After peering into the semi-trailer to see the Capitol Christmas Tree, little Xandi Allen proclaimed, "It smells like Christmas."
The subalpine fir, cut in the Sapphire Mountains on the Bitterroot National Forest, is making the rounds, stopping at 21 Montana communities on its way to Washington, D.C., where it will be displayed on the U.S. Capitol grounds.
Billings was one of the tree's last stops in Montana. The fir needs to be delivered by Nov. 21 to be ready for the national lighting ceremony on Dec. 2. The tree is being transported in a weatherproof semi trailer with two viewing windows.
Along the way, Montanans have signed the huge banner that adorns the trailer, and barely an inch remains within reach that hasn't been signed in a red or green marker.
"I signed it six times - everywhere," Allen said.
Allen goes to Central Acres Christian School, and she and her classmates came downtown to Skypoint to see the tree today.
Santa Claus made an early appearance for photos, and Smokey Bear, the everlasting National Forest mascot, passed out stickers and shook hands.
Little Shaw Davin Weaver, 2, wasn't sure he wanted to make friends with either of them, but joined in the festivities by nibbling a Christmas cookie. His great-grandmother Donna Weaver signed his name on the banner.
"He may not remember it, but he might," she said.
Shaw Weaver probably will be an adult and may have children of his own before Montana provides another tree for the nation's Capitol.
The last time a Montana tree adorned the grounds was in the state's centennial year, 1989, and the Capitol Christmas Tree tradition has been around since 1964.
To keep the tree fresh during transportation, a tight rubber sleeve was placed on the end of the trunk. The sleeve is connected to an 80-gallon reservoir that needs to be refilled every other day, said Rick Floch, one of the tree's official escorts and the fire-management officer at the Bitterroot National Forest.
Along with the large tree, which will be displayed outdoors, Montana's National Forest supplied an additional 82 smaller Christmas trees, which will decorate offices inside the Capitol. One companion tree was cut from the Beartooth National Forest near Red Lodge.
All the ornaments for the trees are handmade by Montanans, and more than 5,000 ornaments have already been collected along the route.
At Skypoint, several boxes of ornaments were waiting to be loaded onto the truck, including artwork by students at Blue Creek School and a local homeschool group. Ornaments were also made by Custer National Forest employees and other local artists and craftsmen.
Contact Laura Tode at firstname.lastname@example.org or 657-1392.
CLICK HERE to learn more about the Capitol Christmas tree.
CLICK HERE to see the tree's route as it goes to Washington, D.C.