If you find it hard putting up a Christmas tree in your nice, cozy living room, just imagine raising a 25-foot-tall tree while suspended 50 feet in the air with a snowstorm is threatening to blow in any minute.

That was the challenge Monday for Amy Hansen, Vincent Galli and Curtis Flesch, who worked all morning riding “bucket trucks” high over Main Street to raise downtown Bozeman's traditional Christmas tree lights.

“I love it,” said Galli, an arborist with the city's forestry crew, who has been doing it for 18 years. “It kicks off the holidays.”

“At nighttime, when you're walking down Main Street, it makes it pretty,” said Hansen, also a city arborist.

“I enjoy it,” said Flesch, a Bozeman Arborcare arborist, who volunteered his time. “It's nice to get a little Christmas spirit.”

The three had just finished raising the green tree lights at the intersection of Main Street and Bozeman Avenue. The green, red, gold and blue-and-white lights will hang over four downtown intersections through December.

The arborists showed remarkable skill, maneuvering their Terex trucks' long mechanical arms to place a white star atop the tree and attaching a dozen green garlands to guy wires.

Somehow they managed to do it without crashing the arms' giant elbows into a single stop light, traffic camera, garland or the wire cables that crisscross the intersection between buildings and hold up the tree lights.

Though the wind was picking up and the temperature was falling, conditions weren't too bad, Flesch said. Some years, he said, “you can't feel your fingers.”

“We love them,” said Holly Crane, a city recreation leader, walking by on the sidewalk. “It's very exciting. We know Christmas is coming when the spiders come out. It's just fun. Absolutely a fun tradition.”

“It's just fascinating to see all the decorations downtown,” said Mary Jo Paul, a retired social worker, who has lived in Bozeman nine years but still has her native Alabama accent. “It's uplifting.”

“We like them,” said Angie Ostrowski, a Bozeman physician, shopping with her 3-year-old daughter Lucy. “I think it's festive.”

Business owner Larry Sterne said the lights “remind me it's almost time for the Christmas Stroll.”

The Bozeman Fire Department and Montana Crane Service also helped raise the lights. Fire Capt. Travis Barton walked to an alley south of Main Street to flip a hidden power switch and test one tree decoration. Each one has more than 1,000 40-watt bulbs, he said.

“It used to be the cops turned them on and off every night,” Barton said. But if an emergency call came in, sometimes the lights wouldn't all get turned on. “Now we have timers.”

Barton said the lights have been raised over downtown every year for decades. A few years ago, money was raised to refurbish the lights, also known as “spiders” because their long garlands remind some people of spiders' legs.

“It's Bozeman,” Barton said. “That's what it says to me.”

Watching from the sidewalk was Jeff Hedge, retired from Spokane's public works department, who looked a bit Santa-like with his red buffalo-check shirt and white beard.

“It's a great thing for the community,” Hedge said. “It evokes nostalgia.”

He confessed he did play Santa once. He recalled visiting one 4-year-old girl from a broken home who was in her grandmother's custody.

“She had never experienced Christmas,” Hedge said. “I arrived at the apartment and played Santa to the hilt. The little girl's eyes were as big as silver dollars. It was probably the most wonderful moment of my life.”

Walking nearby were Katrina Clay, on a ski vacation from Monterey, Calif., and her daughter. “I like it,” said 4-year-old Alex.

“I think it's beautiful,” her mom said. “It gives a lot of charm to the city. Puts you in the Christmas spirit.”

Santa will officially turn on the tree lights at 4:30 p.m. Saturday for the start of downtown's Christmas Stroll.

Gail Schontzler can be reached at gails@dailychronicle.com or 582-2633.



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