Inside the Capitol

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

12-5 New Mexico Tree Finally reaches Capitol

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- OK, this will almost definitely be the last time we talk about the New Mexico tree that is now standing on the west lawn of the U.S. Capitol. Unless, of course, something else unusual transpires.
The two trees from New Mexico forests that have stood on Capitol Hill during the holiday season have both had some very unique experiences.
In 1991, when the U.S. Forest Service chose the Carson National Forest for the tree donation, the people of Taos decided it had to be a live tree. The many problems associated with that project resulted in that being the only year a live tree has ever been transported to our nation's capital.
It appeared this year's experience would be much easier. The Forest Service chose the Santa Fe National Forest two years ago to be this year's tree donor. The perfect tree was chosen in July. Everything was on schedule.
But then a U.S. court ruling in California narrowed the exceptions to when trees could be cut without a public comment period. Unsure about the extent of the court's ruling, the Forest Service scheduled a public comment period for the New Mexico tree.
And then the hand-wringing began. What if there were objections and the tree could never make it to Washington? Our state's two U.S. senators became involved. Following the requisite political posturing by all sides, the situation cooled. The tree was cut and on its way to the Capitol.
But first, it had to make 18 stops around the state, while on life-support from a water pump. The tree was celebrated, serenaded and worshipped by bands, choruses, parades and adoring crowds.
Hundreds of spectators crowded the enclosed truck carrying the tree, eager to take home a pine cone or even a needle as a keepsake of the momentous experience. "You'd think we were transporting gold," observed the truck driver.
After leaving New Mexico, the tree made many more stops along its way to Washington. Forest Service personnel report that at every stop people wanted to know more about the tree and the state that provided it.
The trailer hauling the tree had the words "Capitol Holiday Tree 2005 -- A Gift from the Land of Enchantment" emblazoned across it. The tree even stopped traffic as motorists got out of their cars to take pictures. "People just wanted to be a part of it," said Forest Service spokesperson Delores Maese.
The public response makes it appear all the fuss is worth it. Getting the tree chosen, cut, loaded, transported, and decorated consumes much time and money, considering there is a permanent tree at the other end of the Mall, known as the National Christmas Tree, which is decorated every year.
But that tree is administered by the White House and far be it from the executive and legislative branches of government to get together on a project, even if it is the season to be jolly.
Congress could plant its own tree on its spacious grounds and save a lot of work. But if the trip through the United States creates the stir the Forest Service claims, maybe it is worth it.
One final surprise was still in store for the tree as it reached the Capitol on Nov. 28. On the day of its arrival, the national symbol that had traveled from New Mexico labeled as the "Capitol Holiday Tree" was re-renamed the "Capitol Christmas Tree" by House Speaker Dennis Hastert.
The word "Christmas" was dropped from its name last decade. No one is quite sure when or by whom. It is assumed the reason may have been political correctness.
But some contend that Congress was upset that the White House's "National Christmas Tree" received more attention. And maybe making the Capitol's tree inclusive of all holiday events might attract other religions and cultures to its tree.
Washington may take the Christ out of Christmas, but it will never take the politics out.
MON, 12-05-05

JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)



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