Saturday, February 26, 2011


Before the movie, and before computer-based role playing, an avatar was the earthly manifestation of a Hindu deity.  Thus, an avatar is the embodiment of a principle of life.  The live oak (Quercus virginiana) is an avatar of the South.  It is the state tree of Georgia and thrives from southeastern Virginia to southern Texas.  A mature live oak is beyond magnificent.  It can stand over 80 feet with a crown spread of 150 feet.  The spreading branches and narrow elliptical leaves create dappled light below.  Planted over 100 years ago in communities throughout the South, these spectacular trees dominate the landscape.  The live oak is surely a suitable persona for a god.

Two live oaks stand at Toomer's Corner in Auburn, Alabama.  Generations of students have gathered  there to celebrate college events.  Last fall the oaks were deliberately poisoned by a disgruntled fan of a football rival.  The perpetrator knew his herbicides.  He chose Spike 80DF, a Dow  AgroSciences product recommended for scorched earth applications.  Spike 80DF is "non selective".  It kills everything in its path.  The label warns not to use it anywhere near desirable species because a small amount in contact with the roots of trees may cause severe injury or death.  The label further informs that death may not come quickly citing as a product feature: "Slow brownout of treated plants".

The legendary "War Eagle" of Auburn fans have come out in force to wish the trees well.  More importantly, a team of horticulturists, agronomists and engineers have dug up and replaced the soil around the trees.  The perpetrator, Harvey Updyke, has been charged with felony criminal mischief.  If the Hindus are right, and gods walk the earth in manifest form, Updyke has more to worry about than his indictment.

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