In the background of this hard-to-get-to place is downtown Fort Worth, maybe the last city you’d expect to silently, without fanfare, embrace a little tree.
But in this crisscross of culture and cows, mud and modern art, there is the little tree that everyone knows, but no one really talks about unless asked — and then the one word that often comes up is Hope.
For years, since the shabby little mimosa was a twig, someone has decorated this isolated but very public tree. Throughout the year at at Christmas.
At first it was a formerly homeless woman named Carla Christian, who decorated the little mimosa to remind commuters of the homeless. It was just her private deal. There was no sign. No news stories, just a decorated little mimosa.
Christian, who has moved around and had some health problems, could not be located for this story, but it is known that she gave up climbing the steep knob of a little hill years ago.
Yet, every year, the tree is decorated.
Most people have no idea it started as a reminder of the homeless, though once they hear how it began, it makes sense, this poor little tree with the crude collection of ornaments — some years gold garland, this year green. The tree so scraggly that it can only hold a few balls. Some years tinsel and garland battle for precious space.
By its very birth, it is a miracle.
Mimosa seeds don’t blow. They are too heavy. A bird just had to have dropped a seed there, and the soil would be so poor … Seeds don’t have a chance in a soil that foreboding.
Being on the highway, the tree is on state property, so its surroundings get mowed. But the grass is usually dead and the hill looks more like a big burr haircut most of the year. There is no other vegetation. The tree never seems to bloom.
But at Christmas, it blooms with whatever the mysterious elves bring up the hill — which is a hike to get to from the back and a dangerous trek, at best, from the short highway shoulder. Each day, a little at a time, more decorations appear. A cross, a Star of David, a cow skull (this is Fort Worth, after all).
As years have passed, decorations have started to appear on other holidays. In spring there are Easter eggs. Red, white and blue streamers now come in July. And for a while it was a non-partisan “support the troops” monument.
“No one knows who does it,” says Amanda Applon, who works for the Tarrant County courts. “Everyone sees it but no one knows. That is what’s so cool about it.”
It has no name, but is instantly recognized: “You know that little mimosa that gets decorated every year?” And you don’t even have to name a highway or a street.
“In the last 10 years, I don’t remember seeing a single leaf on that tree,” says Martin Frost, Democratic congressman from the 24th District, “but every December it mysteriously comes to life. It reminds me of the Charlie Brown Christmas tree.”
“Oh, that poor little tree,” says Theresa Babcock, browsing the makeup counter at Neiman Marcus. “I see it every time I come back from my folks’ house in Arlington … it gives me chills.”
“It has the ability to take you away from whatever you’re preoccupied with for just that second,” says Charissa Jefferson, an east side resident, who today has stopped at a McDonald’s just off the interstate.
Says Sperry: “It’s just a God thing when a tree grows where it’s not supposed to grow.”
And when it survives drought and tornado, and the eyes of the Texas Department of Transportation, which turns the other way on regulations when it comes to the tree.
“Technically, (the decoration) is not permitted,” says Jodi Hodges, a spokesperson with TXDOT. “But our crews just kind of mow around it. Motorists have come to expect it. We have motorists call in thanking us for the tree, and we have nothing to do with it. It’s just a mystery. … It’s just a tree mysterious people decorate.
“It gives us hope.”