Bud Kennedy

‘Homeless Christmas Tree’ teaches lesson in death

The dead “Homeless Christmas Tree,” left, has been joined by another tree. Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2015.
The dead “Homeless Christmas Tree,” left, has been joined by another tree. Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2015. Star-Telegram

Loved too much and decorated too often, the lonely mimosa “homeless tree” on an Interstate 30 hillside did not make it to another Christmas.

The record rains came too late to save the landmark tree, always fragile and lately abused by visitors who wrapped it in ribbon year-round, nailed up ornaments and generally made it look more like a discount store Christmas closeout rack.

For almost 30 years since 1986, the crooked little tree on state property atop a hill was decorated at the holidays, first by workers at a nearby insurance office and then by volunteers who made it a symbol for those homeless or forgotten at Christmas.

The tree bore its last leaves and seeds more than a year ago, according to Melinda Adams, the Fort Worth city forester.

City workers and a forester from the Texas A&M Forest Service have saved enough seeds to sprout two or three new trees, and they hope for permission to plant one or two this month.

But the original mimosa’s devotees and fans of the 2008 children’s book The Homeless Christmas Tree still can’t leave it alone. Somebody has planted a completely different tree next to the dead tree. A garden bench and more decorations have been added on the state right of way.

“We want to plant one of those original seedlings, and think how cool that would be to have it growing up there,” said Leslie M. Gordon of Fort Worth, author of the book about the late Presbyterian Night Shelter resident and worker Carla Christian, who climbed the hill annually to decorate the tree until she could no longer climb.

If city and state officials approve a replanting, can the new sprouts be sheltered and safe?

The original isolated tree died of age and disease, but also from the constant abuse by humans who made the public tree into their own private palette for amateur artwork or billboard for personal messages.

“I would put notes up there,” Gordon said: “ ‘Please don’t use hammers or nails,’ or ‘Be careful when you move the branches.’ But the decorating just took on a life of its own. All that was harming the tree.”

Adams, the forester entrusted with caring for trees on city property (but not this state-owned tree), wrote by email how after Christian died in 2006, the brigades of anonymous volunteers who made it a mission to decorate the tree were “a little overzealous. … I have seen the trunk wrapped for prolonged periods of time.”

There’s a reason living Christmas trees don’t stay decorated.

“It’s OK to decorate as long as you take the decorations down,” Adams emailed. Anything wrapped, nailed or hung in the same place year-round permanently damages the tree.

The would-be decorators intended to bring holiday cheer to passing motorists. But they were really more interested in showing off and putting on a contest than in taking good care of the tree.

In the end, they not only misused public property but also damaged one of God’s creations.

The tree definitely has turned out to be symbolic.

Bud Kennedy: 817-390-7538, bud@star-telegram.com, @BudKennedy. His column appears Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays.