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Toomer’s Oaks Are More Than Just Trees

This week, I was hoping we’d all be able to move past the story of Auburn’s poisoned oak trees.  But as my inbox proved yesterday, we sadly are not.  So let me quickly step you through the Toomer’s Corner story from MrSEC.com’s point of view:


1.  The story breaks that someone has poisoned the historic trees on Auburn’s campus.  Most of the emails we receive in response say that this is a disgusting act and the idiot(s) who did it should do time.

2.  When Harvey Updyke is arrested a day later, 90% of the emailers want the book thrown at him, but about 10% of the folks contacting us start to say, “They’re just trees.”

3.  Over the weekend, the emails we receive begin to bubble over with sarcasm — “Boo-hoo over the Barners’ (expletive) trees” read one — and some even started to take us to task for “playing up” a “BS” story.


Here’s the thing: The Toomer’s Corner trees weren’t just trees.  Let me explain what I mean by that.

I have a nice, gold ring.  I don’t wear any other jewelry, but that one ring is on my hand every day.  The 1925 coin set into the ring was a gift from my great-great-grandfather to my grandfather.  My grandmother took that coin, had it set into a ring, and gave that ring to my grandfather as a gift.  When my grandfather passed away nearly 25 years ago, the ring went to my father, the oldest son in the family.  My father is a minister and didn’t feel that it was appropriate to stand in the pulpit wearing a bright gold ring.  So he passed the ring along to me.  And I’ve worn it for 20 years.

Now if someone stole that ring, a person could easily tell me, “Hey, it’s just a ring.”  No doubt I could find another 1925 coin, go to a jeweler, and have them make a duplicate ring.

Only I couldn’t. 

My ring has special meaning to me.  It’s the coin my great-great-grandfather held.  It’s the ring my grandfather wore.  Just a ring?  Not if you’re blessed to have any sentimentality at all.

The 130-year-old oaks at Toomer’s Corner should be thought of in the same way as my ring.  In the same way as your family heirlooms or keepsakes.  Students at Auburn have walked under those trees in parts of three different centuries.  Grandfathers let their sons roll those trees with toilet paper after Auburn victories.  Sons let their sons do the same.  Those trees have provided a place of shared joys and memories.

You might scoff at the “murder” of Auburn’s trees, but that only reveals that something is missing from your make-up.  Someone who loves his own traditions yet holds no respect for the traditions (or politics or religion) of others, exhibits a weakness of character.

So to the many SEC fans who’ve written us to say that Auburn’s trees are “just trees,” why don’t you let someone come after your school’s sacred landmark and then share your feelings on vandalism.  Let’s say someone knocked over the Denny Chimes on Alabama’s quad.  I’ll bet no Tide fans would say, “Aw, it’s just a bunch of bricks.”

And to the few of you out there who’ve pointed out that Auburn’s trees were expected to die in the next 20-30 years anyway… so are you.  No, maybe not in 20-30 years, but we each die a little bit every day.  You’re dying as you read this.  That doesn’t mean someone would be doing you a favor by putting a pillow over your face to speed up the process.  To say the trees were dying anyway is an awfully childish defense of the indefensible.

Clearly, the further we get from the initial shock of Updyke’s insane, ugly act, the more it seems some rival SEC fans are going to lash back against those who are upset for Auburn.  Newsflash: The people upset by the destruction of a tradition don’t have a problem.  It’s the people who can’t grasp the meaning of someone else’s tradition who have a problem. 

 


9 comments
JJS
JJS

You said it best, thank you. Here is what I don't understand about the Alabama fans who hate Auburn so much. We are talking football! (Not war where kids are getting killed every day.) Alabama usually has better standings than Auburn. So the one year they lose to Auburn some of the fans act like a bunch of idiots. To those fans from Alabama who get it and have contributed to Tide for Toomers, thank you. The others of you are pathetic. Get a life.

Mike Pemberton
Mike Pemberton

John, once again you have nailed it. It is not just about the trees. Those trees (damn them and Roll TIde) have so very much more significance to Auburn people than just the roots, bark, branches and leaves. To belittle their import by saying they are "just trees" is an insult to the Auburn folks. Your piece is one of the few that have tried to evelvate the discussion to where it belongs, that of treating your rival with class and dignity. As much as I want to beat Auburn, that gives me absolutely no reason to treat the Auburn fans (and trees) in any other manner than what I want to be treated. Mike Pemberton, ROckwood, Tennessee.

Nate
Nate

Thank you for your well written piece. As an Auburn grad I enjoyed those trees and, as you mentioned, they are special to Auburn.

I believe most Alabama fans are sorry this happened and while they do not like Auburn at all they are good sports. I hope there will not be any more of these destructive acts from either side.

@capnken
@capnken

What percentage of the "just trees" comments were from Alabama fans? I f*cking hate Auburn but still empathize with the War Eagles about the Toomer trees.

johnmrsec
johnmrsec

@capnken...

Can't be sure about how many emails came from Bama fans. My guess is you have a certain jerk quotient with every fanbase (as is the case with any kind of group out there... religions, doctors, political parties, shoesalesmen, etc).

Thankfully, I believe the majority of SEC fans realize how stupid this act was and can empathize with Auburn... even if they, ahem, hate them.

Thanks for reading,
John

Chuck
Chuck

Great post. Well said JP.

Jagrax
Jagrax

Maybe not the same thing but Mr. Pennington just remember your comments about tradition when the critics start talking about banning the MSU cowbell.

johnmrsec
johnmrsec

Jagrax...

First, I defended the cowbell last spring when the SEC was considering banning it. That said, MSU's tradition can actually have some bearing on the outcome of games. Therefore, if State fans obey the rules and ring their bells only during stoppages of play, I'm still good with 'em. But if they ignore the league's attempt to let them keep their bells and they ring them defiantly at all times, well, that's different than an oak tree or a clock tower or a bulldog.

John

Vicki
Vicki

Thank you for this eloquent explanation of why the Toomer's Corner Oaks are not "just trees". I walked under those stately trees during four of the most wonderful years of my life (Class of 1979) and I feel like I'm possibly losing two old and dear friends. Traditions are a part of what hold an organization of any kind together. It's sad to see the deteriorization and lack of respect for the traditions of others in the world today. Auburn's Spirit is not broken by this, but will only grow stronger. War Eagle!

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