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Just Trees (After the felling of the Toomer’s Oaks)

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Toomer’s Corner, Wednesday morning. Photo: Phil Smith.

Just Trees
(After the felling of the Toomer’s Oaks)

Aren’t they just trees?
Yes, they are—they were.
And weren’t they dying anyway?
Yes, they were—and I am—and you are too.
Dying. But someone killed them.
(Yes, you can kill something that is already dying.
If you doubt that, shoot someone with a terminal illness,
then plead your innocence.)
But they were just trees.
Yes—they were. But all trees have a kind of dignity,
A dignity revealed in the way they call on us to contemplate them:
St. Augustine knew that, and Arthur Schopenhauer too.
And these trees, wrapped as they were in celebration,
Wrapped as they were in meaning,
Called on us more insistently than most—even demanded contemplation.
Poisoning them, destroying their roots, was an attack on meaning,
A meaning that some, wrapped in unmeaning, could not bear.
Meaning has weight. You can crumble under it, or understand it, your call.
Just trees.
Yes, just trees. And these are just my students, this is just my university,
This is just my life.
But the meaning of all these things—you just put it there, gilding and staining,
In burnt orange and blue. It is not real. It is a collective delusion. Tradition
Is no mode of access to what is real.
Of course it is, it always has been, and it always will be. Tradition makes
Values available for appreciation, for appropriate response:
And your response is the tree’s judgment on you. Luckily for you, they are, they were,
Just trees.

Dr. Jolley is a philosophy professor at Auburn University. He works in the theory of judgment, the history of 20th-century philosophy, metaphilosophy and philosophical psychology. He was recently profiled by The New York Times. He also likes football. His book “The Concept ‘Horse’ Paradox and Wittgensteinian Conceptual Investigations” was published in 2007. His column “Leisure with Dignity” runs bi-monthly to monthly to whenever. He blogs at Quantum Est In Rebus Inane. Write to him at [email protected].

Related: The Harvey Inside.

More on the the Toomer’s Oaks:

* That tree in the old picture of Toomer’s Corner is not one of the Toomer’s Oaks
* Toomer’s Corner rollings didn’t start with Punt, Bama, Punt, says History
* Did Auburn students celebrate Bear Bryant’s death by rolling Toomer’s Corner?
* Auburn unveils new plans for Toomer’s Corner
* Incredible video of the final rolling of the Toomer’s Oaks shot from a drone
* What Auburn thought about Toomer’s toilet paper removal in 1979
* Auburn Creed written on toilet paper hanging from Toomer’s Oaks after final rolling

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About Dean Jolley

Dr. Jolley is currently Chair of the Department of Philosophy at Auburn University. He works in the theory of judgment, the history of 20th-century philosophy, metaphilosophy and philosophical psychology. He also likes football. His book, "The Concept 'Horse' Paradox and Wittgensteinian Conceptual Investigations" was recently published in Ashgate's Wittgensteinian Studies Series. "Leisure with Dignity," his column for TWER, will run bimonthly to monthly. Write to him at [email protected]

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