November 19, 2009

November 19, 2009 12:01 pm

JCP-w-Navajo-GirlStanding on the corner in Winslow, Arizona it dawns on me that our state tour of the Capitol Christmas Tree will be ending soon.  We will have traveled with Arizona’s Gift through virtually all corners of our state and everything in between.  I am proud of the notion that never before has a Capitol Christmas tree journeyed through the Sonoran desert.  It has been a captivating thing to witness – the striking colors and textures of our desert welcoming a massive 85-foot blue spruce from the White Mountains.

Perhaps on my most memorable parts of this trip has been taking the tree to the Hopi and Navajo Nation.  We were welcomed by our gracious neighbors and feted with local foods, gifts and blessings.  Elders throughout the day came up to giant trailer transporting the Capitol Christmas Tree 2009 and placed their hands on it with offerings of safe travels.  I have been humbled by their generous spirit and solemn understanding of how the tree represents our collective history and past.

From school children, families, dancers and tribal royalty to elected officials and law enforcement, all have been welcoming.  I love my Arizona even more when I am included in this rich culture of tribal lands.


November 18, 2009

November 18, 2009 2:42 pm

Group-In-CheerI have come to realize that outside of my family, I have never truly been on a team until now.  The Forest Service way is very team oriented and full of structure that supports a group philosophy.  This is a good thing and a lesson that I have been reflecting on daily.  The structure of the agency is efficient and directed, yet I am amazed how the staff works with tremendous kindness and encouragement towards one another.  In my family we call this working with a happy heart and I witness this within the Forest Service crew daily.

One of my favorite people on the tour team is Albert Pena.  A Forest Service staff member out of Springerville, Arizona, Albert is a whiz at all things mechanical.  He is a true people person and always a delight to be with.  He has been charged with keeping the tree moist and is often the person called upon to get inside the giant trailer, which is totally dark and spray a fine mist of water throughout the inside.  This is a messy and somewhat perilous job as you can’t see your way around.  However, the pungent scent of the blue spruce is there to keep him company.

At the end of each morning briefing, where we review our daily schedule, Albert leads us in a group cheer of sorts.  He gives us a word, perhaps the name of our next destination that reminds us why we are on this grand adventure.  This big send off fills me with a tremendous amount of pride and hope for the day ahead.  At the end of our month-long tour when I return home to my real life who is going to lead me in a morning cheer?


November 17, 2009

November 17, 2009 1:51 pm

JCP-w-Ch-33I have always been an Arizona flag waiver. Growing up in the Grand Canyon State we all knew the 5 C’s by heart.  But Arizona is so much more than copper, cattle, citrus, climate and commerce.  Traveling throughout my beloved state as we are, I have been astounded and inspired by the people.  I now believe that we should add a sixth C and call it character for the folks that are the backbone of Arizona.

From the smallest mining towns to the large cities, our tour has been embraced by a warmth and excitement I never anticipated.  When the giant truck transporting the Capitol Christmas Tree rolls into town, people of all ages, sizes and shapes stop to welcome us.  In Lake Havasu City as will approached our staging area a swell of applause broke out and I could hear the cheers ringing across the caravan.  The tree is a rock star and along with it I have become a groupie.


November 16, 2009

November 16, 2009 12:25 pm

Group-in-KingmanMy driving companion to Washington, D.C. is none other than our fearless leader the Capitol Christmas Tree 2009 Coordinator, Richard Davalos.  Rick is the District Ranger of the Apache district on the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests.  He has given the last year of his life to this project and somehow, I ended up on his Steering Committee and in his vehicle for the 4,000 mile odyssey to our nation’s Capitol.

As the only private citizen traveling on the tour, I am a passenger on this major quest.  I am not allowed to drive a Forest Service vehicle and have signed my life away should something go awry.  Yes, I have held the Federal Government harmless against all things involving the transportation of the Capitol Christmas Tree.  Rick literally holds the keys in this expedition.

Once we climb aboard the mint frappe Forest Service “rigs” and head out for the day, Rick starts our journey with a soft rendition of Willie Nelson’s On The Road Again.  It is this homage to the day’s grueling schedule that sets the story yet to be written.


November 15, 2009

November 15, 2009 12:24 pm

JCP-w-Toy-SoldiersI’m not sure if I have ever been this tired!  We are all running on less than empty with early morning calls and late nights.  The hearty blow of the giant truck horns transporting the tree spurns us into action and on to another town.  In 10 days the Capitol Christmas Tree 2009 tour will have visited 28 communities and participated in as many events.  I have been astounded by the welcomed arms and warm embraces that Arizona towns greet us with.

We are stuffed into our caravan of Forest Service vehicles usually before dawn.  We start the day with a morning briefing that is lead by our Logistics Goddess, Judy Palmer.  A tall woman with a quiet, yet powerful presence, she gives our team their marching orders complete with travel details and times in military hours.  She always takes a moment to announce, “And for Julia… 13:30 means 1:30pm.”   Judy has led teams of Forest Service staff through fires and major events.  For her, the Capitol Christmas Tree is one of many management projects she has led throughout her career.  I doubt Judy gets much sleep.  From healthy staff members to potential driving hazards, Judy Palmer has to have a crystal ball 24/7 to keep her team in line.


November 13, 2009

November 13, 2009 12:23 pm

There is a sense of hope that seems to accompany the Capitol Christmas Tree.  In virtually every town that welcomes the 85-foot blue spruce, most all of the dignitaries that speak during community events bring up the notion that the tree is a symbol of a brighter future for their towns.  It has been inspiring how communities across the Grand Canyon State could have the same message and feelings about this historic event.

From the smallest group of folks in rural Arizona to the largest cities, everyone seems to share the sense that the Capitol Christmas Tree 2009 is a marvel.  Funded by private citizens and lots of donations, the caravan is an impressive thing to see.


November 11, 2009

November 11, 2009 11:21 am

JCP-in-Radio-InterviewAs an unabashed Arizona flag-waiver, I have been challenged by the ways of the Forest Service in their mint-frappe trucks and military structure.  I have learned how to cope with governmental procedures and the wisdom of people who are charged with the protection of our magnificent forests.  I have ruined more suits than I care to admit by piercing everything I own with a lapel pin that promotes our efforts.

As the only woman and small business owner on the steering committee of this project, I am most definitely an oddity.  I am more often than not the center of good natured jibes and blank stares when I make comments.  My big hair and “flatlander” thinking has garnered me more than my share of wide-eyed looks from White Mountain residents where this giant Christmas tree was born.  These wonderful Arizonans probably think that the desert heat has boiled my brains.  But, I don’t care.

I am proud of my work on this event and even mystified by the things we have achieved even during a time of tremendous economic duress.   Needless to say, raising funds and support for a Christmas tree is a bit tough next to the staggering demands for social services.  I am the first to admit that the Capitol Christmas Tree 2009 is a luxury that our state is embarking upon.  At the same time, I see this as an investment in our history, ability to unify a diverse state and promote our region at the same time.  As this historic tour progresses, I am humbled by the thousands of Arizona citizens who seem to share this same sentiment.


November 10, 2009

November 10, 2009 11:20 am

I left the peaceful town of Greer at 4:30 am to join the team in Springerville, Arizona who are delivering the tree to Washington, D.C.  I had agreed to meet up with Rick Davalos, Capitol Christmas Tree 2009 Coordinator to load up his “rig” with boxes of detritus that we would need during our nearly month-long journey.  On my way out of town, I came upon a group of elk moving across the highway.  They seemed to meander throughout the dark forest with some purpose but not a lot of fear.  They didn’t skitter away from my car, which I had completely brought to a full stop.  A few of the tawny elk stopped in their tracks as well and just stared at me.  Their giant eyes glowed in my headlights in an eerie way.  Not wanting to disturb the quiet and quickly approaching dawn, I sat still and wondered if they were the same herd I had come upon a few days earlier.  They ambled along after a few moments, on to better things and a new day.

I arrived at the Forest Service office in Springerville a little late, but ready to embark upon our grand tour of Arizona with the Capitol Christmas Tree in tow.  How fortunate I am to be a witness to history.


November 8, 2009

November 8, 2009 11:15 am

JCP-in-Apache-JunctionThe Capitol Christmas Tree 2009 – Arizona’s Gift From The Grand Canyon State was cut yesterday.  Located about 5 miles outside of Alpine, Arizona it was estimated that about 850 people made the arduous journey to witness the historic event.  Chairman Ronnie Lupe of the White Mountain Apache Tribe began the ceremony with a blessing and reminder how man and nature coexist.  After my elk epiphany I was completely inspired by his message.

White Mountain Apache Crown dancers thrilled us all by dancing around the base of the tree, then across a pristine meadow and into a cleared area where we stood in awe.  Hooded and painted, the men transformed themselves into messengers of their culture.  As an Arizona native, I understand how rare it is to be a part of such a sacred Native American ceremony.  Photographing dancers is generally prohibited and it is a “life event” to be present at such a ritual.  Drummers led the dancers to a beat the seemed to pierce my body, but at the same time sounded very much a part of the natural sounds of the forest.

When the blue spruce was cut two giant eagles mysteriously appeared and circled above.  It was as though Chairman Lupe called together the forces of nature and man in celebration of this historic event.

Forest Service biologists and foresters have been amazed by the eagle’s visit.  They have all remarked that the majestic birds have usually migrated by now.  The pair graced us with their flight and soared above the tree that has become such a center point of so many lives in the White Mountains of Arizona.


November 7, 2009

November 7, 2009 11:04 am

I began my trek to the majestic tree destined for our nation’s Capitol at about 4:00 am just outside of Greer, Arizona.  My ride to the cutting site and ceremony came courtesy of Jason Mangum of Show Low.  As the Director of Parks and Rec, Jason and his team led by Stefan Wenau designed a public event to commemorate this historic event.  The three of us stayed in Greer courtesy of Molly Butler Lodge with our families.  The quaint hamlet allowed us to be closer to the cutting site, which is still a good hour and half away.

As I walked the dirt road down the main highway to meet up with Jason and Stefan, I came upon about a dozen massive elk watering at the Little Colorado.  It was still pitch black out and the wind was blowing in a direction that masked my approach.  I heard the animals breathing and moving along the frigid stream before I ever saw them.  At the exact same time woman and beast collided.  I must have jumped a foot off the ground and I know that they did as well.  With my heart racing, fear seized my body and I turned to stone.  Only a few yards separated us and for some reason, the elk decided that I was not going to interfere with their watering.

I spent the next few minutes completely stock still marveling at this moment that I knew would never come again.  These gentle giants stood with me in the moonlight while I waited for a truck to come bouncing down the highway which would end this magic.  And it did.

The yellow headlights of City of Show Low truck came rumbling down the lane and that was that.  The elk chose to dance away, leaving me stunned, humbled and amazed by the power of nature.

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