Mike Leonard: Famed tree often has humble origins

Nov. 11, 2011 at 9:22 AM ET

By Mike Leonard

What if the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it? Does it make a sound? 

That’s a stupid statement because philosophically rhetorical questions start arguments and I’m sick of all the people arguing these days. It’s also dumb because Rockefeller Center Christmas trees don’t grow in forests. They grow in people’s yards. Normal, everyday people. The Jane Does and Joe Blows of the world. (I once did a story on a real guy named Joe Blow, but won’t get into that now.)

Back to the yards: Side yards. Front yards. Big yards with lots of space for those Norway Spruces (the trees of choice) to grow evenly in all directions. Forests are great for hiking, camping and getting spooked by shadows, noises and the kinds of animals that don’t wear collars. Forests are not great, however, for growing symmetrical trees that eventually require viewing from all angles. Cramped space plus blocked light equals the tree equivalent of a guy with a bad mullet. 

I know all of this because no other reporter has seen the Rockefeller Center Christmas trees as I have seen them ... in their natural state before the guys with chain saws arrived. Why was I given this exclusive, journalistic access?

Because nobody else wanted it. 

Trees can’t talk. And sometimes tree owners don’t want to talk except for the guy a few years back who never STOPPED talking.

So, for the last two decades the job of profiling the people who donate their trees to Rockefeller Center has been mine and mine alone. It’s been a burden but also a joy because where else on TV can a regular Joe take a bow? (In this year’s story it’s a regular Nancy). I’ve always believed that every single person out there has something worthwhile to say.

Watch this story about the origin of this year's tree and see if you agree.