If you’ve been reading my Twitter, Facebook, or Tumblr, then you may have known about the trees at Toomer’s Corner being poisoned. Harvey Almorn Updyke (possibly aka Al from Dadeville) is suspected of being the perpetrator of the poisoning. Al claimed that he used Spike 80DF, an herbicide, against the 130-year old oak trees in Auburn, Alabama after the 28-27 outcome of the Iron Bowl (football game between Auburn and Alabama). In January, he called Paul Finebaum to brag about the poisoning. Immediately, Auburn began to test the soil to see if they were poisoned, and tests revealed that they were indeed poisoned by Spike 80DF.
“You think I care?” was his response when asked if he knew if this is a crime. He is currently being held on a crime that carries a 10 year prison sentence. Updyke is a father of two children, Crimson Tide and Bear Bryant, and a “devoted” fan. (He is a fan, in the truer sense of the word: fanatic—the same word used to described extremists.) He may have been a state trooper in Texas at one point in his life.
Now, almost immediately, people from all over the SEC began to voice their disdain for the criminal act. Of course, there were some folks, mainly fans from Alabama (like Updyke) who believed that this was a justified retaliation for the taping of a #2 (Cam Newton’s jersey number) jersey to the Bear Bryant statue in Tuscaloosa or for the seeding of rye grass in front of the row of statues (aka the Holy Ground of the Tide fans in Tuscaloosa) after Auburn’s win in the Iron Bowl.
Both of these activities represent stereotypical prankish behavior after winning against one’s main rival. Neither is a serious offense and neither is truly detrimental to the area of Tuscaloosa that was “damaged”. The jersey could be easily removed, and the grassy area would need to be re-seeded. It would, at worst, be a pain for the groundskeepers, who probably don’t usually get much consideration from anyone from Alabama. And the grassy issue is nowhere near as dire as the possible ramifications of the poisoning of the trees at Toomer’s Corner.
The poisoning of the trees seems to go beyond the normal prank behavior. The trees are located within a the “Old Main and Church Street Historic District”, which is on the National Register of Historic Places—a list belonging to the National Park Service. (Other places on the list include the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham [where the four girls were killed in a bombing during the Civil Rights struggle] and the tomb of Martin Luther King, Jr.) This is group of trees is a part of the identity of the town, the school, and, even, the SEC. People get married at these trees. Children visit them, seeing where their parents and grandparents have rolled the trees after games. So, poisoning them poisons traditions that are held dear to many folks in this state, region, country, and (possibly) many parts of the world.
The poison was used at 50 times what would have killed the trees and has the potential for causing groundwater contamination and being detrimental to the health of wildlife in the area. Spike 80DF, also known as tebuthiuron, is a suspected neurotoxicant and developmental toxicant. Chronic exposure might lead to weight loss issues and damage to the pancreas. Even if the groundwater supply isn’t tainted, the soil in the area will have to be replaced and the trees will most likely die.