Whether you faithfully attend the annual lighting ceremony or just admire it from the MAX on your commute, you can't miss the Pioneer Courthouse Square Christmas Tree.
The massive, 75-foot Douglas fir tree you see downtown has been a Portland tradition for 35 years. It is a symbol of the holiday season in Portland, kicking off the season with the tree lighting ceremony shortly after Thanksgiving and then being the backdrop for the many holiday festivals that take place in Pioneer Square.
Getting the tree from the forest it is grown in to Pioneer Square requires the efforts of many. At least 30 people help with the journey, from its infancy as a pine cone to the lit, decorated public Christmas tree—and it begins with Stimson Lumber, the lumber company with a 160-year legacy of providing the Northwest with our most vital resource. They have donated the Christmas tree to Pioneer Square since 2001.
Forester Roger Van Dyke is as modest about his hand in the process as he is knowledgeable about the tree's life cycle from seedling to holiday monument. Van Dyke is the head forester in Stimson's Gaston area. His job is to plant trees and to care for them throughout their entire life cycle.
Van Dyke's efforts strive to keep our Northwest forests productive for a long time, as he sees forest land as one of our most valuable assets to manage for future generations.
This year's tree is 42 years old—part of what Stimson describes as its 45-year cycle of planting, nurturing, harvesting and renewing the forest land it manages—meaning it would have been a short, spindly seedling when Van Dyke was a young man, and its growth to a stately 75-foot public tree directly parallels his career.
Van Dyke got interested in forestry in high school, in part because the job would allow him to live and work in the Forest Grove area, where he grew up. He says he's "gotten a bit soft" in recent years and isn't directly involved in harvesting, but has had a hand in the Christmas tree selection process in years past.
The trick to selecting a good Christmas tree is partly, of course, the way the tree looks: if it has the height and shape people think of when they think of a Christmas tree.
But it also matters where the tree grows. It needs to be in a location where it will be easy to harvest by itself. The tree we see in the Square now was grown on the east slopes of the Coast Range where Douglas fir trees proliferate, Van Dyke says.
"The forester that usually selects the tree and delivers it keeps a little notebook where he's seen one that's in a good location that has potential," Van Dyke says.
Most critical of all: the tree also needs to be able to handle the trip to Portland.
"If we could really get down to the nitty gritty of finding that tree, we try to find one that's pretty flexible — so that we can handle it," Van Dyke says. "We don't want the limbs to be brittle and have a lot of them break off while we're handling it."
Arborists with Portland Parks & Recreation perform a little cosmetic surgery, Van Dyke admitted, to replace branches lost on the trip, or gaps that were there before transport.
Van Dyke is one of the many who nurture the land the trees are grown on. His work, along with all of Stimson, are part of the legacy to manage Oregon's forests and sustain the natural wonder for many more Pioneer Square Christmas trees to come.
Stimson was founded in Michigan in 1850, relocating to the Northwest in the 1880s and expanding in Oregon over the following decades. The company owns land in Washington, Idaho, and Montana as well as Oregon, and operates six mills — three in Idaho and three in Oregon.