Being in the presence of a huge live oak tree that may be older than half a millennium and has survived hurricanes and floods is awe-inspiring enough, but even more so is the story of the determined young woman who set out to save the tree from destruction.
When I was looking at images of Charleston, South Carolina recently, I ran across pictures of an amazing old tree called the Angel Oak, which captivated me. It looks like something out of a beautifully illustrated children’s fable.
I discovered that it wasn’t too far from the B and B we were booked to stay at. I really wanted to see this unique tree and pay homage to its fortitude. I thought I’d like to try a panorama shot of the tree.
But once I dug a little deeper and found out the whole story behind it, I was even more eager to make the visit.
Live oaks stay green all year round and never appear to be without life, not something we see in our part of Canada. It has been said that “the Angel Oak’s branches look like they have slowly moved heaven and earth. Some are as long as a blue whale and as thick as a hippopotamus.”
Not only is this the story of a tree that wouldn’t give up, it’s the story of a young woman named Samantha Siegel, who also refused to give up.
Samantha had loved the tree all her young life — and had even written a novel featuring it. Angels Living in Trees: A Brief History on Roots tells the stories of the women who have lived around the tree over the centuries, from a Native American to a slave, to Martha Angel (the tree’s namesake) to a modern day woman, Sophie. Siegel wrote the book in the shade of the Angel Oak’s branches over three months in 2007.
When she found out in 2008 that the land around was slated for development she feared for the tree and determined to mount a campaign to stop it. Initially it was a one-woman campaign because although many signed her petition, nobody thought there was even a slight chance she could actually change anything.
She was quoted as saying: “Every city employee, every government employee, said, ‘It’s a done deal. There’s nothing you can do,’ and looked at me like, ‘You poor, little, young, idealistic girl. You’re not going to make a difference,'” says Siegel.
It was a long, hard, complicated battle. Samantha and her supporters spent huge swaths of time doing meticulous research, gathering supporters, and constructing road signs to oppose the development. They set up a web site and organized public meetings.
In the end, Samantha instigated enough public awareness and support that adequate funds were raised to purchase the land immediately around the tree and a parcel beyond that. Development was stopped.
Samantha says that she “went from a stagnant dreamer to a full-blown activist in a matter of days. Sometimes it takes something like this to wake you up.”
Thank you, Samantha. Such an inspiring story to start the New Year.