Champion Tree deeply rooted in winning tradition
This originally appeared Jan. 7, 2019 on al.com as the University of Alabama headed to the National Championship playoff in football.
There is a tree in Tuscaloosa that few people notice, but it is my favorite.
As Alabama gears up for another national championship game, the tree stands tall on the UA campus. It sees the light drizzle, strong storms and cold. It feels the summer sun, high in the Alabama-blue sky. It is stalwart.
The tree is majestic and unwavering as it watches over campus and, unlike any human, it has been on campus to celebrate every single UA national championship.
On the UA campus alone, there are 10,000 trees and 50 varieties, but this one stands out among the rest: The Champion tree, which is the rarest.
It sits back from the road on the Peter Bryce campus and watches over Dr. Peter and Ellen Bryce's grave markers. The 45-feet high Chinese Pistache tree, deemed a Champion Tree in 1980, was given to Ellen as a gift from the Queen of England in the mid-1850s. It was a seedling then.
"I understand it was [selected a Champion tree by the forestry commission] primarily due to its beauty and size, height and width," said Duane Lamb, Associate Vice President, Facilities and Grounds.
I think of trees like people. They are friends who welcome me and keep me company wherever I travel, and on my daily long walks. Fortunately, in Tuscaloosa - also known as the Druid City - I am very welcome.
But the Champion tree is special. We have talks. We share.
Around the time UA's president started lobbying the Alabama legislature to transform the college into a military school - before the University of Alabama even thought about a football team - the Champion tree was planted.
Over the years, the grounds crews added tree cradles to help support its large, heavy branches, to keep them off the ground, and from breaking and decaying. Over those same years the tree struggled to stand tall. I did too - through two divorces, and deaths of various family members and pets.
The Champion tree is a connection to my past: The first time I lived in Tuscaloosa it saw me through two degrees, several boyfriends and the death of a college roommate. The second time I lived in Tuscaloosa it was here when I almost died in childbirth. I moved back to Tuscaloosa 12 years ago and the third time was a charm. Like the tree, I stayed put. The tree has watched me raise my daughter and was there when she started classes at UA. It loaned me life-saving, encouraging shade and respite along the way.
The tree was on campus when my dad started UA in the 1960s (and enrolled in ROTC with Joe Namath) and it was there when he finished his degree in 2017. It stood strong when my uncle was at UA in the '70s and 'Bama won back-to-back national championships. It was even here in the late '90s and early 2000s when my brother went to school at UA. Alas, he did not see a national championship, but I like to think the tree smiled, knowing that brighter days were ahead for our football team.
And look where it is now. Playing for another national title and among the most storied in history.
Friday, Lamb and his colleagues were notified that the University has achieved the status of "Tree Campus USA" for the fourth consecutive year, by the National Arbor Day Foundation. I know that tree played a part. My tree.
I think it has magical powers, so I asked Lamb, "Will the Champion tree bring UA luck in the national championship game Monday?"
"Unfortunately, I can't answer that question," Lamb told me. "However, I can say this about our beautiful old Chinese Pistache tree: It does seem to have something in common with the University of Alabama football team. It has been a winner for a very long time, and it has been very consistent with keeping its championship level of excellence, and it is a joy to observe, up close or from a distance."