No Basketball Column After All

Sometimes, like it or not, you have to change horses in mid-stream.

I’d intended to write this week about the NCAA basketball tournaments. For the first time ever, I caved to son-in-law Matt’s gentle pressure to fill out a bracket for the men’s contest. It wasn’t hard to do. First, I picked every SEC team to win every game they played until they played each other. When I was finished with that, I picked teams from Tennessee colleges to win. After that, teams from Kentucky colleges. After that, teams that were underdogs. My final four was made up entirely of SEC teams–Arkansas, Auburn, Kentucky and Tennessee—with UT and UK meeting in the finals. Big Orange would, of course, take home the trophy.

We know how that turned out. My hopes were left hanging on the 15-seed Peacocks from St. Peter’s University. After they lost to North Carolina in the Elite Eight, I pretty much didn’t care who won the tournament.

Instead of the games themselves, perhaps I could write about the interesting hairstyles some of the players wore or their Sasquatch-like beards or how much I hate it when they let their plastic mouth guards dangle out of their mouths when play stops. It might be fun to write about some of the things I saw in the women’s tournament, most notably long, multicolored braids that surely must be a heavy burden when running up and down the court, but perhaps not as much a burden as Bambi-like false eyelashes which have to make it hard to see the basket or other players.

Or maybe I could write about how neat it was that the shot clock was projected onto the playing floor so that TV viewers could see it, kind of like the yellow first-down line we see in football games. Or I could write about the overuse of the word “over” by some of the TV announcers. To wit: “She over-dribbled.”  “He over-passed.” And let’s not forget “They won’t be over-efforted.”

But I’ve decided not to write about any of those things because something totally unrelated to basketball caused some genuine madness in March. Our beloved redbud trees failed to wake up on time. For me, they’re the true harbingers of spring here in middle Tennessee. When mid-March came and went with nary a redbud bloom in sight, I began to worry. Had they been nipped in the bud when the snows came and temperatures dipped into the low teens?

One friend, an even bigger redbud enthusiast than I, noted little black nubs on the branches of her trees. “I fear they won’t bloom at all this year,” she told me. “I wonder if they might be dead.”

That was a heartbreaking notion for a million different reasons, one of the biggest being that I’d no longer be able to hike the trail to the top of Burgess Falls just to gaze in wonder at the redbuds growing straight out of the rocky cliffs. I wouldn’t be able to gather the delicate purple-pink blossoms from trees in my neighborhood and sprinkle them on top of my salad, which really is a thing I do. The blossoms have a somewhat sweet taste but that’s not really why I do it. I just like how pretty they look on top of the greens. And I love the self-satisfied feeling that nature is feeding me, straight out of the woods.

As I write this column, it’s the first week in April. The dogwoods have begun to flower, the Japanese maples are bursting with new crimson leaves and the redbuds are—at last—showing some color, too. They’re weak and lackluster but they’re alive. For that, I’m grateful.

Even more grateful than I would have been if our Tennessee Volunteers had won the National Championship.

(April 9, 2022)