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
A day of contrasts in Bend and Detroit
Today was a day of contrasts. We traveled 80 miles today through the sagebrush, Lodgepole pine and Ponderosa pine in Bend, Ore., to the lush green Willamette National Forest, to Detroit, Ore.
The Bend event on our 2018 Capitol Christmas Tree tour: “Return to the Oregon Trail” was a big one. Really big. What other city has “Father Christmas” fly into their event in a helicopter? And fighter jets doing a low level fly-over? Smokey Bear came in a Forest Service fire engine and posed for pictures with his fans. Carolers caroled in front of the tree in their old-timey clothes.
More than 6,000 people signed the banner and collected their favorite Smokey Bear and U.S. Capitol Christmas tree swag. Gifford Pinchot was even on hand as living history to discuss the beginning of the Forest Service.
Children made ornaments for their own Christmas trees and adults marveled at the size of the tree and how tall it is for a Noble fir. The 2018 Capitol Christmas tree was 82 feet in the wild and was trimmed to 70 feet to fit into the truck.
Everyone appreciated the stunning beauty and creative beauty of the ornaments adorning the top twenty feet of the tree that were handmade by the people of Oregon… a small sample of the 10,000 made with love by Oregonians young and older.
We left Bend feeling invigorated for our journey and amazed at the level of planning and community involvement it must have taken to pull off such a great event.
Farewell, Bend. Until we meet again.
The journey from Bend to Detroit was a path through vastly different ecosystems. We started in the dry high Oregon desert, then traveled through sagebrush and Lodgepole pines into the beautiful vanilla-smelling Ponderosa pines near the city of Sisters, Ore.
Ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa) is my favorite tree species. Tall, straight, orange tinged, trunks with branches of long tufts of green needles like nature’s pom poms. The old needles fall to the ground each year and were traditionally woven into beautiful baskets by Native Americans.
One of my high school teachers taught a group of us to make these baskets in the traditional way. I have never forgotten how proud I was to make such a wonderful thing with my own hands without the aid of modern day tools or devices.
As we neared the pass we transitioned into a large area of forest that burned in a fire over 20 years ago. Black and gray snags dot the landscape as far as the eye can see, with bright green firs literally rising from what was previously ashes. Fire is a natural part of the ecosystem. Even knowing this, Smokey Bear encourages humans to be careful with fire. There can be too much of a good thing and as always, nature does it best.
After we left the burn scars we dropped through the majestic green Douglas fir forests. The west side of the Cascade mountains gets so much more rain than the east side.
We arrived in Detroit at dusk. The night was clear and bright and beautiful. This city is much smaller than Bend, but the tree was still a really big deal! It seemed the entire city of several hundred people came to wish us all well on our journey. The mayor was so excited to host us and so excited for the unity that the tree brought to his small town. There was a band and several choirs and peace and goodwill.
Everyone was so thankful that the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree stopped so that they could sign the GIANT Christmas card.
Detroit, Oregon has been a gathering place for travelers and explores of nature for over a hundred years. The original town of Detroit was moved to higher ground when the dam was built and the lake filled the valley. A few years ago, when there was a drought and the reservoir did not fill, an old wagon and a wagon wheel were found near the stone foundations of the old town.
There is so much history in the canyons and the mountains and the forests that we can’t see anymore, but the remnants are still there for those who know where to look.
District Ranger, Sweet Home Ranger District
Willamette National Forest