Thursday, July 16, 2009

Places Where Memories Connect

Not long after my previous entry about interactions with trees and features in the landscape, I came across some tidbits of information that tie in with this theme. I had written about how universities and other institutions can have natural and architectural landmarks around which memories form, so while out walking in the area of MSU’s Beaumont Tower, (a structure which houses the carillion, and which is in a park-like section of the old campus), I was approached by an elderly couple who asked me if I knew the location of “the Engagement Rock.” They looked perturbed, like they had once known its location, but now they were disoriented. They said that the Engagement Rock used to be a destination for lovers, and it became a tradition to propose marriage at the site of the rock. I had never heard of an engagement rock, but luckily, Wikipedia has a feature on it. It turns out that it is the same object known to contemporary students as “The Rock.” It was moved from its former location to a spot alongside Farm Lane, were it sits at the top of a grassy lawn that slopes toward the Red Cedar River. The current practice is to paint and repaint the rock with sports slogans, cartoons, humor, and other topical and pop culture references. I don’t know whether anyone but old timers know it as the Engagement Rock. There is nothing romantic about its current location or status. Nevertheless, there are still people around for whom The Rock holds memories of their own lives’ landmarks.

I had also been writing about how it would be interesting to know if George Washington had ever climbed a tree. I don’t know about climbing any trees, but he actually intervened to save a tree, and the tree is still standing. I’ve been listening to the audiotaped version of Cokie Roberts’ “Founding Mothers,” and she relates that when George Washington went on his southern tour, he stayed at Hampton Plantation in South Carolina, where his hostess was Harriot Pinckney Horri, (whose family had extensive connections to the Revolution, and who is also the author of a notable cookbook). “As he prepared to leave Hampton, the president commented on a young oak near the house. Harriot explained that it interfered with the view, and she planned to cut it down. Commenting that man cannot make an oak, Washington entreated her to keep it, and so she did. The Washington Oak still stands at the Hampton Plantation historic site. If only it could talk.”

Also, I was watching some of the television features on Michael Jackson, aand his love of trees was mentioned in two different segments. In one, he was shown inviting a reporter to climb a tree with him. In another, he mentioned that he liked to climb high in trees, and when he sat there, looking down, he got all kinds of ideas for his music compositions. If any of Jackson’s home sites become tourist destinations, one can assume that if there are any good climbing trees on the site, he must have been in them.

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