Native American blessings and stump speeches broke the silence of the Bitterroot National Forest last Saturday morning, as the U.S. Forest Service conducted the cutting of the Capitol Christmas Tree. The event turned Skalkaho Road into a madhouse: 625 people and 11 dogs made the trek.
“It’s once in a lifetime you see a tree go to the White House,” Hamilton’s Mary Sublette said, minutes after the 100-foot subalpine fur swung free from its trunk.
The tree’s surrender to the cables of a construction crane marked the end of a year-long project conducted by Forest Service personnel, corporate sponsors and nonprofit volunteers to find the perfect Christmas tree for the nation’s capitol grounds. As it fell, hundreds cheered from behind a line of caution tape marked “Killer Tree.”
“It’s been really heart-warming for me,” said Nan Christianson, 2008 Capitol Christmas Tree coordinator. She and a team of 12 will accompany the tree cross-country to Washington, D.C.
After the ceremony, people collected scraps of the tree from the underbrush. Sublette plans to frame hers, while Pam Lemon and daughter Sara will make a scrapbook. Most plan to watch the official lighting ceremony televised on Dec. 2.
“That’s the finale,” Lemon said. “It’s really personal to us now.”
Jack Gladstone couldn’t agree more. The songwriter and Blackfeet representative was asked one year ago to compose a song for the tree. “Heart of Montana” starts with the tree’s birth, and tells how the tree best represents Montana’s natural assets.
“That’s the heart of Montana,” Gladstone said. “So the tree is, in my opinion, a metaphor for the wilderness, the vitality of this state.”
For preschooler Amber June Conley, clutching a tree scrap, the “People’s Tree” is much simpler: “The pines feel like plastic.”