03 June 2009

The Angel Oak and a Family Tree

On a recent trip to visit family in Charleston, South Carolina, I had the pleasure of standing beneath the canopy of a live oak that is possibly 1,400 years old. That's just about as old as two of the world's dominant religions (the two that seem to result in the most wars, I might add). The canopy of the Angel Oak, on John's Island, creates 17,000 square feet of shade. Its largest limb is 89 feet long. It felt like being in the presence of a very old, multi-trunked and -limbed elephant. A coastal Ganesh.

On the same trip, my parents and I were romanticizing the notion of families with tap roots that are buried deep into a place--a city or region where family members live and are drawn to over the years, decades and even centuries.

Though we are decidedly Southern in origin, my family is not like that. We've sprawled out all across this country and world, adventuring and moving to new places with each generation. We are the Ying to the Yang of those extended families that have stayed put in one town their entire lives. Often, I think we look at them in envy. What would it be like to orbit around a town where you and yours were born, lived and died? Would there be greater strength in the ties that bind you to your loved ones, or a deeper sense of satisfaction with your time on Earth? Where is home?

I used to hear that trees had deep tap roots and that the best way to water them is to turn on a hose and let it soak around the trunk for a long time. But more recently, I've learned that many trees don't have such things (aside from say, pecans). In fact, I hear that a large portion of many trees' root systems are spread out wide and shallow beneath their canopies. (Thus, deep watering across the entire 'drip line' of the tree is most recommended.)

These trees, such as this sprawling Angel Oak, are no less strong, necessarily. Many of them are just as likely to weather the hurricanes and challenges that time hurls their way over the millennia. So there we are. Tap roots work, but sprawling roots make for a strong tree, too. They are just different strategies for surviving in this diverse world.

Home, it turns out, can be a bigger place with a wider reach. It's the place where you find your loved ones--where their laughter echoes on the breeze, their singing emerges from the kitchen, and their arms reach out to embrace you.


Pam/Digging said...

That's a remarkable tree, Lee, and you've written a very thoughtful post to tie in with it. I really enjoyed it. Thank you!

Hua said...

Hi Lee,

Sound like you guys had a very eventful trip. Great picture by the way.

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Cheryl said...

A beautiful post!

Betty Saenz said...

There is really something about standing by a BIG tree!! I bought my house because of a big tree. I sold a ranch near Brownwood and measured the circumference of some huge oaks to help in marketing it. Have you seen Big Tree at Goose Island in Rockport, Texas??

TexasDeb said...

What a lovely and thoughtful post. I was reminded of how emotionally people responded when the treasured Austin Treaty Oak was attacked and nearly died.

There is something majestic about these ancient trees that resonates with us, gardeners or no. Maybe they represent the idea of staying put, which is so rare. Thanks for sharing the apt observations about families and roots. This is why I've got you bookmarked!

Bonnie said...

that tree is so cool!