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Connecting curious minds with uncommon, undeniably Northwest reads

A flashback to 1962 Seattle landmarks as seen from the official fair guidebook

  Photo of ad for a Monte-Copter Triphibian from the 1962 Seattle World's Fair guidebook

Dinner (including a cocktail) at the top of the brand new Space Needle averaged $7.50

The text reveals that the Space Needle soars to a height of 606 feet. Three curved steel legs, 500 feet high, support a circular, glass-enclosed observation deck and revolving restaurant served by two high speed elevators walled in clear plastic on the outside of a triangular core. In the center, two 832-step stairways zigzagged to the top.

Powered by a one-horsepower motor, it took an hour for the restaurant to rotate a full 360 degrees at a cost of 2 1/2 cents. Diners could expect lunch in the Eye of the Needle restaurant to average $5 and dinner, $7.50 (both prices include a cocktail).

Admission to the observation deck was $1. Buried 30 feet in the ground, the needle’s Y-shaped reinforced concrete foundation weighs more than 5,850 tons, and its legs are attached by 72 steel anchor bolts, each four inches in diameter and 31 1/2 feet long. Find more on the current Space Needle and its more than $100 million renovation here.

According to the guide, the 1.2 -mile Monorail trip from Westlake Mall downtown to the fairgrounds took 95 seconds. One-way fares were 50 cents for adults and 35 cents for children. Round trip fares were 75 and 50 cents.

Described as previewing the future of mass-transit, the trains were 120 feet long and 10 feet wide with a capacity of 450 passengers, but 325 of them had to stand. Empty, each of the four light-metal alloy cars that make up a train weighed about 20,000 pounds. Powered by General Electric 32-volt, 6,500-rpm electric motors, they rode on rubber tires and could reach speeds of over 70 miles an hour on the straight run. Made from pre-cast concrete supported by T-shaped concrete columns, the track is three feet wide and five feet deep, and required more than 15,000 tons of steel.

Below, fair visitors were welcomed by a bronze Chief Seattle statue. At its Fifth and Denny Way site since 1912, numerous groups proposed relocating it prior to the fair. You can read about that, and stories of other memorial close calls in Monumental Seattle.

There were also ads for some interesting products:
The aqua-pull

Enjoy the latest development in water sports–5 to 6 motorless, noiseless fast-boats propelled by underwater cables–for low-cost enjoyment of water-skiing. Made in Switzerland.

The Monte-Copter Triphibian for use on land-sea-air

Executive air transportation from home to business, lake cottage, vacation spot etc. with minimum of delay. This jet helicopter is pneumatically driven, eliminating gears, clutches, drive shafts, and tail rotor, and can be driven in close quarters without the rotor in motion. Dealerships now available.


New book reveals stories behind Seattle statues, memorials, and markers

Picture of artist Alonzo Victor Lewis in studio, including several busts and a model military statue

Monumental Seattle cover

Beginning with the 1899 installation of a Tlingit totem pole in Pioneer Square and stretching to Safeco Field’s 2017 Ken Griffey Jr. sculpture, Seattle offers an impressive abundance of public monuments, statues, busts, and plaques. Private donors and civic groups commissioned works by prominent national sculptors, as well as local artists James A. Wehn, Alonzo Victor Lewis, and others, to represent diverse perspectives and celebrate a wide array of cultural heroes, dozens of firsts, the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition, aviation, and military and maritime service. Whether cast in bronze or carved in granite, their longevity is not guaranteed. The newest book from Washington State University Press, Monumental Seattle: The Stories Behind the City’s Statues, Memorials, and Markers, offers Seattle residents and visitors a historical narrative of these public remembrances—accounts that often take unexpected twists and turns.

A Seattle Chamber of Commerce delegation stole the city’s first heritage marker from a Native Alaskan village. A bust of Chief Seattle was “kidnapped” and held for ransom. Visitors find the statue hailing William H. Seward—Secretary of State under Abraham Lincoln who later negotiated the 1867 purchase of Russian Alaska—not in Seward Park, but in Volunteer Park. Similarly, the granite bust in Denny Park does not honor a Denny. Intense public scrutiny of a memorial depicting a World War I soldier prompted its removal from the city center. An unassuming plaque positioned on the corner of a downtown building belies a secret tale of Gold Rush love, betrayal, and murder.

In addition to telling the stories behind these heritage markers, author Robert Spalding considers their history and deeper meaning, exploring how and why people chose to commemorate the past, the selection of sites and artists, and the context of the era. He also discusses how changing societal values affect public memorials, noting works that are missing or relocated, and how they have been maintained, altered, neglected, or even vandalized. Maps and appendices provide details on locations, artists, inscriptions, and more.

Robert Spalding lived in Seattle for fifteen years. He earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Northern Iowa and a Master of Arts degree from Purdue University. He is also the author of The Essential Guide to Touring Washington Wineries.

Monumental Seattle is paperback, 6″ x 9″, 220 pages, and lists for $22.95. It is also available through bookstores nationwide.

How curiosity led to a book

Statue of Reverend Mark Matthews in Seattle's Denny Park
Have you ever wondered why authors write the books they do?

For Robert Spalding, it was a robust sense of curiosity. Driving past Denny Park, he noticed a statue he had seen before, but this time decided to take a closer look. Aware of the park’s name and the Denny family’s significance in Seattle history, he assumed the sculpture would memorialize either Arthur or David Denny. To his great surprise, it didn’t. The bust was of a person Spalding had never heard of—Reverend Dr. Mark Matthews. The incongruity piqued his interest, and he began researching monuments and markers scattered throughout the city.

For three years, Spalding spent his lunch hours at the Seattle Central Library, diligently researching the city’s heritage markers. What he learned—starting with the original totem pole installed in Pioneer Place in 1899—was fascinating. Writing in his spare time for another three years, he completed his manuscript—one that included the story of Reverend Dr. Mark Matthews—and became Monumental Seattle, his second book—available in bookstores soon.

WSU Press title recognized as the best of scholarly nonfiction for women’s stories set in the American West

Author Candace Wellman  Peace Weavers cover

PULLMAN, Wash.—Women Writing the West has announced Bellingham, Washington, author Candace Wellman’s Peace Weavers: Uniting the Salish Coast Through Cross-Cultural Marriages as the 2018 WILLA Literary Award Winner. A team of professional librarians, historians, and university affiliated educators selected it as representing the best of 2017 published scholarly nonfiction for women’s stories set in the American West. Wellman and her book will be honored in Walla Walla, Washington, October 25-27, 2018, at the organization’s 24th annual conference.

While helping researchers at the Washington State Archives, Candace Wellman found the vast majority of marriages in Whatcom County’s early decades were cross-cultural. Although the husbands included nearly every community founder and official, it seemed many historians considered their indigenous wives to be unknowable, unimportant, and uninteresting. Yet the alliances played a crucial role, aiding settlement and reducing regional conflict between native peoples and newcomers. The Native women served as cultural interpreters and mediators, and participated in the birth of new communities. Wellman became determined to uncover the hidden history surrounding these relationships, consulting close to two hundred collaborators.

Peace Weavers illuminates the Puget Sound legacies of four intermarried individuals. Caroline Davis Kavanaugh (Samish-Swinomish) lived on a small peninsula nearly her entire life and protected its life-giving spring. Mary Fitzhugh Lear Phillips (S’Klallam) was the first woman sent to the Washington territorial prison. Clara Tennant Selhameten (Lummi-Duwamish) was a Lummi leader’s daughter who became the county’s first farm wife. She and her husband traveled throughout the area as Methodist missionaries. Nellie Carr Lane (Sto:lo) was an entrepreneur and navigational light keeper who learned to use the court system to fight for her rights.

Their fates represent thousands of intermarriages that began as soon as the feet of European explorers hit the sands of the New World, and Wellman believes there are many more stories to be told. An expert in research methods, sociology, history, and genealogy, She began by re-scrutinizing old sources and searching for new ones, particularly legal cases. Her discoveries destroy common stereotypes about mid-1800s cross-cultural marriages, revealing remarkable, accomplished women.

Peace Weavers is paperback, 6″ x 9″, 302 pages in length, and lists for $27.95. It is available through bookstores nationwide, direct from WSU Press at 800-354-7360 or online at A nonprofit academic publisher associated with Washington State University in Pullman, Washington, WSU Press concentrates on telling unique, focused stories of the Northwest.

Other honors and awards

Media Contacts:     

Caryn Lawton, WSU Press, 509-335-7877,

Candace Wellman, author, 360- 201-2133 (cell),

WSU Press book by University of Idaho cultural anthropologist wins prestigious Evans Handcart Award

Carry Forth the Stories cover

PULLMAN, Wash.— Author and ethnographer Dr. Rodney Frey has won the Evans Handcart Award for his book, Carry Forth the Stories: An Ethnographer’s Journey into Native Oral Tradition published by Washington State University Press. Recently announced by Utah State University’s Mountain West Center for Regional Studies, the prize recognizes the best of research and writing in biographies, autobiographies, and memoirs focusing on stories of people who have shaped the character of the Interior West. “The high quality and diversity of submissions made it a challenge for the regional and national juries to select only two winners,” said Evelyn Funda, director of the Mountain West Center.

The winner of this year’s Evans Handcart Award focuses on spirituality and the lesser-known voices in the region. Frey, who holds a Ph.D. in anthropology and is a professor of ethnography at the University of Idaho, was particularly pleased on behalf of his mentors. Over his forty-year career as an ethnographer and professor, Rodney Frey formed close relationships and successfully partnered with members of the Crow, Coeur d’Alene, Nez Perce, and Warms Springs communities. He describes Carry Forth the Stories as an “ethnographic memoir” that weaves events of his own life story with stories collected from interviews, oral histories and elders that show the power and value of storytelling. He learned by interacting with elders, participating in tribal activities, and through personal experiences. Now he hopes to help others become effective cultural researchers and teachers, supplying a model for engaging with indigenous peoples.

Frey’s transformation began with his first ethnographic study during the summer of 1974, when an elder recognized some shortcomings with the project and introduced the young graduate student to the importance of viewing and experiencing a culture from the inside. That early lesson endured, changing how he approached his research.

In his book, Frey applies indigenous learning and teaching styles, and discusses techniques such as field trips, visits with tribal elders, “family” groups, role playing, and hands-on activities in his classroom. He also addresses being attentive and honest, as well as language, cultural property rights, tribal review, and “giving back” to host communities. Finally, he shares facets of his own journey with the Sundance and beyond, seeking therapy from both Native and Western healing traditions for himself and his son. In the Foreword, Leonard Bends, retired Sundance Chief, praises Frey’s passion as well as the life he brings to the written words, and offers a moving prayer for Frey and his readers.

Carry Forth the Stories is paperback, 6″ x 9″, 286 pages, and lists for $29.95. It is available through bookstores nationwide or direct from WSU Press at 800-354-7360 or online at A nonprofit academic publisher associated with Washington State University in Pullman, Washington, WSU Press concentrates on telling unique, focused stories of the Northwest.

Complete list of WSU Press honors and awards

Media Contacts:      Caryn Lawton, WSU Press, 509-335-7877, and Rodney Frey, author, 208-885-6268,


WSU Press title receives honorable mention in Foreword INDIES Book of the Year Award

Spirit in the Rock cover

PULLMAN, Wash.— Washington State University (WSU) Press is pleased to announce that Spirit in the Rock: The Fierce Battle for Modoc Homelands received an honorable mention in the 20th annual Foreword INDIES Book of the Year Awards.

Foreword Magazine, Inc. hosts an annual awards program celebrating the best books from university and independent publishers. Authors and publishers submitted more than 2,000 individual titles spread across 65 genres. Foreword selected the finalists, and an expert team of booksellers and librarians from across the country chose the winners. “Choosing finalists for the INDIES is always the highlight of our year, but the job is very difficult due to the high quality of submissions,” said Victoria Sutherland, founder/publisher of Foreword Reviews.

Spirit in the Rock tells the story of the 1873 Modoc War—the most expensive Indian conflict in American history, and the only one in which a general—E. R. S. Canby—was killed. Award-winning broadcast journalist and author Jim Compton (1941–2014) did the research and writing, but after his unexpected death, his wife Carol Arnold, a retired trial attorney, edited and submitted the manuscript to WSU Press, fulfilling Compton’s publishing ambitions.

“As soon as we read the manuscript, we knew we had a winner. Jim Compton captured the war’s personalities and events in a riveting narrative that reads like a novel. It was a privilege to publish it,” WSU Press editor-in-chief Robert Clark said.

Spirit in the Rock is paperback, 6″ x 9″, 340 pages in length, and lists for $27.95. It is available through bookstores nationwide, or direct from WSU Press at 800-354-7360 or online at A nonprofit academic publisher associated with Washington State University in Pullman, Washington, WSU Press concentrates on telling unique, focused stories of the Northwest.

Founded in 1998 and based in Traverse City, Michigan, USA, Foreword Magazine, Inc. is the only media company completely devoted to independent publishing. Publishers of a Folio: award-winning bi-monthly print review journal, special interest products, and daily online content feeds, Foreword exclusively covers university and independent (non “Big 5”) publishers, the books they publish, and their authors.

Their complete history category award list can be found at:

Other WSU Press honors and awards

Prominent political authorities probe Washington State political trends

Governing the Evergreen State: Political Life in Washington front cover

Washingtonians sanctioned the first voter-approved state Equal Rights Amendment, and they were the first to elect a woman and a Chinese-American as governor. In this state full of political mavericks, split tickets are a source of pride and independent voters currently outnumber Democrats and Republicans. Sam Reed, Secretary of State from 2001 to 2013, explains in his foreword that voters participate in the most open primary system in the nation—a reflection of Washington’s Populist and Progressive era roots—a heritage that drives its citizens and elected officials to remain a powerful center of regional and national legislative change and policy innovation.

On March 5th of this year, in a direct challenge to federal laws, Governor Jay Inslee signed the nation’s first state law that prohibits internet service providers from blocking and slowing down online content—evidence that the state still cultivates political mavericks. Written as a guide for residents and for use in higher education classrooms, Governing the Evergreen State: Political Life in Washington provides an updated and absorbing look at Washington’s ever-evolving state political and judicial system and presents intriguing case studies. Fresh analyses from a wide variety of contributors offer springboards for further discussion. The author roster includes university academics, a senator, a pollster, a newspaper reporter/blogger, a former state Supreme Court chief justice, and a court administrator. Together, they deliver seasoned perspectives on a continually transforming political landscape.

The volume’s first section examines political setting and behavior. Chapters explore state culture, elections, political parties, interest groups, media coverage, and a new topic—Washington’s increasing diversity and role as a protector of civil rights. The second section looks at government institutions and has chapters on the state’s constitution, legislature, governor and other executives, and the judicial system. New topics include continuity and change in public policy, and environmental and natural resource policy.

This compilation is the sixth in a series dedicated to Washington State government and politics. Previous volumes in the series are Governing Washington (2011), Washington State Government and Politics (2004), Government and Politics in the Evergreen State (1992), Political Life in Washington (1985), and The Government and Politics of Washington State (1978). Like these prior editions, Governing the Evergreen State: Political Life in Washington is a cooperative project between WSU Press and The Thomas S. Foley Institute for Public Policy and Public Service.

WSU Press book receives prestigious award

We Are Aztlan with CHOICE Award

PULLMAN, Wash.— A Washington State University (WSU) Press title, We Are Aztlán!: Chicanx Histories in the Northern Borderlands, has been selected as a Choice Outstanding Academic Title. It also received a top community college recommendation from the organization. Focusing on the Pacific Northwest and the Midwest, multidisciplinary essays in We Are Aztlán! examine the Chicanx movement and experience beyond the Southwest to illuminate how Mexican Americans have challenged racialization, marginalization, and isolation in the northern borderlands.

Every year in the January issue, in print and online, Choice publishes their picks for Outstanding Academic Titles—a prestigious list that reflects the best scholarly titles they reviewed over the past year and carries extraordinary recognition from the academic library community. Only about ten percent of the approximately 6,000 works Choice reviews each year are included.

In awarding Outstanding Academic Titles, the editors examine overall excellence in presentation and scholarship; importance relative to other literature in the field; distinction as a first treatment of a given subject in book or electronic form; originality or uniqueness of treatment; value to undergraduate students; and importance in building undergraduate library collections.

The review itself reveals several of the ways We Are Aztlán! met Choice’s criteria. Critic J. G. Moreno from Northern Arizona University wrote, “This scholarly collection challenges the usual southwest focus on the Mexican and Latino experiences and diverse populations in the US…Each contributor’s academic findings are based on historical archival and oral interviews, which makes this book original and organic. This is the first book collection that links the various Mexican and Latino social and cultural experiences within the US Pacific northwest and midwest regions. García’s leadership in bringing together several scholars will result in major contributions for future research and scholarship on this critical subject matter.”

Choice is part of the Association of College & Research Libraries (ACRL) division of the American Library Association. Together, Choice and ACRL provide libraries with professional development tools, including objective, high-quality evaluations of nonfiction academic writing. Their flagship publication, Choice Reviews (, contains over 200,000 reviews of academic monographs. They publish around 5,000 new reviews annually and serve more than 2,400 institutions worldwide.

WSU Press is a nonprofit academic publisher associated with Washington State University in Pullman, Washington, and concentrates on telling unique, focused stories of the Northwest.

Seattle activists’ dramatic story exposes tactics that threatened citizens’ right to protest, offers lessons for today

Cover image for Protest on Trial

PULLMAN, Wash.— Author Kit Bakke believes that the freedom to organize and protest are crucial to American democracy. But across the nation in the late 1960s and early 1970s, courtroom decisions and the FBI’s utilization of wiretapping, warrantless break-ins, and informants were destroying activist groups and threatening those rights. The Emerald City was no exception. In her new book, Protest on Trial: The Seattle 7 Conspiracy, Bakke chronicles the dramatic story surrounding the arrests and trial of seven Seattle Liberation Front (SLF) leaders.

As anti-Vietnam efforts accelerated across the U.S., young activists converged on Seattle, drawn by its natural environment, counter-culture reputation, and history of political dissent. After a February 1970 antiwar demonstration at the city’s downtown federal courthouse culminated with multiple injuries and arrests, the Seattle 7—Michael Abeles, Jeff Dowd, Joe Kelly, Michael Lerner, Roger Lippman, Chip Marshall, and Susan Stern—faced federal conspiracy and intent to riot indictments. When it appeared the government would lose their case, the presiding judge issued a stunning ruling that abruptly ended the chaotic proceedings and sent the defendants to prison.

FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover and President Nixon’s Attorney General John Mitchell had targeted the SLF for, as Hoover termed it, “neutralization.” Bakke examines their tactics and contemplates why the Department of Justice chose to use a heavyweight legal weapon in Seattle, even though other cities harbored larger and more violent antiwar targets.

Like the trial, the counterculture movement was improvisational and messy. The Seattle 7 inhabited an exhausting vortex of idealism, violent rhetoric and indulgent pleasures. Bakke conducted dozens of interviews with defendants, their attorneys, FBI agents, journalists, jurors, the U.S. Marshal, students, and SLF members, supporters, and critics. She is the first book author to focus on the anti-Vietnam movement in a single city and include perspectives from participants on both sides of the barricades. She shares their thoughts as they reflect on that politically complex and emotional time.

Although not in Seattle, Bakke was an activist, and is intimately familiar with the political and social culture. In college, she founded a chapter of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). After graduation, she worked in the SDS Chicago national office and later joined the militant Weatherman faction, participating in antiwar and anti-capitalism actions around the country. Born and raised in Seattle, she returned to work as a pediatric oncology nurse. She holds bachelor’s degrees in nursing and political science, and master’s degrees in nursing and public health. Today, she volunteers in local philanthropic organizations and writes. Her first book was Miss Alcott’s E-Mail: Yours for Reforms of All Kinds.

Just published by Washington State University (WSU) Press, Protest on Trial is paperback, 6″ x 9″, 252 pages, and lists for $22.95. It is available through bookstores nationwide, direct from WSU Press at 800-354-7360, or online at A nonprofit academic publisher associated with Washington State University in Pullman, Washington, WSU Press concentrates on telling unique, focused stories of the Northwest.


Accounts of Captain Cook’s Last Voyage Published for the First Time Almost 250 Years Later

Celebrated mariner Captain James Cook set sail on his third exploratory venture in July 1776, and the British Admiralty produced an official record shortly after the expedition’s 1780 return. Now, just before the 250th anniversary of Cook’s first voyage, the newest book from Washington State University (WSU) Press depicts his final quest. Captain Cook’s Final Voyage: The Untold Story from the Journals of James Burney and Henry Roberts, integrates images by official expedition artist John Webber and makes two previously unpublished eyewitness accounts easily accessible.

Tasked with confirming the outline of North America’s Pacific seaboard and searching for the elusive Northwest Passage, Cook left Plymouth and traveled to New Zealand and the Hawaiian Islands. From there, he explored the Pacific Northwest’s coastline, landing near Oregon’s Cape Foulweather and eventually entering Vancouver Island’s Nootka Sound. He anchored near the First Nations village of Yuquot and then sailed to the Bering Strait, where he identified Alaska’s Cook Inlet.

Written by two young officers and discovered languishing in Australian archives, the journals chronicle landings along Hawaii, Vancouver Island, and Alaska, as well as initial European contact and Cook’s dramatic death at Kealakekua Bay, and include charts and drawings. They provide the first reasonably accurate maps of North America’s west coast and the earliest comprehensive report from the Bering Sea ice pack. Yet the men kept their existence a secret. If the British Admiralty had discovered the documents, it likely would have ended their careers.

First lieutenant James Burney offers a scarce account from the consort vessel, Discovery, providing new details and important, thoughtful impressions of North and South Pacific people and places. Working under the notorious William Bligh, Resolution Master’s Mate Henry Roberts performed essential hydrographic and cartographic tasks. He was only a few feet away when Cook perished. His logbook includes coordinates, tables of routes, records of weather at sea, and lively depictions of shore excursions.

Editor James K. Barnett is an Alaskan attorney who has written, co-edited, or contributed to multiple books and anthologies on Captain James Cook, Captain George Vancouver, and the history of Alaska. He served as president of the Cook Inlet Historical Society in Anchorage from 1998 to 2015, and found these long forgotten journals and images while researching in Sydney nearly ten years ago. He contributes context and commentary to complete the story

.Cover image for Captain Cook's Final Voyage

WSU Press Inks Contract with Book Travelers West

PULLMAN, Wash.— Washington State University (WSU) Press has signed a new contract with Book Travelers West. The publisher had maintained a long term relationship with Hand Associates, but that group collectively decided to retire and close the business. Effective January 1, 2018, the current Book Travelers West sales team—Kurtis Lowe, John Majeska, Phoebe Gaston, and Kevin Peters—is representing Washington State University Press to the book trade. The commissioned sales group has been selling books in the thirteen Western states since 1951.

“As a regional press, we were impressed that Travelers West maintains solid relationships with larger bookstores in the West, but also visits many of the smaller booksellers as well. Store owners we asked spoke highly of the sales team. We also felt our list would complement those of other publishers they represent,” WSU Press Marketing Manager Caryn Lawton said.  WSU Press is a nonprofit academic publisher associated with Washington State University in Pullman, Washington, and concentrates on telling unique, focused stories of the Northwest.

Finding the Perfect Christmas Tree – A Forest Specialist’s Perspective

Closeup of branch with pine needles

We invited forest specialist Kevin Zobrist to give us his perspective on Christmas trees:

There’s a reason Washington is the “Evergreen State”

Several western Washington native tree species—particularly Douglas-fir, grand fir, and noble fir—have a national reputation as quality Christmas trees. Grand fir and Douglas-fir grow naturally throughout western Washington, while the noble fir’s natural range is at high elevation in the Cascades from approximately Snoqualmie Pass southward. Each species has different advantages. I have always favored the true firs (as opposed to Douglas-fir) for how they look, their longevity after cutting, and, perhaps most importantly, how they smell. When I teach classes on native trees, I have participants pinch off needles from different samples, break them in half, and sniff. When it comes to grand fir, the response is always “it smells like Christmas.” Other true firs have a similar fragrance—a rich balsam scent that many people associate with the season.

Creating memories

I think the best part of choosing a fresh-cut Christmas tree, whether U-cut or pre-cut, is the family memories it generates. Christmas tree lots and farms sell experiences as much as trees. Some of my strongest holiday recollections involve getting the tree. I looked forward to that day almost as much as Christmas itself. Early on the first or second Saturday of December and after a slight detour for an enormous breakfast at Ken’s Truck Stop, we’d head out to a local Christmas tree farm, usually in North Bend. Recalling those days brings many things to mind—the crisp air, the smell of fresh-cut trees, hay rides, candy canes, and hot apple cider.

These days we typically get a tree from a lot, since there is one within walking distance of our house. I simply carry the tree home instead of worrying about how to transport it in a much-too-small car. Even this produces fond memories when, just as before, we meticulously try to pick the perfect one. During the big snow and deep freeze of December 2008, all the trees remained baled and frozen in big green blocks. I had to make a choice without knowing what the tree would look like. Once thawed, it unfolded into one of the best-looking trees we ever had.

All trees are not the same

Grand firs have been our standard, though in recent years we have “upgraded” to noble fir. Nobles are more expensive and their fragrance is not as strong as a grand fir, but they are wonderful in appearance. They have a slight blue tint due to two stripes on each side of their needles (grand firs only have them on the bottom). These stomatal bands reveal the location of the tree’s breathing pores. Nobles are a little more open than grand fir, which is nice for displaying ornaments.

Fresh vs. faux

In recent decades, the popularity of artificial trees has increased immensely, although they don’t have the natural look, feel, and fragrance of a real tree. There are advantages. Faux evergreens don’t make a mess, need watering, dry out, or require disposal every year, and for those with allergies, they offer a good alternative. They also don’t bring in bugs, although I appreciate even this part of the real tree experience. Every year a small spider, usually beautifully colored, is brought in on our tree. It is attracted to the light of the star at the top and builds a small web around it. I have developed a fondness for these “Christmas spiders.”

There are legitimate reasons for going artificial, but the idea that it is more environmentally friendly because it doesn’t involve cutting a live tree represents a fundamental misunderstanding of how Christmas trees are grown. No forests are leveled to produce Christmas trees. Rather, they are grown on farms and are a relatively eco-friendly form of agriculture since they do not require the same sort of annual tillage and soil disturbance as other crops. The number of young, immature trees left to continue growing far exceeds the number cut, and farms plant a replacement for each one, providing a sustainable supply year after year along with continuous vegetative cover that provides wildlife benefits.

Fresh-cut Christmas trees are a fully renewable, recyclable, and biodegradable product. As they grow, they sequester carbon that is released slowly during decomposition then recaptured by the next rotation of trees. In contrast, artificial trees are produced from nonrenewable petroleum-based chemicals that produce significant carbon emissions and other pollutants during their manufacture.
Their eventual disposal is not environmentally friendly.

Fresh-cut tips:

  1. The tree always looks much smaller on the lot than in your living room, so be conservative on size.
  2. Make sure the tree is correctly labeled and priced for its species. I often see grand firs labeled as Douglas-firs, noble firs marked as grand firs, etc., especially on lots. Native Trees of Western Washington (WSU Press) can help you accurately identify the species you want.
  3. Look for healthy green needles. Shake the tree to make sure there is not excessive needle drop.
  4. At home, put your tree in water right away. If you are not going to set it up immediately in its stand, leave it in a bucket of water in an unheated area to avoid excessive drying.
  5. Make a new cut on the bottom of the trunk before putting it in the tree stand, as the exposed initial cut will have sealed over, inhibiting water uptake.
  6. Keep the bottom of the trunk in constant contact with water—don’t let the reservoir dry up. For the first few days you may have to add water several times a day, so check it frequently.
  7. Use plain water—there is no need to add preservatives or other chemicals.
  8. After the holidays are over, recycle your tree. In many neighborhoods, a local non-profit group such as the Boy Scouts will pick it up from your curb on a donation basis. The trees they collect are chipped and given new life as natural mulches. If you have commercial yard waste pickup, you can cut the tree up and put it in your yard waste bin to become compost. Do NOT discard your tree by dumping it in a greenbelt or natural area.

Kevin Zobrist is the author of Native Trees of Western Washington: A Photographic Guide. He is an associate professor at Washington State University and oversees the Extension Forestry program in Snohomish, Skagit, King, Island, and Whatcom Counties. He spends his time on public education, outreach, and applied research, working primarily with small forest landowners. Kevin and his colleagues offer classes, workshops, webinars, tours, and field days. They also provide online resources and “how to” publications. He can be reached at

Native Trees of Western Washington cover Photo of Kevin Zobrist