Here are a few words you rarely see in the same article: "Arizona." "Federal government." "Agreement."
At the request of the United States federal government, a massive 85-foot-tall blue spruce was felled near Alpine, Ariz. this past Sunday and began a 4000 mile journey to Washington, DC, where it will shine brightly as the official US Capitol Christmas tree. Federal and state officials in attendance all said in perfect agreement that the tree was, in the words of one Forest Service employee, "a real beauty."
Historically, Arizona and the federal government disagree on a broad range of topics. Arizonans resisted federal attempts to make the Grand Canyon a national park; it was the 34th state to mandate the use of seat belts, the last to institute Medicaid and the second-to-last to recognize the Martin Luther King Jr. national holiday, resulting in the loss of a Super Bowl and a national tourism boycott. Many residents of the Grand Canyon state, including Congressmen Raul Grijalva, fear that if there's a way to opt out of a public health care option Arizona would be the first to go.
But this past Sunday there was no discontent, no talk of revolt, no screaming about the Feds. In a lovely meadow on the edge of the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in the beautiful White Mountains of Arizona, the overwhelming sentiment was pride. This was the first time Arizona had been invited to provide the United States Congress with their official holiday tree. Smiles ruled the day.
The proudest person in attendance was happy indeed, but also confessed to feeling "like a nervous mother." As the Alpine District Silviculturist ("Trees are my specialty"), Monica Boehning was given the task of finding the perfect tree: "The tree had to be healthy with no insect infestation, tall, straight, not a lot of gaps, and really conical."
It couldn't have a bad side, since visitors to the nation's Capitol will be able to circle completely around it. And then there was the issue of height: the Capitol requested a tree that stood 60 to 90 feet high. Boehning was asked to find three or four candidates to be The Tree, and although the final selection was made by the Capitol's landscape architect, Boehning had no doubt which one would be selected. Nodding toward the magnificent 80-year-old tree behind her, the silviculturist smiled and said: "This tree jumped right out at me."
The gentleman who cut the tree agreed with Boehning that the tree was perfect. "We were contacted in early June and shown the tree and I thought it was something special," said the perfectly-named Rick Holliday.
As a large crowd watched from a safe distance, Holliday cut about a third of the way through the trunk (estimated at 8 feet in diameter) before an enormous Valmot hot saw made a clean cut the rest of the way. The tree then went airborne, lifted by cranes from Tucson Electric Power as the crowd oohed in appreciation. It took over three hours for the crew to carefully position the tree on the back of a semi-trailer truck festooned with a freshly painted red, white and blue cab. Events will be held in Arizona and other states as the tree travels to DC; a website has been established to follow the tree's journey.
Among the crowd watching the activity was a man with more than a casual interest in the goings-on. He too worked for the Forest Service and had traveled to Arizona from the state that will send a tree to the US Capitol next year. In November 2010 he'll be in Boehning's position, and he observed everything with a keen eye.
"I'm taking all the notes I can," he said with a laugh, and while happy to answer questions he insisted on anonymity, saying: "The identity of the next state is top secret!"
It wasn't just the removal of the tree that interested this gentleman; his responsibilities will begin long before that. "Once the Capitol landscape architect picks the tree," he said, "it'll be my job to protect it."
As the tree was being carefully secured, landscape architect Rick Holliday said he was pleased with the day's events. "It went smoother than we thought," he said with a satisfied nod. And as he glanced around at the federal, state and private employees all working together around him, he added: "Everyone did everything right."