Angel Oak


I put these quirky little goals on my bucket list. A couple of years ago, I was in the chair at the dentist’s office waiting for the hygienist to come to the room. Across from the chair was a large picture of the biggest live oak tree I have ever seen. Initially, I thought the picture was a photograph, but as I looked closer, I noticed that some of the lines were a little too symmetrical.

“Is that a photograph or a painting?” I asked when the hygienist entered the room.

“It’s a painting,” she answered, “but it is a real tree”.

At that moment the desire to visit the Angel Oak was planted in my mind. Last week, a friend of mine posted a picture of her visit to the Angel Oak on Facebook, and I remembered that a trip to the tree was on my bucket list. I was off of work on Friday so on Thursday night around 10, I called another friend to see if she wanted to go to the tree with me some time over the weekend. I was actually thinking Saturday, partly because I was calling so late, but she wanted to go on Friday. I agreed. The next morning, I was on the phone with my mother and mentioned that I was heading out of town to see the tree. She was keeping my nephew for the day and expressed a very strong interest in riding, as well.

“Can you be ready in fifteen minutes?” I asked as I was already on my way to pick up my friend. Excited, she said yes. I sent my friend a text, told her we had just picked up two more passengers and  I that hoped that was ok. The more the merrier! She responded.

The Angel Oak is located in Charleston County, SC on John’s Island. Initially, when I thought of visiting and blogging about it, I had a more glamorous trip in mind. Visit the glorious tree and then maybe go out to some quaint, idyllic Charleston restaurant afterwards for seafood. I figured that I could talk about the tree, the restaurant and the meal. What I got was a little different, but it ended up being a very special, spontaneous day and I wouldn’t trade it. It was one of those trips where everyone got on well. Everyone contributed to the conversation and enjoyed one another’s company. It was a day when we made a memory.

As my nephew, James, is only seven and the ride is over three hours long, we stopped on the way down there for lunch. We let James pick the restaurant and he picked Taco Bell.We arrived at the tree at 4pm, one hour before it closed. Signs around the tree offered all of the standard facts one would expect. The Angel Oak is at least 400 years old, stands 66.5 feet tall, is 28 feet in circumference and provides 17,000 feet of shade. Its longest branch is 187 feet.


There are explicit instructions for how one should treat the tree. You are not allowed to sit on the tree or climb the tree, but you can hug the tree. Obviously, you cannot deface the tree. In a message from the tree, we were reminded that cameras were watching us. James immediately set about the task of finding each of the cameras. As he found them, he pointed them out one by one. In typical 7-year-old form, he also found several ways to enjoy the tree without breaking the rules. He did the limbo under one limb. He did hurdles over some of the other limbs that either hung low or sat on the ground. He ran around the outer perimeter of the tree as we watched and commented on how he was an extremely fast runner. We all walked around the tree with our cell phones and took pictures at different angles and we all had to have our pictures taken hugging the tree.


When it was time to leave, we lamented that we didn’t have more time to explore Charleston,  but then we simply decided to go back at another time and spend the night. We stopped at the Cracker Barrel on the way home and I ordered the catfish country platter with turnip greens and coleslaw. After all, I did say I was going to eat seafood. James and I played checkers while we waited for our meals.

As we ate dinner, I chuckled and asked, “Well, was it worth it? We drove all this way to see a tree and eat at Cracker Barrel”. We all agreed that it had been a pretty good day. Sometimes it really is the simple things.


Discovering Dante

So I joined a book club at the beginning of the year. It’s a very flexible book club. You simply pick the number of books you want to read over the course of the year from several pre-set categories. So far, I’ve read “Death Comes to Pemberley”, “Blink” and “The Girl on the Train”.

I wanted to read a classic. Originally, the classic was going to be “Frankenstein”, mainly because it’s creepy and I already have a copy; but for some reason, when it was time to actually read “Frankenstein” I just wasn’t feeling it. Instead, I decided to read “The Divine Comedy” by Dante. I majored in English Lit in college and had to read Dante back in the day, but truthfully, I did not study or comprehend it to the best of my abilities.

Now I knew this poem was long, I really did, but in my mind it was about 200 pages long. Imagine my surprise when I went to my local library to check out the poem and it was not 200 but 693 pages long. Holding the book in my hand, I stared at the daunting task before me. I thought about  simply reading “Inferno”, the first of three parts of the poem which IS about 200 pages long; but then I decided to suck it up and read the whole thing. Now, I’ve modified that goal again. I still want to finish it. I downloaded it on my phone and plan to pick it up and put it down in increments. This book is a project. It’s not something that you simply read and absorb. It’s a beast of a masterpiece that you research and study. I should be finished with “Inferno”, the first book, sometime this weekend. I can’t give you an exact timeline on the last two books.


It’s been a long time since I put so much effort into reading a book. I started out by really reading and PAYING ATTENTION to the introduction of the book. I know this sounds very basic, but if I am going to be completely honest, I am often guilty of skimming over introductions. (I can also be guilty of skimming over instructions. It probably comes from the same place in my personality…but that’s another blog). That was not an option with this book. I truly needed the synopsis to get me started because I needed to know what to look for. Yes, I know I read this in college, but we’ve already established that I didn’t actually read it very well, and it was a long time ago.

I’ve also found myself stopping quite often to research passages and terms, and there are many, that are unfamiliar to me. Below are a few examples.

Simony- the buying or selling of ecclesiastical privileges or pardons

Barrater-Everyone knows what a barrater is, right? I didn’t so I looked it up. It’s a person who commits barratry. Well, yes (imagine the eye roll when I read that definition), but what is barratry? It’s fraud on the part of a ship’s master or crew that injures the owners, for example embezzlement, and it is addressed in the 5th subdivision of the 8th circle of Hell in “Inferno”.

City of Dis- It’s the city that encompasses the sixth through the ninth circles of hell. Lovely place.

You get the idea. I’ve learned to read the book with my iPhone close by so that I can stop frequently to google the new old words and phrases that I am encountering.  

Another thing that  I’ve done to help myself better comprehend this poem, and this IS cheating, is enlist the aid of an audio book. Not so that I can listen instead of read so much as listen while I read. It’s very helpful to have a narrator who uses one voice for Dante, one for Virgil and other voices for the all of the various and sundry demons and lost souls. It helps me keep track of who is speaking.

You would think that in the midst of all this effort, I would not have time to process the brilliance of the piece. What I can say is that it comes in waves. There are moments when I am just trying to get through a canto, and there are other moments when I truly recognize the amazing feat of what Dante accomplished. He wrote an intricate tale of nine levels of hell, purgatorio and paradiso in 14,233 lines, all in a terza rima verse scheme that he INVENTED for the story.  Something to marinate. The book that I am reading is also peppered with classical drawings of lost souls suffering in hell. I saw one earlier today that knocked me so hard that my gut clenched with empathy for the soul.

Yesterday, I found myself wondering if Dante would have been able to write “The Divine Comedy” had he not been exiled from his home city of Florence-for barratry, no less- at the time that he was writing. From what I’ve read, there is a chance that the charges were false, but the point is, sometimes our most brilliant moments occur when we are at our lowest. It’s as if something beautiful emerges from desperation…and then perhaps there is redemption?

Well, wish me luck on Dante’s tour of the afterlife. I’m thinking that I might find an empty lifeguard stand this weekend and read at the beach. That should cut the heat a bit.

In fact-checking my post, I found the following link. How perfect:

Mailboxes on the beach

About a year ago my friend, Cheryl, and I drove south to visit the Kindred Spirit mailbox on Bird Island. Bird Island is in NC close to the border between North and South Carolina. From the pier at Sunset beach, we walked a little over a mile during low tide to reach the mailbox. Several articles have been written about Kindred Spirit and it was even featured on CBS News; I wanted to explore it for myself. It has since become one of my favorite outings. Recently, I was looking for something to do when I realized that Wrightsville Beach also houses a mailbox on the north end of the beach near Mason Inlet. I learned that the mailbox was originally placed on the beach in 2003 by a couple, was taken up for a while and housed in the Wrightsville Beach museum then replaced by university students in 2014. Just like Kindred Spirit, it is very popular. I decided I needed to make the trek.


On an overcast but unseasonably warm day in the winter, I drove to the beach, rolled up my pants and set out on my quest. There were quite a few people on the beach taking advantage of the nice day. I walked toward Mason Inlet and Figure Eight Island in search of the box, but did not see it. I walked as far as I could along the inlet away from the ocean toward the sound. The roar of the waves faded behind me. No mailbox. I turned around and walked back to the ocean and the dunes. I had assumed the mailbox would be behind the dunes, but they were sectioned off for nesting. Still, I kept my eyes peeled as I walked back the way I came. A flock of pipers ran along the water and hopped in the sand nearby. Well, I thought, if I don’t find it, I’ll be disappointed but today won’t be a total waste. After all, anytime you can stroll on the beach, admire the water and watch the creatures, you haven’t really wasted your time, have you? A young woman walking her dog noticed me and called out, “Are you looking for the mailbox?”

“Yes!” I answered.

“There are two of them”, she said “They were moved closer to the hotel because of the nests. I missed them, too, when I first looked”.

I thanked her and headed back to the Shell Island resort where I easily found the boxesfilled with journalsstacked one on top of the other. I noticed what appeared to be the original mailbox to the left of the stacked boxes, rusted out with a shell inside. I pulled a journal from one of the other boxes, sat on the sand, and flipped through the pages.


There are a few things that draw me to these boxes. First of all, there is always a little micro-journey involved with locating the box. Secondly, there is something about these mailboxes that brings out the best in people, from the couple who originally placed the box on the beach for the enjoyment of others to the girl with the dog, eager to help me because she wanted me to have the same experience that she had enjoyed; but what fascinates me most and probably everyone who is intrigued by them, is what they do for people. They offer people an opportunity to express themselves, to make their voices heard, and yet remain anonymous. It’s the best of both worlds. We all want to be recognized as special and yet we want to remain safe. The messages and emotions expressed on just the few pages that I read were as diverse as the people who left them.

Guilt and shame: Today I feel guiltI fear no one believes I can stay clean…I feel guilty for lying to her because I know I can’t be with her.

Hope: We are going to make it! Our love will keep us strong.

Praise: 44th anniversary. Praise God!

Mischief: I will if you will.

And mine: Thank you for replacing this mailbox. This journey to the end of the beach is going to be my first blog. We are blessed!

All of us reaching into the air, reaching out to God maybe or at least a stranger who is not already fed up with our antics, can see us objectively and might hope for our success.

I have started to wonder how many such mailboxes exist. I’ve found two in North Carolina. Are there others? Certainly, there must be. If so, maybe I’ll visit them one day. I’m always up for a trek.