My wife and I just returned from a two-day trip to Washington, D.C. Among the highlights were a visit to U.S. Representative Jason Altmire's office, a tour of the Library of Congress (you can take it online at www.myloc.gov) and a pass to watch the U.S. Senate in session.
While meeting with your Congressional representative is something every citizen should do given the opportunity, watching the Senate "in action" is more sobering the inspiring. We saw three Senators — Barrasso, Blount and Coons from Wyoming, Missouri and Delaware — give speeches to an empty chamber about the Keystone XL pipeline. If you wonder why nothing gets done in Washington, go to the Senate to see for yourself.
When we exited the Capitol Building, we were instantly transported back to our native California. Prominently displayed was the Capitol Christmas tree, this year from California, and often referred to as the "People's Tree." The Capitol Christmas tree has been around since 1964 and is not to be confused with the National Christmas tree which started in 1923.
Every president since Franklin Delano Roosevelt has made a formal speech at the annual National Tree lighting ceremony.
Earlier this year in February, a windstorm with gusts in excess of 50 miles an hour snapped the National Christmas tree's trunk and downed it. A new tree, a Colorado blue spruce, was planted in March.
California's gift to the United States is a magnificent red fir from the Stanislaus National Forest. Estimated to be larger than a 6-story building when harvested, the tree was cut in early November and toured California for more than a week before embarking on its journey across the country to Washington. En route for about two weeks, the tree had 24-hours-a-day law enforcement protection. A second semi-trailer followed behind with the ornaments and smaller trees.
Before the tree arrived safely in Washington, it had traveled 4,500 miles. To make sure nothing went wrong, the tree was hauled on a double flatbed truck and placed on its side in a custom made cradle to protect the branches and maintain its perfect shape. The tree was fed 60 gallons of water daily.
The California tree is adorned by 5,000 ornaments made by Californians but limited in size to 9 to 12 inches. They also need to be durable enough to withstand harsh winter weather. Hanging from the branches were a replica of Kobe Bryant's jersey, a rubber chicken and a 1849 gold miner.
On Dec. 6, House Speaker John Boehner and a California contingent led by U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein switched on 10,000 LED lights. When the Christmas season ends, the tree will be chipped into mulch and distributed throughout the Capitol grounds.
As we stood around the tree taking pictures, other visitors walked up. We heard them talk about how much they enjoyed their own California experiences and we shared ours with them.
Having spent a considerable amount of time in Washington during the three years since I left Lodi, I returned to my new home in Pittsburgh with an overwhelming sense of relief. Although Washington, D.C. is one of the bastions of political correctness, the White House and the Capitol Building have not caved in to the pressure to name their trees "Winter" or "Holiday."
They're still good, old-fashioned Christmas trees.
Joe Guzzardi retired from the Lodi Unified School District in 2008. Among the other things he misses about his old home is the annual Parade of Lights. Contact him at email@example.com.