more than just trees

When we first heard about the poisoning of the trees at Toomers Corner, it was as if someone kicked our dog. We were heartbroken.

Football rivalries run deep in our blood in the south. We’ve perfected it to an art and it’s what we do. As an Auburn graduate speaking for southeastern college football lovers everywhere, the ultimate goal is to wear cute game day clothes, gather with loved ones and stuff our faces with excellent tailgating foods while we scream like idiots, rooting for our team. Religiously. Some people don’t get it, but it is what it is, and if you’ve never given it a go, do it. At least once. ;}

All fun aside, there’s a fine line between being a fan, and being an obnoxious fan. It’s kind of my pet peeve, and in short it was ingrained in me at a young age to refrain from displaying poor sportsmanship. It’s just a game, after all. But way beyond that obnoxious line is the occasionally seen, hateful side.

Sadly enough, hate is what lead to the poisoning of beautiful trees all in the name of …rivalry?

What a sad, tragic little man. What a pitiful waste of time and energy.

When the news broke, people were in a tizzy on Facebook. I had to stay off of social media (which I usually do anyway) mostly due to the torrid cesspool of filterless comments from those who simply didn’t understand. There should be a rule that one might refrain from their opinions when they just don’t get it. Unfortunately, this is life and such a rule doesn’t exist. ‘They’re just trees, people!’ One young teenage girl posted in one of the tamer assessments I spied in my newsfeed. I had the feeling that others in distant places who spied the little story on the news, felt the exact same way. There are bigger, real problems in the world after all, but that’s not what I’m debating. We were sad, if for nothing but the principal.

Those trees on Toomer’s were so much more than that… to so many people who have experienced Auburn.

a_roll_to_remember

 Photo courtesy of Britsnap : A Roll To Remember

No one really knows where the tradition of rolling Toomer’s Oaks began. Some say it began with the ticker tape from telegraphs celebrating a victory by Auburn. Then they say the students were rolling the power lines, and that later spread to the trees. No one really knows why, but those trees became a monumental place to celebrate victories. The trees cloaked in white symbolized happy times and memories for all of those who love Auburn University.

aeriel

The gathering of the crowds to say goodbye. 

My major was held in the building right beside those trees, so I walked underneath them daily in my trek. As art students, we sat outside and sketched the entirety in detail that was Toomer’s corner. They were more than just trees. They symbolized the memories of my college experience. This was the place where I slowly shed the remainder of my formative childhood years and began the struggle of growth into who I really am. Friendships. Bad decisions… and really good ones. The thrill of skipping class in favor of an impromptu trip to the beach, and late night dance parties with close friends where we perfected ‘the sprinkler’ and obnoxiously loud girl anthems. Running to class in the rain. Fresh beginnings. The absolute thrill of declaring my major, staying up all night to complete a crazy deadline of a project, and making it through a difficult critique from a ridiculous-to-please professor. Learning. Growth. Struggling to see beyond my own predisposed boundaries to what really mattered. Sips of sweet lemonade in the hot southern September sun. Our favorite spots on the grass of an idyllic college campus. The days when my biggest worries were the balance of my checking account, completing that looming research paper, and what my plans were for that night. Chance meetings and regrets. Difficult goodbyes, and the glowing buzz of a first kiss.

I met my best friend and absolute soul mate here my freshman year. He is forever my college sweetheart, and Auburn is our home.

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So Saturday was a full circle moment for Jamin and me, as we gathered with friends, new and old, to celebrate something we always wanted to do with our children.

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A bittersweet, momentous celebration.

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I wanted nothing more than to experience the sweet thrill that is rolling those trees with Aiden, Emerson and Malone. And I want nothing more than my own children to pass the love of Auburn down to theirs; for their childhood memories to be filled with the simple joys in life. They had a vague idea of what they were doing on Saturday. I can only hope that one day, they will appreciate it for what it really was.

toomers_last_roll

Mourning the passing of Toomer’s Oaks wasn’t just sadness over the poisoning of something both simplistic and majestic in a tree. We were mourning the attack on a tradition. A memory that was robbed. So it’s not just about the trees, but what they represented. The loss of our hopes for passing down a love to our children.

Auburn_aday_game auburn_traditions

We ran into cherished old friends.

cherished_friends

And joyously celebrated with newer ones.

auburn_friends

People came from near and far to shower these trees with their condolences, memories and love. We were surrounded by family. A fitting tribute was this final rolling of Toomer’s Corner.

Life, sometimes, is bittersweet.

toomers_corner_last_roll

“And the tree was happy. ” – Shel Silverstein.

one_last_roll

 photo courtesy of Allison Hall {contact her at [email protected]}

The irony of it all is that we all felt a little closer that day, bonded by our shared memories and love. The loveliest village on the plains is resilient, and will bounce back. Future generations will find another way to celebrate, and carry on the tradition. I look forward to that.

Because they are, after all, more than just trees.

War Eagle.

Updated : to add this little gem.

Added note : I also need to add a quick shout out in lieu of yesterday’s earth day post for any of you who are still curious, that Auburn recycles the toilet paper. We called Foy. ;} The trees were poisoned two years ago, and despite the University’s greatest efforts, they could not be saved. This was their final rolling. They are being removed today. {4.23.13} 

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43 Responses to more than just trees

  1. Carrie says:

    War Eagle! A ton of my Facebook friends were there for the final roll and I’m sorry we missed it. I actually attended my first year of law school at U of AL (sorry, don’t hate me!) but the hubs and I are major Tiger fans. My sister is a Crimson Tide fan but I love her anyway. : ) So sorry to see the trees go; the plans for a “new” Toomer’s Corner look like a great nod to the past.

  2. Hayley says:

    Love, love, love this post! Wish we had run into you guys! We probably weren’t that far from each other at all! We’ll figure out a way for our little ones to celebrate together and form new traditions. War Eagle! (and PS-totally ready for a girls night! :)

  3. Jenna says:

    Beautifully written. We, too, share a great love for our alma mater and if our traditions were attacked the way Auburn’s were, we would mourn that loss greatly. People just don’t understand.

  4. molly richardson says:

    I’m from Nebraska, like you, we are VERY passionate about our team (GO Big Red)!!!! Obnoxious fans are the worst, there is no place for them!!! Committing a crime is no way to support a team, period!!! So, sad for you–but thank goodness for memories and pictures!!! Here’s to new memories and traditions for Auburn!!

  5. Very beautifully written and what beautiful pictures to capture your last time with those trees. On a second note, I can’t believe the lengths individuals will go to “support” their team. Shame on anyone who participated in the poisoning and anyone who claims “they’re just trees.”.

  6. Amber S says:

    This post made me cry – and I am an Alabama fan. As much as there exists that LOVE/HATE relationship that fuels any good rivalry, it is all in good fun. This is a black mark in our history and there is nothing fun or funny about it. It is the love of our schools that makes our rivalry great. I am embarrassed and ashamed that anyone could ever do something like this in the name of fandom. My thoughts are with Auburn fans on this bittersweet day, and I thank God that there is more to the Auburn spirit than “just trees.”

  7. Layla K says:

    I adore this. War Eagle!!! :)

  8. Laura G. says:

    I am a UGA fan, & my husband is a Bama fan, so we do not root for Auburn when it comes to football. Despite that, I would never wish this on anyone, even my biggest rival. The poisoning of these trees was a stupid act by an immature, selfish person. I would think that about him, regardless of who the target was. I’m glad you & your family were able to go to Auburn for the last roll. It makes me sad too, although in a MUCH different way, since I have no connection to the school or the trees. It makes me sad for my friends whose children won’t be able to share the tradition. They will need to start a new one, to make new memories. An excellent post, Ashley! Thank you for sharing!

  9. Meghan says:

    What a lovely post – an eloquent statement on the meaning and loss of tradition.

    I’m an Ole Miss grad, and I can’t imagine how I would feel if someone did this to The Grove – where I met my husband. We’ll be sending y’all some SEC love today.

  10. Jayne says:

    What a sad story.

  11. Kristen S says:

    As a UGA graduate who now lives across the country, I was so sad to hear about what happened. We lived in Auburn for one year and proudly wore our UGA pride while we were there. We never experienced any rude remarks from the locals about our team spirit. How sad that some people have to take it so far! College football in the south is fun because of how much pride we have in our own teams. Your children will find new ways to show their pride but I’m sorry they have to. Auburn is a great school with great people. You won’t let this hold you back for long!

  12. Holly says:

    So here I am sitting in line to pick up my kids, crying like a baby. AND IM NOT AN AUBURN FAN! I’m so sorry for the loss of those trees. It was a horrible prank and hopefully people will learn from this. :(
    Blessings,
    Holly

  13. Denise Cerro says:

    Being in California, and I try not to listen to the news, I hadn’t heard this story.
    So very sad for you and your town. Yes they are more than just trees, if more people felt that way, maybe things like this wouldn’t happen and we would all take better care of our environment and the trees that offer us sooooo much!
    Thank you for posting this story, so sorry to read about your trees.

  14. cathy says:

    Beautiful post!

    War Eagle!

  15. Wow, so sorry for the loss of your traditions, and how beautifully you explained what they mean to you.

  16. Renea B. says:

    Wow. I’m teary eyed myself, as I sit here and read while wearing my Iowa State Cyclones t-shirt. Thanks for sharing the story. Good luck in your upcoming season & keeping the tradions alive.
    Renea
    Des Moines, IA

  17. KCC says:

    So sad I missed you guys this weekend……love my Auburn peeps.

  18. Ashley says:

    War Eagle! Excellent post.

  19. Carol Ann says:

    “There’s more to Auburn than two oak trees, revered and sturdy as they are. These oak trees are but an outward visible symbol of the Auburn heart.” —David Housel

    War Eagle! Glad you were able to make it to Auburn and was able to capture your
    children in the shade of our friends at Toomer’s Corner.

  20. This makes me sad. What a childish ans horrible thing to do. I hold my college so dearly in my heart, and will never forget my memories. Wreck em Tech!

  21. As a fan of the other Tigers in the SEC my heart truly goes out to you. It is so important to take time to appreciate the traditions of everyone in sports and in life. Your words touched my heart(and brought tears to my eyes) and I had to take a moment to say thank you for writing them. The love of football in the South is often hard to explain and truly stems from our deep love of tradition.

  22. Cindy R says:

    So sad. As Joyce Carol Oates so eloquently stated in his beautiful poem, ‘Only God can make a tree.”.

  23. Miriam says:

    I am so sorry. This was about so much more than trees. It is mourning a way of life quickly being lost – thankfulness for all we have been given, honor & respect for others, even those we disagree with, using what we have to share with another – as I continue to allow myself to be dragged further and further into the bottomless pit of ‘me, mine, more’. To reverse this loss is simple, but not easy. Change begins with ME. To do what I can do, to begin practicing these things in MY life. To refuse to blame others, for when I point 1 finger at you, 3 more point back at me! To teach MY children respect, gratitude, responsibillity for their own actions. One person can change the world, one single step at a time. It begins with me.

  24. ErinY says:

    Oh I think you captured college just perfectly here. It doesn’t matter where you went, but it was a great time of friends, stress, wonderment, fear and growth. Thanks for allowing us all a few moments to reminisce, wherever we went :)

  25. Manette Gutterman says:

    I just watched this on the news a minute ago! Hope you enjoyed it if even for the last time!

  26. Ashley says:

    My husband and I both love Auburn (graduated from Troy, but you know you always have to “pick”) and couldn’t be there this weekend, strangely enough we were there two weekends ago and seeing them one last time was enough for closure.
    Using the giving tree to explain Toomer’s Oaks…..oh I was already teary, but that made me lose it. I will always add a little nugget about Toomer’s for our children now in that story. Thanks for doing a beautiful job sharing what these trees mean.

  27. Kitty says:

    I too am a member of the SEC family, though my blood runs red and black. I was absolutely sickened when I heard about your trees. My daughter was a swimmer all through school and we spent many happy weekends enjoying Auburn’s little town for different meets. I’m glad you got to have a day with your family there to say goodbye. Traditions, especially in SEC country, die hard. So sorry for you :(

  28. Cristin Malone says:

    Gulp. Ok seriously tearing up. That was beautifully written, Ashley. And the quote from Shel Silverstein beside that picture is what put me over the edge! Thank you for writing this and painting a picture of the Auburn spirit!

  29. Lauren says:

    I love this post. The “they’re just trees” argument doesn’t hold up well in any case, but it ESPECIALLY doesn’t since this was a vindictive act. One of my favorite things about SEC football is the traditions that go back SO far. From a Georgia Bulldog, you have my sympathy.

  30. Carol Gail says:

    Another SEC fan here (Florida alum and huge Gator fan). So, so sorry when I heard that your trees were coming down. I think you expressed beautifully what the essence of being a true college football fan is all about. We all love our schools with a passion, but can also appreciate that others feel the same way about their schools. Very happy that you and your family were able to be there to celebrate one last time! The photos are terrific!

  31. susie says:

    What a beautifully written post tributing the Toomers Corners Oaks. Thank you for sharing. We are new Auburn fans as my daughter will be a freshman there this fall and we couldn’t be happier for her.
    My husband and I were born and raised in Nebraska and now live in Chicago. Although our three children were born in Illinois, they grew up on Nebraska football. Nebraskans LOVE football and take pride in our team and in our fans. We live and breath for our BIG RED so I understand your love for Auburn and it’s tradition with the oak trees. When we visited Auburn this past spring, our family stood at the base of the trees as my husband told the story to our boys of the poisoning. It truly is such a tragedy that a tradition had to end that way.
    My daughter had always talked of attending Univ. of Nebraska. She picked eight colleges to apply to and was accepted to all. She had done three college visits before visiting Auburn. She and my husband did the first visit there in February. My husband said as they were walking along the tour, about half way through, she turned to my husband and said “I love it here. This is the one.” After that, she wouldn’t even visit the other colleges left on her list. This March the whole family went out so I could see the college. I was very hesitant about her attending there because it was so far away from home and she wasn’t going with any of her friends. After touring the school and the town, we all fell in love. We couldn’t be more pleased. Although, the trees are gone, new traditions will be started and she will be there to experience those.

  32. sandahlyn says:

    Hi! I love your blog and your creativity. I, along with my entire family, are Alabama grads. We have been embarrased at this man’s actions and are deeply sorry for the Auburn family. It’s sad that one man’s actions reflect upon the entire University family. So sorry for your loss of a special tradition, and every other Auburn grad/fan.
    May we all remember to stay classy and not let rivalry bring hurt upon anyone.
    Thanks!
    Sandahlyn Wiggins

  33. Holleigh says:

    Love this post! I cried like a baby as well. My husband and I are both Auburn grads, and last Saturday was a bittersweet experience as we rolled Toomer’s Corner for the last time. But, the Auburn spirit does run deeper than the trees, so I thought I would share this :)

    What is Auburn?

    Far be it from me to try to answer that question. There are as many definitions of Auburn as there are Auburn men and women.

    It would be safe to say, however, that Auburn is much more than a football game. It is much more than winning and losing.

    It is a spirit. It is an attitude. It is a way of looking at life and at one another. It is, almost, a way of living. Unless you have expreineced it, you will never know what it is; you will never understand it. Once you have experienced it, you will never be the same. A part of you will, forevermore, be an Auburn man or an Auburn woman.

    -David Housel

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