PHILLIPS — Driving into town, just past the fire station, a flash of red caught my eye. I instinctively slowed down and quickly realized that I’d found what I had driven to town to see: a tall, broad white birch tree down in a little marshy area beside the road, the trunk wrapped in sparkly red garland with a red bow tied at the top.
I’d found Winona’s Christmas wish.
Winona Davenport is eighty-six years old. She is one of the gems that lives in rural communities; active and engaged in her community, she is involved with most of the social events around the town of Phillips, particularly those sponsored by the Phillips Area Community Center. In my relatively short time working in and around the Sandy River Valley I have come to know her as a community icon.
Several years ago Winona received a holiday card in the mail and, her imagination captured by the illustration, she could never bring herself to throw it away.
The card resembles the cards I buy at Reny’s every year: sturdy glossy cardstock with a printed picture and glitter accents that catch the light and shed tiny glitter sparkles everywhere. This particular card shows a cluster of white birch trees wrapped in red ribbons to resemble candy canes.
Simple, but memorable.
While preparing to hang wreaths throughout the town this winter, Winona and her friends at the PACC got talking about the card. Winona doesn’t have a white birch tree at her small cozy house, but she thought it would be cool to see some of the white birches in town decorated like that card she’d hung onto.
She doesn’t use electronics, but Paul Caruso helped out by posting her Christmas wish on the Phillips community group on Facebook.
It wasn’t long before pictures of decorated trees began showing up online. In tree lines and back yards, along roadsides and in ditches, the white birches in Phillips are showing the festive community spirit.
“You can’t help but smile,” Winona told me as we talked.
She has plans to drive to every street in Phillips, all the way to the end, to look for her white birches. She’s already gone out and covered a few roads, collecting photos on a small digital camera and having prints made. Some of the prints will be mailed to family members who live ‘away’.
The photos of the trees have been widely enjoyed by Winona’s friends and family across the country, and by community members through the whole area. One new resident loved the idea so much that she decorated her tree — and then had to ask who Winona was and why everyone was decorating for her.
Knowing that she didn’t have a white birch tree of her own, a friend made a wooden deer out of white birch logs for Winona’s front yard. The deer wears a red ribbon bow around his neck and stands watch under the water dishes Winona has out for the birds and squirrels.
Others in the community have taken on the request in their own fashion: several old maple trees are wrapped in ribbon, along with porch rails, sign posts, and even a flag pole.
Winona is loving it. “It just makes me feel real good that people are jumping on this,” she said. “It makes my heart feel good.”