Arroyos del Norte student to light national Christmas tree in D.C.

Llano Quemado fourth-grader wins statewide essay contest

By Doug Cantwell
dcantwell@taosnews.com
Posted 11/7/19

Nine-year-old Asher Dean, a student at Arroyos del Norte Elementary School north of Taos, submitted an essay to a U.S. Forest Service contest and won the honor of lighting the nation's Christmas tree on the west lawn of the U.S. Capitol Building on Dec. 3.

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Arroyos del Norte student to light national Christmas tree in D.C.

Llano Quemado fourth-grader wins statewide essay contest

Posted

Nine-year-old Asher Dean, a student at Arroyos del Norte Elementary School north of Taos, submitted an essay to a U.S. Forest Service contest and won the honor of lighting the nation's Christmas tree on the west lawn of the U.S. Capitol Building on Dec. 3.

Because this year's tree - a 65-foot-tall blue spruce - was selected from the Red River area of Carson National Forest, the annual Capitol Christmas Tree Project essay contest took place in New Mexico this year, drawing entries from kids throughout the state. Asher's essay, which explained what he loves about New Mexico's natural beauty and why it's important to protect and preserve it, was chosen from among 350 entries.

Arroyos del Norte Principal Deborah Branchell staged a surprise assembly in the school's auditorium Monday (Nov. 4), where staff from Carson National Forest, accompanied by Smokey Bear, announced Asher's big win. Deputy District Ranger Ricardo Martinez brought a personal letter of congratulation from Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, which he presented to Asher, along with commemorative coins marking New Mexico's contribution to the Capitol Christmas Tree Project and Smokey's 75th birthday, which was observed earlier this year.

"I am so excited for you to visit our nation's Capitol and see a beautiful tree from Northern New Mexico in this place for so many to enjoy," said the governor in her letter. "I was truly touched by the essay you wrote so eloquently about the beauty you see in New Mexico's public lands.

"I know that you are going to be a great entomologist," the governor added, referring to Asher's professional aspiration as expressed in his essay. "I'm confident that with advocates like you, New Mexico's public lands will be in good hands for many years to come."

Asher's proud mom, Amanda Mayer Dean, said she will accompany him on the expense-paid, four-day visit to Washington. "We'll probably add on an extra weekend," she added, "to make sure we see all the sights, especially the Museum of Natural History. We also want to visit family in Virginia. Asher has a 99-year-old great-grandfather there that he's never met."

What makes him want to be an entomologist? "At first, I wanted to be a paleontologist," said Asher, "then a zoologist, and then I started to love bugs because ... well, I don't know why - I just love them. So now I want to be an entomologist."

Asher's Essay

I heard a story once about "horny toads" from my mother. How she used to catch so many they filled a shoebox. And my grandfather told me about the lobo's howl. Both of these animals are rare or endangered now and I have not found one myself. I hope one day to tell my own children about the animals I experience in the forests of New Mexico. Tadpoles, horned owls, fence-tail lizards, trout, coyotes and bats. We hike through the forest into the Río Grande Gorge and I know it is magic. The beauty of it all is more than enchanting, it takes my breath away, or brings me back to it in a way. I feel like Brian from my book, "Hatchet," when I spend time in the wilderness and I return to a place of quietness and respect for nature.

Sometimes when I go fishing I catch rainbow trout in the glimmering Red River. I see Río Grande chirping frogs hoping along the riverbank. When I hike in the Taos Ski Valley I see marmots by Williams Lake, 11,000 feet into the deep blue sky. I am stunned when I explore Fossil Hill and discover the fossils of the sea creatures that used to live in New Mexico. It is amazing how a million years ago the New Mexico forests used to be seaweed under the ocean. I see red-tailed hawks near the Carson National Forest swooping down to catch little creatures to bring home for their babies. I see stink beetles burying their head in the trail near my home in Llano Quemado. I watch lizards climb the trees and scurry off into the wilderness. In Bandelier, I explore the cave the Native Americans used to live in. I can see where the fire burnt the top of the cave and there is a kiva hole to stick my head out of. Going down the 10-foot ladder it scares me and I respect the rich culture that came before me, their fearlessness.

We must keep this beautiful forest natural and unharmed because the animals deserve a home, deserve not to be hurt. The people of this Land of Enchantment deserve the clean air the aspen, ponderosa pine and piñon trees help make. My friends deserve the chance to swim in clear rivers and discover the secrets of our wilderness. When I lie in my bed and dream about my future, I see myself as an entomologist. I want to discover all the insects, arthropods and arachnids in New Mexico. If we protect our open spaces and wild areas then these creatures will still be there for discovery, for hope and for awesomeness.

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