A big tree can be a big deal.
Especially when it's several hundred years old.
And unless you've been lost in the forest for the last few years, you probably know that the Angel Oak - a big Johns Island tree that's several hundred years old - has been the focus of a big fight.
On Friday, some of the good guys who have won the good fight to protect that remarkable, living symbol of the Lowcountry from plans for too-close residential and commercial development paid our editorial board a victory-lap visit (see our incisive editorial on Page A16).
Then again, why should taxpayers, among others, pay to protect the Angel Oak?
Well, the Angel Oak is one heck of a tree. And while it's quite photogenic, its awe-inspiring aura, like that of most natural wonders, can only be fully appreciated in person.
Still, some folks remain puzzled - and even irritated - by the phenomenon of so many of our kind spending so much time (and taxpayer money) to safeguard any kind of tree.
For instance, a letter to the editor this week lamented: "Charleston County is now talking about setting more land aside so no one develops too close to this precious plant. The land will be taken off the tax rolls, so we taxpayers will have to make up the revenue. One lightning strike would save a lot of tax money."
Actually, our venerable Angel has likely already withstood lightning strikes.
And it's not the only area tree worth saving.
If you want to fully savor nature's bounty in these parts, you need to venture into remoter realms than the city of Charleston park where the Angel Oak so majestically resides.
You need to check out, and hike out on, a vast array of gloriously secluded nearby trails.
It's a swamp thing
My favorite is the I'on Swamp Interpretative Trail, which includes an almost eerie feel along narrow ground on former rice-field dikes in the midst - and mist - of Francis Marion National Forest wetlands.
Warning: You'll see gators and snakes when it gets warmer.
Yet you'll also see enchanting cypress trees and hear spooky sounds that can give us city slickers the chills.
To step through that time warp into the I'on Swamp mood, turn left onto a gravel road off Highway 17 between Mount Pleasant and Awendaw, about 15 miles north of I-526, then go about 2½ miles to the trail head.
OK, so when more people visit seemingly isolated areas, they inevitably lessen the illusion that we're far from civilization.
Plus, some of the more boorish sorts violate the essence of the exercise by using their not-so-smartphones along the way.
And as more people have moved to South Carolina over the last quarter century, their relentless influx has inevitably threatened our natural heritage.
Yes, tree-huggers risk getting insects on them.
No, trees in the I-26 median don't qualify as a "scenic gateway" to Charleston in everybody's eyes.
But hey, the uproar that recently saved some of those trees from the state's ax does qualify as this reassuring sign:
Lots of South Carolinians want South Carolina to remain a place with lots of trees.
Sure, few of us really want to go back to nature and stay there.
A short respite in the woods with the bugs and elements can go a long way.
Still, it's nice to know that we don't have to go far for a clarifying escape into wilderness that enhances reflection, solitude and the realization that natural resources aren't confined to coal, oil, natural gas and fertile farmland.
Long live the king
Meanwhile, if you doubt that the demise of an old tree can be a major loss, review this history lesson:
In 1651, King Charles II climbed that tree in Boscobel Wood, successfully hiding from Oliver Cromwell's sanctimonious, treasonous Roundhead legions after they routed the royalist forces in the Battle of Worcester (the English West Midlands town, not the tasty steak sauce).
After Charles II's triumphant return to his rightful throne nine years later, the tree where he had found life-saving refuge was dubbed the "Royal Oak."
And if "King Charles II" sounds familiar, he should:
When English settlers first named what is now Charleston "Charles Towne" in 1670, he was the Charles they had in mind.
As for that Royal Oak, due to a lack of proper protections, it was slowly but surely killed over the next two centuries by tourists who cut off pieces of it for souvenirs.
At least the "Son of Royal Oak," purportedly a descendant of its namesake, lives on at the site.
And no, you aren't allowed to cut off pieces of the Angel Oak for souvenirs.
You can visit it, however, at no charge from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Sunday.
But if you want to really get back to nature, find your way back to deeper serenity by taking a hike through our deep Lowcountry woods.
Frank Wooten is assistant editor of The Post and Courier. His email is wooten @postandcourier.com.
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