A shadow hangs over Binsted. But the Oaks have weathered shadows before. They have watched dark clouds bring a storm to fell hundreds in a single night. Seen bomber-forms scythe moonlit fields. They have witnessed disease take the elms – then return to take the ash trees too. Through it all, the Oaks have stood. Survived. Remembered.
There are six Oaks, among many. Combined, their winters exceed a thousand. Some among them are three centuries old. They will stand – if left to – for three centuries yet. Then, a slow death and decay will seed new life, their blackened forms providing food for a hundred species or more.
This life-giving demise will be a repayment of memory. Long centuries gone can be read in the Oaks’ gnarled outlines. Saxon farmers, in the bright sun of millennia past, shaped the landscape that is the Oaks’ home. Their roots mingle chalk and flint laid down in ancient seas: prehistory’s deep gloaming, recalled in the Oaks’ bright dawn.
Shadow and light. The Oaks are shaped by both. Tall and slender where they grow among others, alone in field or hedgerow their branches stretch broad and wide.
They reach across a shared dominion. Deer leap in hidden clearings, then vanish into wood. Bats circle, silhouettes in twilight. An owl swoops to feed oak-nesting young – below, in the hedgerow’s kind darkness, small creatures are still as night.
But on the horizon, new shapes gather. Shadows that might not be weathered. Ripped up, taken, the Oaks would know no decay. Seed no new life. They would leave, instead, an absence. A shadow-space in the landscape.
How then, might we pay their long memory forward?
Staker; the Sentinels; Spinningwheel; Broad and Green. Each Oak has its realm in the village. Each its place on the map, its part in the story. Linger, listen, and they will tell you. Of secret gardens, and lovers in the wood. Of ghosts, and Anglo-Saxon meeting places. Of families and farm life. Protest and poetry and war.
This website is a place to record their stories. Choose an Oak from the list above, and let it tell you its story, that you might catch just a whisper of what the Oaks remember.
Binsted’s 12th Century church invites questions. It serves the community today, as it has for almost 900 years. But back in 1150 the village was on a peninsula, its looping lane surrounded on three sides by marshes. Why build a church on this spot? Who were the parishioners in previous centuries? One ancient feature may… Read more
Wonderful to read Richard Geraint Evans’ words in the Guardian today, accompanying his stunning drawing of our wonderful (and endangered) Staker Oak: https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2020/mar/30/majestic-oak-captivated-binsted-tree-of-the-week
It has now been cleared, but when a great limb of the grandfather Spinningwheel Oak came crashing down towards the end of last year, the large branches fell across the footpath to the woods. The speed with which walkers trod a visible track around the obstruction got me thinking about a couple of other ‘desire… Read more
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