stories, plays, rhymes and other things for children and childlike adults

Thursday, April 7, 2016


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This post is about my old friend, The Tree That Owns Itself

"For and in consideration of the great love I bear this tree and the great desire I have for its protection for all time, I convey entire possession of itself and the land within eight feet of it on all sides." With these words, Colonel W.H. Jackson willed a white oak tree the land it stood on in 1890.

It stood tall and gave shade to the corner of S. Finley St. and Dearing St. in downtown Athens, Ga. Over time, this quercus alba came to be known as The Tree That Owns Itself.

For those of us who went to school at UGA, the white oak tree surrounded by the smallest green patch in the world and protected by its own chain fence was just one more quirk of the beautiful and eccentric Athens, Ga: the town we called home for a few years. After all, the University of Georgia mascot was a bull dog called Uga (pronounced "Uhg-gah") and all our dead Ugas were respectfully buried in a mausoleum in the football stadium! Every Saturday, the air would reverberate with the passionate mantra: "Go Dawgs, Sic 'em! Woof, Woof, Woof!"

The tree that I walked passed every day on my way to school—I lived for a year in an apartment complex on S. Finley St—and the tree that Ripley's Believe it or Not featured is not the original quercus alba that was so loved by Col. Jackson.

That one was felled by rot and strong winds in 1942. When it fell, the tree was purportedly more than 100 feet tall and had a width of about 15 feet. In 1946, a sapling from an acorn from the original white oak was planted in the empty place by the members of the Junior Ladies Garden Club. It was thus that the Son of The Tree That Owns Itself took ownership of his rightful place and title.

My last year as a graduate student, I lived alone. Despite having had a lot of friends from all over the world and a full social life for the first couple of years, I had become quite a recluse after my coursework was complete. Through the months of study for my comprehensive exams, the writing of my dissertation proposal and its defense, the only people I saw were my committee members, office-mates, my CML 221 / CML 222 students and the late night library assistants who sat chatting quietly outside my carrel as I worked.

As I fought winter depression and loneliness the oak tree became, for me, the tree that gave me back a semblance of life. I talked to it often; I complained to it about my committee members; I shared with it the frustrating periods of block as I wrote my dissertation; I bounced ideas off it as I walked to and fro just outside its protective chain.

My last winter in Athens, through the tense sleepless nights, the nervous defense, the yearning to go back home, the fear of leaving Athens, GA and the life I had made there for 5 years, that white oak tree kept me sane: my tree of life.

I went back to Athens 10 years later when I went to the US for a holiday with my husband and two preschoolers. It somehow seemed extremely important that the people who were everything to me now should know first hand all the people and places that mattered to me then.

Athens had changed almost beyond recognition. It was bigger, newer, less the small campus town I knew and less personal somehow. O’Malley’s no longer existed and I couldn’t connect to what had taken its place.

I heaved a sigh of relief as I walked my children to S. Finley St. and there he was, my tree of life, The Son of The Tree That Owns Itself.

I had come home.

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