(Host) All this week a very special caravan has been wending its way to Washington D.C.
A fleet of 16 antique trucks from Vermont is delivering the tree that will stand in front of the Capitol Building this Christmas season.
The tree’s journey began a week ago when it was harvested in the Green Mountain National Forest.
VPR’s Susan Keese was there for the send-off.
(Keese) The ceremony took place in a muddy clearing in the wilds of Somerset. It was the kind of scene you’d expect to see only in Vermont: School groups, civic boosters and dignitaries in suits and boots, stomping to keep their feet warm in a squally November snow.
Music was provided by the Castleton Collegiate Choir. (Music)
Off a little to the side stood the tree: a shapely conifer, as tall as a four story building.
(White) "It’s a balsam fir. It’s a native fir tree in the state of Vermont."
(Keese) Retired Bennington County Forester Jim White started planning for this day almost 30 years ago.
(White) "In 1980 I was part of a national Christmas tree project on the Green Mountain national forest. Some employees of the Forest Service… took me to this site and they said there’s some potential trees here. So we started cutting trees around the nice balsams that we had and letting them develop in sunshine to make full branches right down to the ground and develop a tree like this."
(Kimberly) "And we’d take one day every year and clear around the trees and cook hot dogs and have hot chocolate and just monitor them."
Jenny Kimberly works for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. She and her friend Colleen Dentz sewed a giant sack to protect the tree on the way down. It’s made of green burlap.
(Dentz) "It was a hundred yards.(laughs) There was green fuzz everywhere."
(Keese) Governor Jim Douglas was among the featured speakers.
(Douglas) "This is a unique opportunity for us although we have done it before. In 1967, 1980, 1982 and 1994 we were privileged to provide a tree to the capitol of the United States. So it’s time once again to show America what Vermont is all about."
(Keese) An Abenaki Tribal elder performed a blessing song. Afterwards she was lifted up in a bucket loader to tie some little prayer bundles of tobacco to the tree’s upper branches.
(Sounds of sawing trees)
Members of Vermont’s special Olympics team made the first ceremonial cuts, followed by a chainsaw (Chainsaws and cheers)
(Keese) A huge crane lifted the tree off its base. (Cheers)
It took hours and hours to tie the branches so the balsam could be loaded into the truck. But by Monday, it was ready for its final sendoff – at the Vermont State Veterans home in Bennington.
The convoy planned to stop at other veterans and military hospitals, dropping off smaller trees and sharing a little bit of Vermont along the way.
For VPR News, I’m Susan Keese.