Toomer’s Oaks: Dying with some dignity.
This is how I feel

“Fear not death for the sooner we die, the longer we shall be immortal.” 

― Benjamin Franklin

It’s never easy saying goodbye to a loved one.  A few years ago my family was faced with the awful decision of having to put down our family dog.  He’d gotten bit by something while out in the yard and over the next week I poured as much of my heart and wallet into pursuing every avenue to fix what was wrong with him.  In the end it was a losing battle that regardless of how much I wanted it to turn out differently there wasn’t enough medicine, science, or time to fix what the poison in his veins was destroying.  I searched my soul and tried to find out how I would know when it was “time” to put him out of his misery.  People said that I’d know when it was time “when the soul goes out of their eyes” and eventually I saw that moment.  At the point I was simply keeping him alive to avoid having to deal with losing him I knew what had to be done.

Does this look like ‘your’ Toomer’s Corner? Image Courtesy of the OA-News.

This week I experienced this same feeling as I saw the pictures of the pruning of the Toomer’s Oaks.  The soul of those trees has gone out and it’s time to make the hard choice and put the old girl down.  I realize what this means, and I realize that it’s not a popular decision.  But even IF we are able to save what’s left, what are we saving.  Does keeping a tree that at best may have 25% of its branches worth it?  Does rolling a leafless and limbless tree trunk really give anyone comfort?  Sure we’ll get to go up there and roll the old girl one more time this year, and sure that’s important for us, but is anyone really going to enjoy it?  Every picture posted since Harvey Updyke attempted to destroy the Auburn Spirit has just made me sad.  The trips I’ve made to Toomer’s corner to see it roped off like a crime scene and inaccessible only strengthen what I’ve known for a while, we’re just delaying the inevitable.

It’s the idea of moving on and of growing old that makes this decision hard on the Auburn Family.  No matter who you are it makes you realize, if only for a moment, that everything changes and that our time here is unimaginably short.  But that’s one of the driving factors of why people support their college so passionately.  Every time your team wins or another Saturday rolls around it’s an opportunity for us to relive those experiences and to pretend that nothing has changed.  Whether it’s going back to the University for game day, meeting at the bar with friends, joining that office pool and reminiscing about the year you won it all, that’s what makes being a fan so meaningful to all of us.  It gives us the chance to reconnect, to relive, and if only for a moment, if only for the start of a game or the start of a season, to pause everything and imagine that nothing in life has changed.

I know that ideas are on the table as to what the next step to take with Toomer’s is and that if they’d had the perfect solution they would have already done it by now.  If it was as simple and uprooting this tree and dropping in another fully grown 100 year old oak, I imagine that would have been done.  But even then we’d know that it wasn’t ‘our’ Toomer’s.  But like everything that surrounds this decision there isn’t a ‘right’ way to do this.  There isn’t going to be a silver bullet cure that restores the corner to its full majesty anytime soon because that was stolen from us.  But just like my family did, you make the hard choice and you move on.  We got another dog eventually and we love her to death, but she’s not my first dog.  She helps fill the hole that was left when he was gone but that hole will always be there.  The wound may heal, but it’ll leave a scar.  And whenever we win a game or drive through downtown Auburn we’ll look at that corner and remember it how it used to be.  We’ll tell our kids or look at pictures of Toomer’s Corner in all its glory and smile about the good times.  As we should, because THAT is how this majestic Oak should live on, in our hearts and minds, and not as a mangled tree trunk that only serves to remind us what we’ve all lost.

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11 thoughts on “Toomer’s Oaks: Dying with some dignity.

  1. This is the first time I’ve heard an Auburn fan speak rationally about these damn trees. Harvey Updyke is a sick, sick man and needs some serious help. But, in the end they’re just trees. Sorry you have lost your memories, and I hope Auburn fans find new ones.

  2. I’m not sure I would say they are ‘just trees’ any more than I would say UGA is just a dog or our eagle is just a bird. Both of those continue to be replaced as the previous one dies off and the pageantry and tradition continues. I think that’s what I’m advocating. Continue the tradition and figure out what our next step is rather than continue to trim back the trees to the point they are unrecognizable as their original form.

  3. I’m with Ash here. I’ve known those trees since I was a young boy. I’ve visited almost every SEC campus. I can’t imagine Ole Miss without the Grove, Alabama without Denny Chimes and the quad, or Baton Rouge without the carnival smell. I’m not sure what is next, but today… I’m sad.

  4. Every time I hear or read “they are just trees” it validates how I feel about self-entitled, arrogant people whose only attachment to a University is a football program. I wish I believed they are in the minority but the preponderance of closet Updykians won’t allow that belief. Imagine the backlash if one of the statues in tuscaloosa was destroyed. And they aren’t even living things.

  5. I am an Alabama fan who is completely distressed over the actions of a fan (who is neither a graduate of Alabama or a resident of the state). But I was just reading this article on last night and it made me think of Toomer’s corner. #2 would make one hell of a revamped Corner as well as giving an opportunity for a museum/theater for the students and fans.

    Give it a look see.

  6. I have a pretty harsh view of the entire Updyke situation in that I reject the notion that he was just a fan acting on his own with no connection to the University of Alabama. I also reject the notion that Alabama fans are not responsible for his actions. I feel that all Alabama fans share in what Updyke did like blood from a murder that can’t be washed off your hands. This is how I arrive at this point. First of all, way back in the 70’s when Bear Bryant coined the phrase Cow College when he referred to Auburn, it was said not out of fun but as an attempt to marginalize the institution of Auburn University and its football program. At the time Bryant was the head coach and AD and had about as much power in this state as Joe Paterno did at Penn State. Nobody told Bryant it wasn’t appropriate or respectful to refer to Auburn that way because there was nobody above him that would tell him. Forward some thirty years of so to Coach Fran who would not even refer to Auburn as Auburn, but would only say “that school down the road”. Again it was an attempt to marginalize Auburn University and the Auburn football program. Alabama fans have laughed about all of these situations and continue every year to try to marginalize us. So why wouldn’t an Alabama fan think it was OK to poison our trees because it is just another way to marginalize Auburn and our traditions as being unimportant. I know of Alabama fans who say the politically correct thing about what Updyke did when in public, but laugh and laugh with their Alabama buddies behind closed doors that our Toomer’s Oaks were killed. These are not 9th grade alumni, these are true alumni of the University of Alabama. So in my opinion, Alabama fans everywhere carry some of the guilt for this terrible act and words of apology are empty and meaningless.

  7. Tree killer Updyke should get no less than 20 years each Oak Tree he killed.
    BTW, anyone who says there just damn trees it’s part of the Auburn Family and doesn’t care about Auburn history.

  8. Updyke got caught up in that mindless Jerry Springer of the SEC, Paul Finebaum. He was prompted to act hoping he could be one of Jerrys, erhhh Paul’s regular idiot callers. If you’re looking for co-conspirators, you’ve got to consider why he felt compelled to brag about killing the trees on that particular show. I can’t believe more people aren’t disgusted by Finebaum.

  9. I am late to commenting, but I ust wanted to say that this was a great article and expression of what many of us true sons and daughters of the Orange and Blue feel.

    Now that the Oaks have been removed, preceeded by the most appropriate celebratory “wake” that teh world has ever seen, we know that the Auburn Spirit will continue ad infinitum–and we also know that there will always be a hole in our hearts for those trees.

    Michael Val
    (who went to A-Day, but could not stay for the “Last Roll”)

    1. Michael,

      I was at A-Day as well and I did make part of the “Last Roll.” I walked beneath the trees one last time, but couldn’t brink myself to participate in rolling them. I took great joy in watching the young ones get an opportunity to do so. It made me sad to think that this would be their only time to roll these trees. However, it was an incredible thing to see the Auburn Spirit en force that day. It will never be the same, but the Auburn Family has a way of overcoming obstacles that would easily destroy a lesser fan base.

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