Hunting for Time

History: a dream we make up to comfort ourselves, which we blanket over the reality of our lives.

I floated around campus, ghost-like. No one was around; or if they were there, I was not. I stepped back into a historical jetlag, which I had felt before, displaced by the modern campus as I left my research session in the library. With my newly inherited memory, and a camera, I sought to rebuild the legacy of the old Garland Oak that once stood on campus. The task proved frustrating as I realized that modernity obstructed my photographs. I became a medium stuck between disconnected identities of past and present. In the memoir Istanbul, Orhan Pamuk suggests that “we might call this confused, hazy state melancholy” (Pamuk 1114-1117). I felt “a melancholy that is communal rather than private” (Pamuk 1117). For the satisfaction of this feeling, I researched the most probable location of the Garland Oak. With the use of scenes from the modern campus as substitutions for what existed before, I attempt to express the communal sentiments that once surrounded the Garland Oak.

The impact of the Garland Oak--"History centered about the Garland oak to a degree not equaled in the case of any other tree on campus" (“The Garland Oak”).

I imagine the role of the once famous Oak to parallel that of today’s largest and oldest tree on campus. The immensity of the tree drew me to the school during my first campus tour at Vanderbilt. I stood next to it and realized my own inferiority and my mistake in underestimating its size. It stands at the heart of main campus as students pass it by every day, preoccupied by priorities that came long after the tree. The past Vanderbilt community seemed more dedicated to the recognition of their beloved tree. “Many parties have called our attention to the fact that the oak in question is no longer in existence” (“The Garland Oak”). The author of the article laments, “once such a landmark no longer stands” (“The Garland Oak”). The old news article, discovered and revived in the Vanderbilt Alumnus Magazine, establishes a sense of community beyond the boundaries of its time period. I felt the loss as I read the disappointment in the past Vanderbilt community’s response to the old photo of the Garland Oak. Though written in 1917, I felt like a part of that community and immediately pondered what happened to the tree. The article provides an answer as if it was a funeral speech, and in doing so it highlights the significance of the tree.

The tree encased much of the campus within its being. Not only was the tree a landmark, but it also served importance in the development of the campus grounds. It was referred to in certain deeds of real estate to explain and locate property location (“The Garland Oak”). The tree also connects with Vanderbilt’s first Chancellor, Professor Garland, a forefather of its development and beliefs, down to the preservation of the squirrels and birds (Vanderbilt) that now run rampant on campus. Symbolically the tree’s location indicated its importance, situated top and center of the hilly campus as prominent sight from any of the main roads that ran through the campus. Entranced by the now mythical tree that seemed to be at the heart of the University’s foundation, I joined the old Vanderbilt community. Through this information, the article builds a community between past and present, the living and the dead.

The crossroads of West Avenue, Central Avenue and University Avenue --"Forty years ago a road led westwards from Broad Street right through the campus towards the Garland Oak" (“The Garland Oak”).

Yet, this connection distanced me from the present. The modern campus became unfamiliar as I used maps to navigate the Vanderbilt of the past. When I would raise my camera to shoot locations, I could not escape the present that I attempted to ignore. Fences annoyed me, the excessive black steel posts angered me, the existence of cars disgusted me, and I loathed any people that stepped into my frame. Modernity imposed itself, obstructing my recreation and disrupting my past connection. Upon later attempting to edit these photos, the technology only sucked away the essence. Change in coloring made the photos less real, and cropping was unsatisfactory. I desired to edit the present, not my photos. Modernity added to the “melancholy” I inherited by reminding me that the inheritance was not real.

the first of the residences on the road from West End through to the tennis courts after passing Kissam Hall […and] guarded the approach to his home" (“The Garland Oak”).”]the first of the residences on the road from West End through to the tennis courts after passing Kissam Hall […and] guarded the approach to his home” (“The Garland Oak”).”]The communal sense of pride and loss from the legacy of the Oak in turn subjected me to private melancholy. I experienced a past connection that never belonged to me, and my intrigue separated me from the community to which I belonged. Pamuk believes that his melancholy “is ultimately as life-affirming as it is negating” (Pamuk 1152). I believe that this applies to the haze of history. I discovered the history of the tree, which was the history of the old Vanderbilt community, which is the history of current Vanderbilt, to reassure me that I continue something important. However, the fact that the tree is history affirms its nonexistence in modern life. Its burial site that has now become Tolman Hall no longer preserves its tangibility, leaving me with the fables and hypotheses that I nestle around photographs of imagination.

and the remains piled up in state along with the bones of many another outworn hero just back of Kissam Hall" (“The Garland Oak”).”]and the remains piled up in state along with the bones of many another outworn hero just back of Kissam Hall” (“The Garland Oak”).”]           

Works Cited

“The Garland Oak.” Jean and Alexander Heard Library. Vanderbilt University Special Collections, 10 Oct. 2011. Web. 12 Apr. 2012.            <;.

Pamuk, Orhan (2006-12-05). Istanbul (Kindle Locations 1114-1152). Random House, Inc..Kindle Edition.

Vanderbilt University. “Landon C. Garland 1875-1873.” The Chancellor Search. Vanderbilt University, 2008. Web. 7 Apr. 2012.            <;.


One thought on “Hunting for Time

  1. I really enjoyed reading about the contrast between the oldness of the tree and the modernity of a bustling campus. I think this was an interesting commentary about how something can be so unimportant and unnoticed to thousands of students that pass it each day, but once you notice its importance it really draws a reaction and makes you wish for the unspoiled past.

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