A Tree Visited
The sign pointed to the dirt lane and I pulled left off the hard top into the woodland. I quickly realized we were in for a wet and bumpy ride. The dirt road meandered through this bottomland and the Spanish Moss weeping from the over story of the forest still dripped with rain from the night before. The dirt road was in need of much repair and the holes full of water splashed as I attempted to slalom ski along the road. However, suggested by many people to visit and witness this tree. I had seen big Sitka Spruce in British Columbia so my interest was measured at best. One tree on Vancouver Island called the Three Sisters is really three trees growing from the same spot; it took nearly 10 or 12 of my friends to circle around The Three Sisters. The road conditions mirrored my expectations of the journey we were on to see the Angel Oak.
It is easy to be cynical about our social fabric and value systems in society today. We are bombarded with waves of voices which seem to seek change in almost every aspect of human life. However, I have never accepted that these “piercing voices” represent the true balance of opinion. I think most of us agree on more than we disagree on and unfortunately, the stream of information we are blasted with through the computers in our pocket is similar to the loud kid on the playground being mean or forceful who is simply begging for attention due to their own insecurities. I think most of us just want to “play on swings” and “enjoy recess”.
Today’s journey to the Angel Oak confirmed my feelings on this matter once again.
After completing my slalom ski course down the road, it became clear finding a place to park was going to be an issue. There were dozens of cars parked along the road. The designated parking was full, and an enormous yellow tour bus dominated the road, nearly forcing me off the road as I passed by it. Finding a spot well past the tour bus was accomplished so we back tracked up the road to the gate and chain link fencing. The aesthetics of the park were less than desirable while, along with poor road drainage, the forest was sliced with chain link fencing going in and coming from multiple directions. The intent I assume was to protect the forest from trespassers or vandals. Maybe it was an attempt to control an over-zealous beaver population that might bring harm to Angel Oak. No matter the justification, there is no more un-welcoming structure on a landscape than chain link fence. It should be designated to impound junk yards and prisons only but not forests.
Moving past these visual impediments, my attention was captured by all the people. There were several hundred people here in this sweltering, thick air and humid heat. The standing water on the forest floor nearly boiled. The morning is far better suited for a long breakfast indoors with air conditioning and mimosas, yet here we were with several hundred other interested souls. Perhaps we were all sharing a similar thought.
Amidst this watery scene stood the massive Angel Oak. There are hardly words to describe its size and myriad of branches crossing in multiple directions all emerging from the same beginning. Its trunk would take 4 or 5 adults holding hands to capture its circumference (or diameter breast height (DBH) for you foresters). But there was something more as well. Standing back looking up through the canopy and away from the human element at ground level, I realized that I was in the presence of so much life. Some estimates consider the tree to be over 1000 years old. More than 10 lifetimes have occurred while this Oak has lived. Doing the math suggests this tree existed in the year 1022.
The 11th Century was the time of Leif Ericsson who led an expedition to North America from Greenland in the year 1002. Leif Ericsson, also known as “Leif the Lucky” is believed to have been the first European to reach the continent of North America. Trying to put this timeline in perspective is fascinating and if Leif the Lucky or any of his 34 men were to have witnessed this young live oak sapling, it is fortunate they did not take it with them back to Norway as a sampling of the local flora.
What a thought indeed, if we are to consider all the moments leading to today and the simple fact this tree is even standing.
Still admiring the shear mass of the oak and its nearly half acre footprint there is something special about this place, this tree, these people, the chain link fence and the big yellow bus. None of it matters. But the Oak’s presence does resonate deeply in the moment and the realization is grounding.
Taking many pictures, working to get the best angle to capture its presence, I realized how in both my vision and the iPhone camera the tree glowed. The evening shower the night before admittedly played a role in this, but the picture shared here captures this moment with the Angel Oak. I appreciate my moment.
As we left, I noticed a young live oak standing three foot tall potted at the base of the Angel Oak. My conjured vision of explorers from Norway was fueled in part by witnessing the “delta in time” between the two live oak specimens. A park ranger was assisting young children to water this sapling while explaining how they work to conserve the Angel Oak and forestland around it. Many parents and grandparents stood with young children as we did, appreciating the Oak, its life and this place. This is why we are all here, this is why it all matters.
Rounding my family up before we fully melted into the forest floor, we moved away from the tree slowly at first. It was simply hard to stop looking and studying the branches and all its complexity. Once released from the moment, it is clear places like this and the importance we place on them directly contradict the social cynicism witnessed regularly. Today, hundreds of people visited here, including my family and each were lifted up and bettered by the Angel Oak.
Thank you to all those who played a role in protecting this tree and this place. Be Well.