Angel Oak on John’s Island is thought to be the oldest living thing east of the Mississippi River. It’s believed to be more than 1,500 years old.
Where? John's Island lies just across the Stono River and west of James Island, the location of the battle of Secessionville, which plays an important part in both A Scratch with the Rebels and Beyond All Price .
I've visited the tree and marveled at its size. I can't find a picture of it with a human being standing by its trunk, but if there were a figure beside it, the person would be about an eighth of an inch tall.
I first planned to post this picture as just a space filler while I'm busy producing a few more chapters of "Yankee Reconstructed." However, when I started to post it today, i saw something much more important in it. I am a member of a small Facebook group of older women who refuse to act their age. All are active, thoughtful, funny, and creative. And this tree reminded me of them. In fact, I intend to publish this post on our group website in their honor.
So what's so special about this tree, and why does it deserve to be an honorary member of the group? Well, if you look closely, you'll see that some of the larger branches have sagged until they are flat on the ground. (I know the feeling well!). In one spot a taller branch has been propped up by an iron pole (which reminds me of a clothes pole that my mother used to hold up the clotheslines of laundry back in the day before dryers.) And don't we all need propping up now and then?
Look closer still and you'll see that the iron pole is bending under its weight. Metal is no match for the enormous mass of this tree, Right next to the pole, someone has shoved a block of wood to help hold this branch off the ground. Similar blocks of wood can be seen under other branches, lifting them only a few inches above the ground, but high enough to prevent ground rot from seeping into the branch. Help is welcome, and it does not distract from the tree's amazing strength. The blocks say someone cares.
The trunk is wrinkled. The branches are gnarled and twisted. Leaves grow only at the very ends of the branches, where they can catch a bit of sunshine, rather like the fringe around the bare crown of a bald man's head. Moss grows in the shadows. Few acorns litter the ground around the tree. It is well past the age of producing little oak trees.
But still it stands. This oak tree and the rest of its woody friends in the surrounding area have been ravaged by more than one hurricane. The on-shore winds batter it, but they are never strong enough to cause this tree to bend and break.
I would not set foot on one of these branches for fear of damaging them -- or, more likely damaging me, since I'm well beyond the age of tree climbing. But the Angel Oak reaches out for me, beckoning, calling, offering its shelter and protection. It sets an example of strength and courage -- a reminder of the great dignity that can accompany old age.