Funeral for Toomer’s Oaks

Two years ago a crazed Alabama football fan poisoned two 130-year-old oak trees on the campus of rival Auburn University. I blogged about it at the time, trying to explain the unbelievable passion college football inspires in the Southeast, and expressing my disgust at anyone who would kill something older than any living human for such a ridiculous reason.

This saga is coming to a close. Last month Harvey Updyke pled guilty to “criminal damage to an agricultural facility,” which is a felony. He was sentenced to three years in prison and must serve at least six months, after which he will be subject to five years probation and other penalties, which will likely include financial restitution.

Auburn spent two years trying to save the trees, but Updyke had put so much herbicide into the soil it was impossible. Earlier this week the trees were cut down. Here’s a video from the Associated Press:

Last Saturday Auburn University invited everyone to a farewell party for the trees and to give everyone a chance to roll them with toilet paper one last time. A silly tradition, perhaps, but a tradition that’s meaningful to the Auburn community, and one that has created a connection with the trees.

As a tree-loving Druid, I find these expressions heartening. I normally stay out of the comments section of news sites, but many of the comments on the CNN article show an appreciation for the trees, not just for their usefulness and their connection to human activity (although that’s certainly a part of it) but also for their inherent beauty and worth. Most of these ordinary people understand that 130-year-old trees are more than just big plants, and that someone who would intentionally poison them belongs in jail.

Auburn plans to plant new trees in the Fall. Over time, Auburn students will come to love them as much as they loved the original oaks. For at least a few, the love of those trees will grow into a love and appreciation for other trees and for the land, the sky and the sea.

Blessed be the trees.

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