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In Wanchese, a different kind of Christmas tree pays tribute to fishermen

While many Outer Banks residents who decorate for the holiday season set up an assortment of wooden reindeer, candy canes decked in Christmas lights, holiday inflatables and Santa in his sleigh, one family has selected a different path. Stretching high into the sky on Pugh Road in Wanchese is a Village Buoy Christmas Tree.

From a distance, the structure might appear to be a typical homemade Christmas tree. Upon closer inspection, the “ornaments” are actually fishing buoys of different shapes and sizes in a wide array of colors.

“We did it to pay tribute to the fishermen,” explained homeowner Louie Davenport.

His wife Jennifer, also known to family and close friends as “Jinky,” said it’s a reminder that even on foul weather days when the wind is blowing and it’s a dark night, fishermen are still out there working the waters.

“It’s a reminder to keep them in our prayers and to be thankful for the seafood that we eat,” she added. “There are some hardworking people out there on a daily basis.”

According to the Davenports, the project grew out of a suggestion from their daughter Bridget Reynolds.

A fisherman himself, Louie had a number of seine nets in the yard and Bridget suggested he construct a Christmas tree with them. Additionally, the Davenports’ son Bo is a charter boat fisherman.

A skilled craftsman, it only took Louie about a day to set up the frame and netting.

“He built it the way he thought it should look,” explained Jennifer. “Then we decided to open it up to the fishermen in the community; to put buoys on it. Instead of just us placing them there, we could have the community be a part of it and fill the nets with their buoys. It could be from fishermen or as an art project for the kids since they are out of school.”

In place by November 15, the tree was up in time for Bridget’s mid-November birthday.

It didn’t take long for the idea to catch on and soon some colorful buoys were coming in. While some were placed on the tree by family and friends, others were being dropped off in a tote next to the road.

“The grandchildren run to that fish tote every day to see what’s there,” Jennifer continued. “To hear the ‘thump’ of a buoy tossed into that tote is like ringing a bell. It’s exciting. We have had people drop off at least one buoy every day. Sometimes it’s two, sometimes it’s four. But every day, something gets added to the tree. And it’s connected me to people I didn’t know.”

Although most additions are buoys, other assorted items have made it onto the tree. A mirror ball was added because somebody said the tree needed some bling. A toilet seat was donated by a plumber.

And, according to the Davenports, both locals and visitors alike have contributed.

One buoy was placed by a family visiting from New Orleans, another came from a Florida family and yet another is from a Virginia family.

One item even came by mail.

“A lady in Roper saw the tree online and sent a little snowman made from corks,” said Jennifer. “That was exciting because it came to Village Christmas Tree. It got its first piece of mail. Who knew that there were so many people interested. It’s so exciting to see it grow.”

The tree even has its own Facebook page – The Village Buoy Christmas Tree – with nearly 250 followers as of December 24.

On the page the Davenports explain their goals for the tree:
– create excitement
– promote community unity
– support awareness for waterman
– encourage selfies with a buoy . . . or tree
– inspire and art project for kids while remote learning

Although anyone can purchase buoys at fishing boating supply stores, Jennifer said when a fisherman gives up a buoy it’s a special event.

And some of the buoys on the tree are very special.

One was placed in memory of Roy Parrish, a fisherman, and another in memory of Jessie Etheridge Jr., a tugboat captain by trade who was shrimping when he died.

Others, like the Lions VIP buoy, have a fishing connection. There is a fish fry at every fishing tournament.

“It is an unusual display and it’s showing support for the commercial fisherman,” said Gwen White.

Anyone can add to the tree, even after Christmas, said Jennifer.

Although the tree is scheduled to come down the middle of January, buoys will go into storage until needed next year. The Davenports plan to collect buoys all year long and have the tree back up again next year.

“We’ll collect all year long so when it goes back up we’ll have even more to put up next year,” she explained. “We have really enjoyed and appreciated the community being a part in this project because it was really for them and that is who we want to thank.”

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