Manuel Balce/Associated Press
Manuel Balce/Associated Press
WASHINGTON – It rode through winding highways, over mountains and snow only to finally arrive on a dry, warm hill in Washington, D.C., but the Capitol Christmas tree looked right at home when it lit up Tuesday night.
Despite the balmy weather, the mood was festive enough. The United States Air Force Band flashed its brassy trumpets and horns, playing traditional tunes such as “Away in a Manger” and, of course, “Oh, Tannebaum.”
The 73-foot tall and 74-year-old Engelmann spruce began its arduous journey Nov. 2, when it was harvested from the Blanco Ranger District of the White River National Forest, near Meeker.
In July, U.S. Sen. Mark Udall led a hike in search of the perfect candidate for the “People’s Tree.”
“The experience was a wonderful one – walking the land, looking at a tree from every angle and looking what goes into that final decision,” Udall said.
Before the tree was cut, the Ute tribes blessed it with a Sun Dance. “One of the reasons the Utes bless the tree, you’re taking a life, this is a living part of our world. It has been cut and used for these purposes, so you want to respect that life force,” Udall said.
Southern Utes, from Ignacio, Northern Utes, from Utah, and Ute Mountain Utes, from Towaoc, all blessed the tree and came to the lighting ceremony.
“We’re (all) Sun Dancers, so when we cut a tree down we do a blessing, and it goes on from there,” said Ute Mountain Ute Vice Chairman Bradley W. Hight. He also blessed another Capitol tree from New Mexico a decade ago. Among the myriad of homemade ornaments covering the tree, Hight said, were around 400 from the tribe, including ornaments made by elders.
The tree is even named after a Southern Ute elder, Annabelle Eagle. Former U.S. Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell not only bestowed the name, but drove the truck carrying the big spruce more than 5,500 miles, stopping at 22 towns across the country, including Durango.
Campbell drove the Capitol tree from Colorado in 2000 and couldn’t resist a second chance.
“When they asked me if I would do it again, I said, ‘Well, it’s on my bucket list, I’d be glad to,’” Campbell said.
Sen. Michael Bennet, Campbell’s successor, thanked him during the opening ceremonies. “When (Campbell) came to Denver, the first thing my kids said was, ‘Dad, why can’t you drive that truck?’” Bennet said.
After an introduction by Speaker of the House John Boehner, 17-year-old Colorado Springs native Ryan Schuster finally pushed the button. Hundreds of handmade ornaments from Coloradans, made of paper, tin or even Popsicle sticks, sparkled and glowed in the multicolored lights.
Schuster, an Eagle Scout, was still looking at the tree long after most of the crowd left. “I think (the tree) represents Colorado pride because there’s not many other places you can go and find things that are this beautiful and this great,” Schuster said.
Leigh Giangreco is an intern for The Durango Herald and a student at American University in Washington, D.C. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ana Santos/Special to The Durango Herald