SWEET HOME TO DC: 2018 Capitol Christmas Tree team hits the Oregon Trail

A scene of a pioneer family following an ox-drawn covered wagon from a mural displayed in the Oakridge-Westfir Pioneer Museum in Oakridge, Ore.

Sweet Home to DC: The 2018 Capitol Christmas Tree journey

A Modern Day Adventure on the Historic Oregon Trail

Each year, a National Forest provides a Christmas Tree for display on the U.S. Capitol lawn in Washington D.C. This year’s tree is travelling from the Willamette National Forest’s Sweet Home Ranger District, in central Oregon. District Ranger Nikki Swanson is recording her notes from the journey for the Your Northwest Forests blog. To read the previous entries, visit: https://yournorthwestforests.org/category/capitol-christmas-tree/.

November 11th, 2018
Bend, Ore.

Finding our trail

Last night was the last night I will sleep in my own bed for the next thirty days. This adventure is starting to get very real. It was hard to say “goodbye” to my husband knowing I would not see him again for a month.

We decided to share a “picture of the day” through a family group text to keep connected while we are all separated. It’s faster and easier and more real-time than the handwritten letters written by pioneers and carried via boat or horseback.

While I will be away for what to me seems like a long time, it’s nothing like the hardships that the pioneers faced to communicate with their loved ones.

Another thing that struck me, today, was that I would be traveling for the next two weeks and sleeping in a different hotel every night. I struggled to figure out how to even pack for a trip like this. Again, thoughts of those Oregon pioneers helped put my problems into perspective.

While I will sleep in a different bed each night, I have a bed. I don’t have to sleep on the ground, or cook my meals on a fire. We are eating in restaurants. I have a comfortable, climate-controlled vehicle, not a covered wagon and animals to care for in addition to my own family. I am indeed quite lucky (although I do sincerely wish I was traveling by horseback).

Today’s travels took us to McKenzie Bridge and Oakridge, Ore. The McKenzie Bridge event was quite lovely. Tokatee Golf Course is a beautiful venue to gather around this beautiful tree – the 2018 Capitol Christmas Tree.

The sun was shining down on us and people were so excited to see the tree in person. The District Ranger from McKenzie Bridge was there wearing an “ugly sweater” baseball jersey he won at the Eugene Emerald’s game during their “Christmas in July” event, where some of the ornaments we are bringing to Washington D.C. with us were decorated by fans.

The Oakridge event was also wonderful. People cheered and clapped as the tree rolled into town. Both the District Ranger and the Deputy District Ranger for the Middle Fork Ranger District were on hand to welcome the tree.

The winner of Willamette Valley Visitor Association’s “Find Your Ornament” contest attended the Oakridge event and gave a lovely speech about how they had hiked all summer long over a variety of trails to try to find an ornament. They encouraged everyone to go hiking, enjoy their National Forests, and to “Find Your Trail.”

As winners, they will also receive a free trip to Washington D.C. to see the lighting of the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree this December. They were so cited to have won, and I was so excited to meet them.

Today was Veterans Day, and after my speech I realized that in the excitement of meeting the ornament contest winners, I’d forgotten to thank our veterans for their service. I wandered through the crowd to thank each veteran in person.

After Oakridge, we made our way towards Bend where we would stop for the night. Along the way, the tree did slow drives through Crescent Junction and LaPine. People honked and came out of their homes and businesses to wish the tree well on its journey. I am continuously amazed about the love that the tree gets wherever it goes. Maybe its because people know they won’t see another in Oregon for 15 or 20 years? Or maybe they are just so proud that this tree is coming from their State as a gift to the people of America.

I know I am.

Nikki Swanson
District Ranger, Sweet Home Ranger District
Willamette National Forest



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