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Dec 17

Where are the magically decorated cedar trees that once adorned I-70?

“Before the ice is in the pools, before the skaters go, or any cheek at nightfall is tarnished by the snow. Before the fields have finished, before the Christmas tree, wonder upon wonder will arrive to me…” —Emily Dickinson

For more than 20 years, starting immediately after Thanksgiving Day, I kept a sharp eye out for decorated little cedar trees that would appear magically along I-70 in western Missouri.

In recent years, they are no longer anywhere to be seen, and I miss them.

To my delight and to that of thousands of highway travelers back in the 80s and 90s, the sweet and simple decorations would appear overnight.

As a result, the otherwise lonely little trees, especially those that stood on steep, abrupt banks, suddenly brought pleasure to the traveler’s eye.

One day those little volunteer cedars were just part of the ordinary scenery. The next day they were magical, adorned with paper ornaments or paper-chain garland. Sometimes wrapped packages appeared underneath them, and once in awhile some of the trees wore shiny, glittery garland.

Thousands of motorists watched each December for the first sighting of the decorations; thousands wondered who was responsible.

Newspapers wrote stories about the little decorated trees, and television stations filmed them. Everyone speculated about who did this.

Was it a sad widower who decorated the trees out of love for his late wife?

Were there several people who trimmed the trees just for the fun of surprising others?

Regardless of such theories, most passersby thought it was indeed Santa’s doing because, after all, who else could possibly accomplish such a feat.

To decorate the trees, one must walk down precipitous banks while carrying the adornments, and then somehow circle the garland around the trees, all in the dark of night. One must do this, incidentally, without being seen by car headlights.

Impossible. Yet, it happened year after year.

But, where are those decorations now? Who decorated the sweet little trees anyway? Santa? Who quit decorating and why? Did some regulatory authority stop the stealth decorator in his tracks? Did one person trim all of those little cedars, and then perhaps died suddenly?

Yes, indeed, curious and inquiring minds want to know the answers to these questions and more.

The appearance of the decorated trees along the highway signaled the beginning of the Christmas season on the west side of the state. It was indeed an important event.

A sense of mystery and anticipation surrounded the little trees, and local residents began to expect to see them. Some motorists knew their locations by heart, and I am guessing still watch, as I do, hoping they will once again appear.

During the Christmas season, the bright little cedar trees brought joy to those hurried souls traveling the busy highway. For the briefest moment, surprised motorists believed in the magic of things that cannot be seen and in the wonder of it all.

And at the very least, they made us smile. Ah, yes, how we miss them.

But it isn’t Christmas yet. I wonder…

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