There is a place in the Lowcountry where angels seemingly do dwell, and a small park on Johns Island is the best place to find them. There, beneath the arms of an enormous live oak tree the visitor will experience an awe-inspiring vision of wonder while coming face to face with one of the most incredible specimens of the natural world.
Angel Oak is on nearby Johns Island, and it is truly a sight to behold. This massive Southern live oak tree is a true bridge to the past and when you see the gentle wildness of its undulating, ground-hugging limbs you will easily imagine crossing over them to a time when wild creatures and native peoples ruled the Carolinas.
But please do not try walking over it yourself! Angel Oak is protected and the small park that surrounds this ancient tree is dedicated to the preservation of one of the Lowcountry's most fascinating treasures. Estimated to be older than 1,500 years, Angel Oak stands 65 feet tall and has an astounding 28 feet of circumference at the base of its trunk. The evergreen crown of Angel Oak spreads a blanket of shade over 17,000 square feet, and the diameter from tip to tip is an ample 180 feet. To visit and simply stand beneath Angel Oak is to experience the feeling of the domes of ancient temples and the airy sun-dappled light of forests long-forgotten.
When ancient Rome was teetering on the brink of collapse, Angel Oak was a seedling. The tree has seen and survived the long march of history, but not without help. It has survived floods, hurricanes, wars and human habitation, and now people are dedicated to its preservation. The small park and visitors center welcome tourists from around the world and on a quiet October morning at least 50 visitors of all ages were present when my family and I visited. One couple had traveled all the way from France to visit Charleston and were amazed at scale and beauty of Angel Oak. "We have nothing like this in France. Nothing," they said in quiet tones. Indeed, the attitude of all the visitors seemed to be one of reverence and fascination. My family enjoyed a picnic in the adjacent park, and my boys loved picking up acorns and trying to maneuver around the massive limbs.
Discovered on land originally acquired by royal grant in 1717, the name of Angel Oak derives from the Angel family estate. However, local legend holds a more ethereal origin: that the ghosts of former slaves would appear at times as angels around the base of the tree. Whether a home for spirits of the past or simply an awe-inspiring natural wonder one thing is certain, Angel Oak is a sight to behold and an experience like no other.
Bluffton resident Matt Richardson enjoys taking day trips with his family and exploring the Lowcountry. To see more pictures from his adventures, go to www.Flickr.com and search on the username "greenkayak73." He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.