The largest fixture of Chuck and Dawn Dennis’s front yard is gone.
The 30-foot blue spruce that dominated the small lawn of their Sawmill Road home for more than 20 years was chopped down and hauled away by a dozen guys in hard hats early Thursday morning. Dawn Dennis cried when wood crackled and snapped, but it’s for a good cause.
“We have to think of all the people that are going to enjoy the tree,” she said.
The Dennises donated their tree to the state. It will be one of two spruce trees set up and decorated in Albany. The other tree, taken from a Schenectady yard, will light up the Empire State Plaza, while the Dennis tree is slated to stand in East Capitol Park, right in front of the state Capitol.
Thursday morning, a small crowd of bundled-up locals gathered to watch the tree come down. Someone even drove to the Stewart’s Shop to buy doughnuts and coffee.
“Leave it to Chuck to provide the redneck entertainment,” a family friend said with a laugh.
As onlookers breathed fog, state workers in reflective vests raised a crane arm and hooked a cable to the top of the tree.
Then Kevin Ciampi fired up an extra-large chain saw, dubbed “The Killer” by the crew, and laid it into the wide trunk. Chips flew, and in less than a minute, the tree bobbed and rose slightly on the crane arm.
Friends and neighbors gathered around Dawn Dennis for emotional support.
“I’m sad because I like the tree and the birds,” she said, “but I’m not sad because the roots were lifting the porch and the whole thing could have come down on my house.”
Chuck Dennis said the tree was becoming a hazard. It doubled in size in the 13 years the couple lived on Sawmill Road and threatened structural damage to their mobile home.
“I couldn’t see anything from the porch,” he said.
They originally thought of using the tree for firewood, but the Dennises always considered their spruce to be better than the average pine tree — ideal in shape and fullness. Dawn Dennis asked around on Facebook for anyone seeking a 30-foot-tall Christmas tree.
She eventually got in contact with the state Office of General Services, the agency in charge of procuring trees for state Capitol festivities. Jeremy Jasper of the OGS directed the cutting process, shouting at his employees to guide the cut tree down onto a flatbed trailer. He said a lot goes in to picking the tree.
“It can’t have a fork in it,” he said. “Those have a tendency to break.”
Quite a number of people from all across the state offer to donate their trees each year. It’s a chance to get rid of unwanted timber for free while doing something charitable. Before riding out with saws, though OGS staff use Google Earth to get an idea of the size and location of a tree. Then a tree inspector might drive out and have a look.
A tree must achieve the correct height and have a uniform shape. Basically, the tree has to look like people imagine a regular Christmas tree should look, only really tall.
According to Jasper, the Dennis tree is perfect.
“Blue spruce hold their needles for a long time,” he said.
In coming weeks, the tree will be set up in East Capitol Park, decorated and draped with lights. On Dec. 8, the Dennises will flip the switch and turn the thing on.
As the day warmed, workers rushed around, carefully tying the tree in place while Ciampi revved up “The Killer” and trimmed the stump down to ground level. The yard looked conspicuously empty with the tree gone.
“I need to paint my house,” Chuck Dennis said. “I never saw it like that before.”