The University sent out the final word. The Toomer's Oaks are coming down. It's time to say one final goodbye.
"A date for the trees’ removal has not been set"
It’s rare that ten simple words can be strung together to form such a verbal gutpunch. I read that sentence, buried in a University press release multiple times before being able to continue. There it was. Ten simple words that eliminated any hope Auburn fans had that the Toomer’s Oaks could be saved. They were coming down.
It was now time to say goodbye.
If I used the Kubler-Ross model then this news would be the first step of "acceptance". I had been stuck between "depression" and "bargaining" for a while. "Anger" left long ago and when it subtly returned on Friday I was flooded with the reasoning behind it.
I’ve had some friends ask why I was so upset when I learned that the Oaks were poisoned. Why I shut my door at work, turned off my phone, and buried my head in my hands after reading the press release for the fifth time.
I was angry for so many reasons. I was furious that the trees had been poisoned out of spite and righteous vengeance that was fueled by half-truths and a need for fame on a popular radio show. I was enraged that it was a slow process. That I would have to slowly watch something die and be reminded every time I went downtown for drinks with friends. I was incensed that a experience that was uniquely Auburn has now been taken from me. When I have children, I will not be able to take them to the corner and celebrate. I will never be able to see the joy in their faces as they try to heave roll after roll of toilet paper. That moment will never be and for that, I was irate.
The anger was gone. The depression had been overcome. The bargaining was for nothing.
All that was left was to accept and the press release opened that door. It proved that there was no more fighting. It was over.
One touch of nature makes the whole world kin.*
I went by Toomer’s early Sunday morning. For one last goodbye. Just me and the Oaks. I touched them as close as I could from behind the barriers. The barriers initially used to protect the trees while the University tried to discover courses of actions to save two trees that meant so much to so many people. That were a common connection between millions of students, alumni, residents. A bond that made each of us "kin".
I also apologized. I apologized to taking the Oaks for granted. I’m a local. I grew up in Opelika. I’ve been visiting and rolling the trees for my entire life and have never known a time when they weren’t there. Because they’ve always stood, and because I could never imagine a world when they weren’t there, I had never truly appreciated them until now. For that, I was and am, regretful.
It’s difficult to explain why a tree can mean so much to a small Alabama town. Historically, the corner signified the beginning of the city of Auburn and the campus of Auburn University. The Oaks stood at the apex of that corner and the significance of that position can’t be understated. The corner might have marked the limit; the barrier where one place ended and one place began; but the trees were able to mix in between both of them. The roots needed both the city and the campus to live. They reached, mingled, and connected. They showed how both the city and the campus needed each other to live. They are symbiotically linked and one grows stronger and feeds the other. The Oaks were the bloom of that simultaneous growth.
"I am sorry," sighed the tree.
"I wish that I could give you something... but I have nothing left.
- The Giving Tree, Shel Silverstein
The Oaks have given so much to the University, to the Alumni, to the city of Auburn. The Oaks gave Auburn a place to meet, to celebrate, to reflect. They didn’t ask for anything. They just were, like many things, quiet and strong.
I’m sure I will attend the "Final Ceremony" on April 20th, but I needed a private moment. The Oaks. These beautiful and inspiring trees. Their time was ending.
I took time on Sunday morning to touch the trees one last time. I said goodbye.
Farewell Old Friend.
Thank You for being a symbol of strength.
Thank You for inspiring millions.
Thank You for uniting a town, a University, a community.
Farewell Old Friend.
Thank You for the memories.
Thank You for the celebrations.
Thank You for being Auburn.
Farewell Old Friend.