Sunday, February 20, 2011

Toomer's Corner: The Memory of Trees

I have never been to Toomer's Corner in Auburn, and I know next to nothing about football.  More to the point, I couldn't care less about football, which to the wonderful fans of Auburn and Alabama is heresy; sorry. I just never saw much of interest in watching a bunch of men in padded suits chasing after a proportionately teeny tiny piece of pigskin.  However, I do realize the impact that the sport has on our national culture, and that it engenders fierce passion and loyalty in people, so much so that it consumes Sunday afternoons and Monday morning coffee.  In Alabama, you cannot be neutral between the two great teams of that state; sides must be picked, and the battle lines distinctly drawn in this rivalry for generations.

That's fine; it gives people a sense of cameraderie and fellowship to collectively root for their team, to gather and celebrate a win--or to commiserate over a loss. It is our modern equivalent of war, but a safer war, where the objective is to simply score a touchdown rather than murder the opponent and take their goods and chattels away.  Everybody walks away at the end—well, some stagger, whether due to injury or inebriation—and leave the fight for another day.

At least, that’s the way it should be.

Fisticuffs have ensued in Alabama over a declaration of nonalignment to either team, but at least a person can defend himself in the scuffle. A tree can’t.  Have you ever seen a branch ball itself up in a fist and swing a mean right hook?  Aside from JK Rowling’s Whomping Willow, I’ve never heard of a tree that fights back against an intrusion.  So a vicious attack against one is hardly the epitome of decency, let alone sportsmanship.

Harvey Updyke Jr. has been charged with injecting a poisonous herbicide into the two 130-year old trees at Toomer’s Corner—a place where Auburn fans come to celebrate and commiserate, and have for decades.  It’s bad enough that this man evidently allowed his zeal and misguided sense of loyalty to take the rivalry to such lengths.  It’s reprehensible that, in his mind, a tree was simply a tool, a method by which he could achieve his objective. Which, to this non-football fan, was as ridiculous as it was malicious and cruel.

I’m sure there are people out there saying, “What’s the big deal? It’s only a tree.”  Yeah, tell me that when you’ve been around for nearly a century and a half.  That tree was part of the Toomer’s Corner history. It was part of the town’s identity.  And it was a living thing.

People, it’s a game. No world issues have ever been solved by a football game, no famines ended by baseball. We haven’t gone to Mars on the morale of the Lakers, and we won’t fix the oil spill by cheering on Manchester United.

Trees don’t play football. They don’t play baseball or basketball or cricket or soccer, or even bloody golf, for God’s sake.  Trees don’t argue, don’t yell obscenities, and don’t start fistfights. All they do is grow and bear witness to the passages of time while we humans barely register it. They give us shade, sometimes shelter from the elements, and often food to sate our hunger. In a world where neutrality is frowned—even sneered—upon, trees are the only true arbiters of impartiality and objectivity.

Whether you’re a hugger or not, it has to be admitted that trees have been around a hell of a lot longer than we have. They have been there through our ups and downs, our triumphs and failures, have seen things we will never see. They are our constants in a world that changes so rapidly that we’re running faster to keep pace.

The trees, on the other hand, know how to be still.


1 comment:

Maggie said...

Thank you for this! I attended Auburn and so did my dad. Rolling Toomer's was a tradition that was passed on for ages. I keep hearing, "it's just a tree. Can't you just plant another one?" as well and it breaks my heart. Toomer's corner is the heart of AU. Those trees were the first thing you saw when you drove in. It breaks my heart to see the corner now. So empty and sad.