I actually stopped breathing for a moment when I saw the Angel Oak on Johns Island. Even more impressive, it stopped my squabbling, teasing children in their tracks as we came around the parked car and actually saw the thing straight on. It rendered them speechless. My two children who never stop talking. I mean, never ever. They even talk in their sleep. But this left them speechless for a few beautifully silent seconds.
And even though there's no rules requiring it or signs requesting it, I noticed that everyone spoke in hushed tones, if at all, around the tree. Even with dozens of people circling around, it was peaceful.
The Angel Oak is just an old live oak in a dusty clearing with a scattering of picnic tables and many signs reminding people not to climb on it. There's a tiny gift shop, a Port-a-Potty, and a chain link fence surrounding the whole thing down a muddy road.
And it's absolutely worth taking the time and effort to go see with your children while you're in Charleston
or the surrounding islands. It is truly breathtaking.
We walked in and through the tree (when you visit, you'll see what I mean) for a few minutes. When we got to the other side, my daughter put her hands on her hips and looked up and down at the oak.
"I feel like this is where fairies live," she announced. "Or maybe leprechauns," she added after a few moments of thought. "I'm going to go look for them now. I'll probably have to sneak up on them." And off she went to stalk fairies in the tree.
If there were anyplace in the world that feels like magical creatures might actually live, I'd have to say it's the Angel Oak.
"She's really cute, isn't she Mom?" my son said in a knowing voice, to let me know that he no longer believed in such childish things.
One of the reasons I wanted to stop at the tree, reported to be anywhere from 400 to 1,500 years old, was because my son was turning nine in a few weeks. I don't know if this makes any sense, but I wanted to see something truly old, something that had been growing for hundreds of years, to reassure me that nine is not so old after all, even if he was once my baby.
We walked through the massive, sweeping branches that touched the ground and rebounded back up into the air, and talked about school and baseball and the girl he has a crush on. Every now and then we'd see his sister's little blonde head poke up from behind some leaves. He grabbed my hand and then hastily dropped it when someone wandered near us. That's really all there is to do at the Angel Oak -- wander around it in awe. I put my hands on a tree limb, wider than most tree trunks.
"I kind of want to put my arms around this branch and lean my cheek against it," I said. "I just like this tree so much."
A look of sheer horror crossed his face. "Please don't do that Mom. I'll be humiliated."
"By who? You don't know anyone here. What do you care what strangers might think?"
"If you hug the tree, I'll have to pretend I don't know you," he said as he backed away.
He really is nine now, and there's no stopping the forward march of growing up and away, is there?
But there is the Angel Oak (and its fairies, or maybe leprechauns), and hopefully it will be here for hundreds more years, long after we're all gone.
The Angel Oak is located in Angel Oak Park, 3688 Angel Oak Road, Johns Island. The park is open Monday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday from 1 to 5 p.m.
Bring bug spray and use it liberally.