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The People’s Tree En Route to the Nation’s Capitol

Follow the Oregon Trail to track this noble fir

     For 49 years, the Christmas tree that glitters from the lawn of the U.S. Capitol has been cut from a different state. 
     This year’s Capitol Christmas Tree is, for the first time, a noble fir. The enormous 80-foot fir was cut on November 2 from the Willamette National Forest in Oregon. The 35-year-old tree stood at an elevation of 3,500 feet. 
     As the saw whirred to life, the watching crowd hushed until the thundering crack of the trunk rattled the forest. The fir swayed and spectators cheered as the crane lowered the tree for its voyage east. 
     Loaded onto a new flatbed from the Central Oregon Truck Company, the tree, known as The People’s Tree, is making its 3,000-plus-mile journey following the Oregon Trail — in reverse — to commemorate the trail’s 175th anniversary. Along the route, it stops at 25 cities in Idaho, Wyoming, Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri, Ohio and finally, Maryland. 
      The Capitol Tree choosers have only gone to Oregon once before, in 2002, to search for the perfect specimen. This year’s tree was selected last summer by Jim Kaufmann, director of the Capitol grounds and Arboretum.
      After searching on the highest peaks and in the lowest valleys, Kaufmann found this noble fir seven miles back from a logging road. With no bad side in all 360 degrees and full enough to hold thousands of handcrafted ornaments, this one was perfection.
     On November 25, it’s scheduled to visit Joint Base Andrews (11am-4pm). Finally, at the Capitol, it will be covered with lights and decorated with 10,000 handmade Oregonian ornaments. 
     On December 5, House Speaker Paul Ryan will flip the switch. The People’s Tree will dazzle up close and sparkle from afar with thousands of twinkling lights intertwined in its branches. It is illuminated from nightfall to 11pm until January 1. Follow the trail at
–Shelby Conrad
Turning up the Heat
Who can make the best wood stove?
       This year’s Wood Stove Design Challenge served up some fiery competition — literally.
      In its fourth year, the challenge is modeled after the Department of Energy’s Solar Decathlon, a worldwide contest to find more efficient solar power. The wood stove competition challenges teams from around the world to do the same.
     “This is a chance for students, backyard inventors and wood stove manufacturers to re-invent this age-old technology,” said John Ackerly, founder of the Wood Stove Competition. Smart stoves could help millions of families reduce reliance on gas and oil while reducing pollution.
      Wood and pellet stoves provide 59 percent of residential renewable energy to solar’s 39 percent. The challenge for the next generation is to make wood stoves cleaner, more efficient and easier to use.
      This year, 12 teams burning to win are pioneering technologies to meet those goals. One finalist provides heating and cooking in the developing world while producing power for lighting and the charging of cell phones. Another entry uses no electricity. A third entry, the e-stove, is a living-room-based combined heat and power unit that produces electricity, heat and hot water.
      Fuel varies from local cordwood to new and improved compressed wood Presto Logs to pellets.
      Judges scored the teams based on several criteria: particulate matter emissions, carbon monoxide emissions and safety, delivered efficiency of heat, consumer appeal and automation and innovation. Teams are challenged to bring their wood stoves into the 21st century, using wireless controls to improve energy efficiency and ease on one hand, and on the other, generating electricity that can power lights, cell phones and WIFI-enabled controls.
      Next week, we’ll tell you the judges’ decision. 
–Shelby Conrad and Krista Pfunder Boughey
Way Downstream …
      From Florida, a fellow who doesn’t fear snakes took on a big one last week — and won. 
      The South Florida Water Management District reports that near Miami a professional snake bounty hunter named Kyle Penniston captured a Burmese python that stretched to 17 feet, five inches and tipped the scale at well over 100 pounds.
     Even reptile lovers might not be upset at ridding the Florida Everglades of invasive pythons, which prey on birds, mammals and even ­crocodiles.
     Selected hunters are paid $8.25 an hour, $50 for a python up to four feet and $25 for each foot thereafter. By our calculation, Penniston made $375 for this behemoth plus his hourly rate.
      The Water District reports that Penniston’s was the 1,859th python taken, perhaps a case for not traipsing about the Everglades at night. (At least without a hearty mongoose or two on a leash.)