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Holiday trees return to state Capitol Rotunda

It's a two-day process to spruce up the space for seasonal joy

Workers from the Washington State Department of Enterprise Services carry a 20-foot noble fir into the Capitol Rotunda on Tuesday
Workers from the Washington State Department of Enterprise Services carry a 20-foot noble fir into the Capitol Rotunda on Tuesday (Hailey Hoffman/Cascadia Daily News)
By Hailey Hoffman Visual Journalist

As a person who is deeply intrigued by how things work, human ingenuity and weird situations, I was thrilled to stumble upon a group of people roaring a chainsaw at the foot of the Washington State Capitol Building steps on Tuesday, Nov. 28 while in Olympia for another Cascadia Daily News assignment.

The thrill continued when I realized it was the day the Washington State Department of Enterprise Services would haul three 20-foot holiday trees up the stairs of the Capitol and through its large pillars to the Rotunda.

I’d arrived just in time to watch them lift the second tree onto four wooden beams, held by four people each. They hauled the tree like pallbearers carrying a casket — but for much more joyful reasons!

photo  Workers haul a holiday tree up the many stairs of the Washington State Capitol Building. (Hailey Hoffman/Cascadia Daily News)  

Questions arose in my mind as they ascended (with me chasing them with a camera) to the first obstacle — the hefty pillars that frame the doorway. The beams holding the tree were clearly too wide to pass through the plastic-wrapped poles.

The teamwork was effortless. These people worked like a well-oiled machine with a plan and clear communication (maybe our legislators could learn a thing or two from these folks). The people with the beam in front stopped, removed the beam and carried the tree as far as they could through the pillars with the weight supported by the other three beams. Other workers rushed the missing beam around and returned it to the front of the tree, ready to inch forward to the next beam and repeat the technique.

They repeated the through the doors and again through another row of pillars. The last obstacle remained, aligning the colossal firs with the tree stands in the center of the marble room. 

photo  The tree-bearers wait for a removed beam to return as the tip of the tree passes through the doors, flooding the room with the fresh scent of noble fir. (Hailey Hoffman/Cascadia Daily News)  

photo  Two of three of the trees rest at the heart of the Capitol Rotunda, supported by beams laced through the steps of tall ladders. Later, they’ll be raised using ropes strung from the upper floors of the building and decorated with lights, ornaments and faux presents. (Hailey Hoffman/Cascadia Daily News)  

I learned while chatting with the workers, that it’s a two-day-long process to bring holiday magic into the heart of the Capitol. Day one is set up and day two is for decoration.

The whole thing, watching it unfold, is extremely impressive and also quite silly. Did our government really use taxpayer dollars to buy three massive trees and to pay for two days of labor for more than a dozen people to put some trees in the middle of the already ornate building? Yes. Do I care? No. 

A lot of joy comes from the impracticality. I think of the joy watching this unfold brought me. I think of the smiles on the faces of workers in the building who pass by the glittering trees for the next month. I think of the memories that will be created for many children and community members who will come for the return of the Holiday Kids’ Tree Lighting on Friday, Dec. 1 (the first since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic).

Being different and weird is what’s memorable. Gift-giving, tree lightings and special cultural or religious celebrations break us from our routines and bring some more zest to the dark, frosty days of December. It forces us to leave our homes and find joy with one another. The impractical actions — that might cause some to lose sleep or lower bank accounts — are what make room for joyful celebration.  

photo  No one was squashed by the hefty trees that now sparkle in the Capitol Rotunda, thanks to the support of heavy beams, ladders and ropes. (Hailey Hoffman/Cascadia Daily News)  


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