A Trashy Alaskan Tree for the Capitol



An article in Smithsonian Magazine gave me an idea for this Christmas post and the mission to see this year’s Capitol Tree in person – because it’s cooler than usual (in this crazy-warm year).


Bonnie Dillard photo
Photo by Bonnie Dillard

Alaska was chosen to provide this year’s tree and what’s cool is how the state chose to decorate their tree. Its donor, Chugach National Forest, invited everyone from professional artists to school kids to offer enter their ornaments. Retired art teacher Bonnie Dillard was among those chosen to make ornaments for the tree based on this template of a fish made out of plastic from the ocean.

Trash for the  ornaments was collected from the beaches of Kodiak Island, where Dillard lives.  She then worked with over 100 adults and children to turn the trash into 250 ornaments, and some of the kids included Merry Christmas messages to President Obama. (Okay, wrong tree – the White House tree is better known – but it’s cute.)

Anyway, the tree raises public awareness of the problem of marine waste, especially the plastics.


The Choice

The Forest Service and Congress’s grounds superintendent scout for trees more than a year in advance, looking for these winning traits: healthy from all angles, perfectly conical, and 60 to 85 feet tall. The winner is a 74-foot Lutz spruce.

The Journey

Something else that’s cool about this year’s tree is the story of its 4,400-mile journey from Alaska. The two-week trip included a three-day Anchorage-to-Seattle ordeal with 100-mph winds and 50-foot waves.

trackBut the journey was fun, too, with a Halloween celebration in Anchorage and a Veterans Day parade in Rapid City, S.D. Fans of the tree monitored its progress across the U.S. via TracktheTree.com, an interactive map that updated of the tree’s whereabouts in real time.

There’s more information about the tree at the Washington Post,  The Hill  and Hakai Magazine.

More Stops


On my way to the Capitol I noticed another unusually decorated tree, this one at Union Station where I got off the subway. It’s very pretty and celebrates Norwegian music, to which I say sure, why not? And God jul!


Next stop, the U.S. Botanic Garden, which knows how to do the holidays.


Its front yard comes with views of the Washington Monument and the American Indian Museum.


Inside the Conservatory are the popular replicas of D.C.’s iconic buildings made from plant materials.



My last stop was the ice rink at the National Gallery of Art’s Sculpture Garden, where I played with my phone’s panorama feature.

I’ll end this Christmas Day post with good wishes to readers of all faiths – or no particular faith. And y’all have a safe New Year’s.


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