A 'Noble' Decision in Oregon: Selecting the Capitol Christmas Tree
I recently had the honor of being selected to be the Director of Capitol Grounds and Arboretum. With that responsibility comes the privilege of selecting a Christmas tree to be the centerpiece of the U.S. Capitol's West Front Lawn in December.
I looked forward to this part of my new job. How hard could it be? Over the summer I headed to the Willamette National Forest in Oregon to find out. Surely it couldn't be that difficult to find a tree in the state known to be a top grower of Christmas trees. The cold winters and long summers make for perfect growing conditions.
The United States Forest Service (USFS) welcomed me to the Sweet Home Ranger District in the Willamette National Forest. We discussed the geography, weather, topography and other conditions relative to finding the perfect tree.
The forest service had put the call out to the people of Oregon to help. Together, USFS and Oregonians helped narrow the numbers to make the search a bit easier, and there were about a half dozen candidates for my review.
I was looking for a tree that could be viewed from 360 degrees, without a bad side. It had to be a full tree that will have firm branching that will hold the thousands of handcrafted ornaments that will adorn the tree. The branches couldn't be too stiff as they need to be flexible to fit on a tractor trailer. The size had to be perfect to match the scale of the U.S. Capitol. I needed a tree that could be installed at a height of about 65 feet tall and between 25-30 feet wide.
Oregonians take pride in their Christmas trees and the pressure was starting to hit me. I did not want to disappoint any of my hosts and I wanted to make sure my selection was appropriate for the Capitol.
We searched a variety of areas. We drove hours to the highest peaks and also to the valleys. We searched logging roads and historical roads situated with the Oregon Trail. We got a flat tire – that I took pride in changing in record time and that I know would have made the father in "A Christmas Story" very proud. We inspected trees near lakes, roads and even an air strip.
Trees growing in a natural habitat do not grow like a farm grown Christmas tree. Nature grows these trees not to be a perfect visual specimen, but to survive. This is the beauty of nature. But, one caught my eye.
We found an 80 foot Noble fir (Abies procera) located about seven miles back on a logging road. It was at the bottom of a valley with some surrounding moist conditions. The low-lying wet area helped protect it from forest fire and drought. Being a lone tree allowed it to grow with full sunlight and develop great symmetry. The location made it logistically suitable for the equipment needed for harvest and to host a harvesting celebration. The area was perfect and the tree was looking like it was the one!
The "noble" name described this tree well. The branches will be stiff enough to support the ornaments that are being made by the people of Oregon, yet flexible enough to survive transportation. The tree was perfectly beyond the 65 feet of finished height which gives us just enough working room to harvest, transport and finally secure in the ground on the U.S. Capitol's West Front Lawn.
This was it — I had to make my decision. This was the tree that will travel across the country and will be viewed by thousands of people on its journey to our nation's capital!