Angel Oak on St John’s Island, just off the coast of South Carolina, in the Gullah region, is estimated to be an excessively old oak tree. Difficult to photograph, the effort of multiple sketching trips is humbling. The moss covered tree is unusally beautiful.
It’s also haunted. Angel Oak is said to be visited by the ghosts of lynched slaves.
Septima Clark, a schoolteacher on St Johns Island, South Carolina, born in 1898, daughter of a former slave testifies:
“The people declared that angels would appear in the form of a ghost at the oak. The killings that happened around the tree during slavery time were seen by people with a call. The spirits were around the tree and it was a live oak and they considered that angels brought the spirits there. That tree is sacred because of the stories black people have heard from their early days.”
The stunning shape of the tree is equaled by the curious heavy silence around it. Shrouded in a humid and dense untold history, the Angel Oak sits amidst a small forested stretch of land threatened by retail mall développers. That was the news when I visited a few years back.
The argument, a pure classic, was of course that the Oak would remain untouched in the developers plans.
However, what most forget is that trees are social beings. The felling of the surrounding grove will most certainly mean a long and protracted death even to the ancient Oak, who depends on its neighbors. The underground labyrinthe of far reaching roots and mycelium, a fungi network linking tree beings, increases the surface areas of the uptake of nutrients and the communication of sugars across members of the Oak grove.
The art of connectivity is not just digital tech talk by the defense industry behind the www or Avatar like science fiction born in the heads of movie directors.
Plant beings have been doing it, this social networking, for a long time. Humans are only just slowing down enough to watch plants differently and ask new questions about their behaviors.
Now, about those ghosts….