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Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

December 1996

Photo of a spruce tree. © Patricia Bacon

The holiday tree

How an Arbor Day seedling grew into a
memorable gift.

Patricia Bacon

Many years ago when I was teaching fourth grade at Lincoln Elementary in Appleton, the Department of Natural Resources provided each student with a tree seedling on Arbor Day. [Ed. note: We still do.] I brought my little spruce seedling home and planted it in our front yard. I nurtured that tiny tree for years – guarding it from the lawn mower and keeping the critters on our acre from nibbling it. I even talked to the tree as I mowed the lawn each summer. Well, that "Baby" grew to be 15-17 feet tall. In the last few years, I even strung lights on it all winter because it was a truly beautiful specimen.

Four years ago, when Outagamie County started widening County Highway S from Highway 47 to the Village of Freedom, I worried that our spruce would be in the path of the new route. After careful checking, I was assured the tree would be spared as it was wide of the roadway... then the electric company relocated the power lines right over our tree. I envisioned the trim job the tree would get as it reached the lines, and I started feeling sick. Fortunately, my husband, Dan, convinced the county to move our spruce before that would happen.

We need not have worried.

The first snowfall in early December brought very slippery roads. That evening, a young man in a pickup skidded off the road into our front yard. My husband helped him push his truck back onto our driveway, we checked that he was okay, and we sent him on his way. Then Dan went outside with a spotlight to see if the recently seeded ditch had been damaged. His head hung low as he came through the door. "Our spruce tree is tipped over and looks badly damaged."

I cried.

The next day we contacted the driver and his insurance company. The tree was appraised. A landscaping company told us it was severed at the taproot and could not be saved.

Then I got an idea. I asked the insurance company if I could cut off the top part of the tree for the holidays. They said sure, but I would have to wait until the claim was settled.

That took almost two weeks, until the Thursday before Christmas. That day, my father, daughter Holly and I went "tree hunting" in the front yard.

We chopped off a good-sized piece and then tried to get it in the house. TOO BIG. We took a little more off the top. By the time we got it into the tree stand, that tree took up a third of our living room. It had never looked quite that big in the front yard.

Holly and I set about decorating it and we took lots of pictures. It was beautiful and was the clear topic of conversation with each new visitor. Telling its story over and over again helped a little, but I sure hated to take it out in the back yard after the holidays.

On December 27th, we got a call from the county asking when they could move our spruce and where we wanted it. Hmmm!

It took me a while to "graduate" from teaching fourth grade, so over the years we received five or six other Arbor Day seedlings that are now in various stages of growth in the yard. I guess I'll have to adopt them, but none will be as special as that first spruce and the holiday joy it provided.

Patricia Bacon teaches third grade in Appleton and writes from Freedom, Wis.