04 Dec The People’s Tree Stands
Immediately following my return from Washington D.C. – I mean on the flight home – I was inundated with kind words of support and condolences for the demise of the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree. Due to excessively high winds early in last week of November 2023, it is indeed true that the beautifully decorated holiday tree provided to the White House by the National Park Service sadly fell over. News reports in photographs showed the tree lying on its side. But as I graciously replied to each of these thoughtful notes, I found great comfort in the knowledge that the 63-foot Norway Spruce I had followed from the Monongahela National Forest of West Virginia to our nation’s capital, The People’s Tree, stood proudly on the west lawn of the U.S. Capitol Building.
After being on the road for more than three weeks, I had hoped to ease into a glorious celebration of a job well done. Truthfully, that is exactly what happened. The successful harvest of my 9th U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree, with assistance of the U.S. Job Corps, was followed by a 19-stop tour through its home state with visits to communities large and small full of happy, smiling people. Called “wa’feem’tekwi” by the Shawnee Tribe, a word that means “bright shinning tree”, our enormous spruce was hauled by a Kenworth Truck on a 102-foot Hale trailer more than 1,300 miles by two skilled drivers of Werner Enterprises. After being unpacked by volunteer personnel at Joint Base Andrews and the dedicated professionals of the U.S.D.A Forest Service, the People’s Tree was delivered and decorated by the talented crew of the Capitol Grounds and Arboretum.
The ornaments, more 5,000 of them, were hand crafted from recycled materials by the children of West Virginia, many of whom are members of their local 4-H Clubs. In a public ceremony the tree was set alight by Beverly Elementary School 4th grader Ethan Reese, who shared his family heritage as the great-great grandson of Arthur Wood, the Supervisor of the Monongahela National Forest in 1931. Now with thousands of L.E.D. lights, topped with a shinning star, this beautiful Christmas Tree stands as a gift to the American people as a symbol of our shared national heritage.
As my American Airlines flight from Washington D.C. to my home in Madison, Wisconsin was delayed by almost eight hours I had plenty of time to write to friends and followers who were confused over which tree had actually fallen. Many of them assumed that there could be only one Christmas Tree of great significance in the capital city and surely it must be the one they had heard about from me for so many years. This is unfortunately one of the major problems with the way we receive and process the news that comes over our myriad screens and devises. We don’t stop to think and reflect upon the things that seemingly have little direct influence on our daily lives, so we tend to ignore them or worse, we fail to properly understand the depth and complexity of their meaning.
The U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree is more than an annual celebration of the opulence and excesses of American culture. It is also a demonstration of our ability to work together as one people to share our collective wealth and prosperity as a nation of great abundance and generous nature. As an unfunded federal mandate, organized by the nonprofit Choose Outdoors the harvest and delivery of the People’s Tree is made possible exclusively by the logistical support and financial contributions of corporate donors, private contractors, small businesses, nonprofit organizations, area chambers of commerce, agencies of local law enforcement, and citizen volunteers. With the exception of the salaries paid to the employees of the U.S.D.A. Forest Service and the Architect of the U.S. Capitol, no taxpayer dollars are used to fund this vast enterprise.
In addition to sound structural engineering, with a concrete base and reenforced steel cables, the People’s Tree on the west lawn of the People’s House is bolstered by the strength and sheer determination of many thousands of contributors who share in the vision of its success. As a grand exercise of community engagement and public outreach, The U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree project reminds us of the common good that comes from the apolitical, nonpartisan cooperation of otherwise unrelated institutions and individuals dedicated simply to the happiness and joy of the American people.
The U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree is delivered each year as a gift to the American public by the U.S.D.A. Forest Service. Organized by the non-profit Choose Outdoors, this monumental task is performed through the contributions of many corporate and charitable organizations. No taxpayer funds are used.