, milling, trucking, furniture making and construction. This one tree is a sign of welcome to those eager to venture into wilderness areas for recreation to enjoy hiking, mountain biking, whitewater rafting, backcountry skiing, hunting and fishing. This one tree is an acknowledgement of the many spiritual practices that recognize the renewal of life and hope during the time of winter and the promise of light and warmth with the return of spring. This one tree, as it travels across the country, brings together the fractured relationships between private citizens and members of law enforcement, small business owners and government agencies, departments of land management and opposing political factions. This one tree is the vision through which every American citizen can see themselves as part of a united whole, one nation indivisible, bound together in mutual respect, empathy and friendship.
On their Appaloosa horses the Nez Perce riders strode quietly away to explore the trails along the Clearwater River. As the remaining crowd mingled around the trailer signing autographs and taking pictures the riders’ presence seemed to linger as the spirit in which came brought to the event greater meaning. No matter the tragic circumstances of our past or the bigotry that divides us today we are all still Americans and this one tree symbolizes our union. In this one tree we see ourselves. We see each other. And on this journey to Washington D.C., as we make our way from one small town to next, through one major city after another, with each smiling face and every delighted child we will share our common heritage as stewards of the land and the obligation to protect our natural resources of fresh air, clean water and fertile soil for the preservation of all our nation’s trees and of course its people. This one tree is the People’s Tree.
The Joy Trip Project is on the path of the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree. Follow along the daily updates on Facebook and periodic dispatches from the road on this web site.
Powered by Facebook Comments