It was Sunday night, and a perfect storm was brewing. The clouds raced across the night sky like they were late for an appointment, illuminated by the full harvest moon like a vaporous scrim; the wind buffeted the campus and the scattered students frolicking in it, and finally knocked out the power, plunging the entire town into the moonlit murk.
The thrall of the harvest moon became complete. Students like myself streamed from their dorms and homes, running, talking and exhibiting all the symptoms of full moon fever, to mingle and revel in the anomalous weather as if the power outage were a planned event. And so began a phenomenon that won't soon be forgotten.
In case you missed it, I'm referring to the enormous mob that formed sometime between midnight and 1 a.m., swelled to an estimated 400 to 600 students, and marched around campus chanting and following a guy toting a fallen tree branch. That guy turned out to be freshman Matt Harris, who served for over two hours as a charismatic and unwitting ringleader to perhaps Geneseo's largest unplanned congregation to date.
I was driving home to Center Street when I first encountered the mob on its second pass by the athletic fields. Compelled by my curiosity and utter bewilderment at a throng of students chanting, screaming and waving glow sticks at almost 1 a.m., I parked the car and buried myself in the fold.
At first I maintained a sense of mystified detachment - I have always considered myself an individualist, and I convinced myself I was following the tree out of a sense of anthropological curiosity. But before long, my curiosity evolved into a burning desire to understand what so many people were doing, who they were following and where they were all going.
In a couple minutes, "they" became "we," and I was swept up in the intoxicating surge and crush of the mob. I was there when we crowned the bear, when we fled from the bewildered University Police, when we stampeded like bison over Saratoga Terrace. I cried out in the polyglottal voice of the mob in the wind-slung rain. I followed the Treee.
But even as I chanted and clapped and followed, I was struck by the utter surreality of the scene. I wasn't alone in voicing questions like, "What the hell are we doing?" and, "Why are we following a tree?" Still, even as time elapsed and I expected the following to flag, the mob remained cohesive, myriad bobbing lights stretching away into the dark.
And then I realized, that cohesiveness was self-sustaining; the unity of the mob, the intoxicating rush of belonging to a group of exuberant, like-minded people, was its sole purpose. The next morning, of course, that groupthink buzz was perpetuated by the formation of Facebook groups.
Naturally, there has been backlash against the Treee mob - some have called it a "riot," or simply immature. On the contrary, that hundreds of students can coalesce into a riotous but utterly nonviolent mob speaks at the least to the ability of Geneseo students to band together and have fun, and maybe even to our ability to rally behind a peaceful cause.
In the end, the tree was broken, but before it was, Harris finally delivered a speech. Gesturing for silence, he spoke three cathartic words that both broke the spell (for me), and verbalized the collective sentiment of half-sheepish glee: "I'm going home." Tired but ecstatic, I did too, but I'll never forget the (first annual?) following of the Treee.
Matt Dubois is a senior English major and staunch proponent of mobs and cults.