Didcot's oaks and other notable trees
A page of inspiring art, verse and quotes relating to trees, woods and forests
by Geoff Bushell
Trees, woods and forests have long inspired humans. Some like to walk amongst them, photograph them, and record the wildlife that lives in them. Some are prompted by the threats they see to get involved in making a difference, whether by lobby or protest, or by lending a hand to care for and protect our natural resources for future generations to enjoy. Some seek to capture the spirit of nature by writing about it, by drawing and painting it, or by composing music about it.
In these times when nature is under such threat from human activity (as evident from images of mass destruction of woods by the HS2 project as this was written, and the knowledge that 14,000 tonnes of Arctic ice is melting every second into Earth's oceans) many now reflect how nature's loss has been brought about by human need and human greed. Even though the tide is turning in awareness that humans rely on the balance of nature in so many ways, there is still no national or international consensus that the loss of nature must be stemmed, and certainly no universal actions agreed or implemented that seem likely to prevent further loss of nature in future. The inconvenient questions that no political leader likes to contemplate, much less mention, are whether there is a balance point where humans can live in harmony with nature, and whether we stand a chance of getting to that point while the world's population continues to rise. Mass extinctions from the past and those happening now suggest that this is a big ask. For now, we must hold to account those who have the power to make a difference, in local and national government and in industry.
Trees, especially large, mature trees, absorb carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, making a crucial contribution towards the reduction of planetary warming, ice cap melting and sea level rise. Their roots ameliorate flood risk by stabilising soil and absorbing water. They provide homes for the biodiversity that we now recognise is so important to food chains, pollination and thus the production of our food. They contribute to the natural landscape we take for granted. They help raise our spirits and maintain our psychological wellbeing. Planting of more trees, as admirably proposed in the Didcot Garden Town project will, in time, contribute to all of these things. But because trees take many decades to mature and develop large leaf canopies and root systems, this may not be in our lifetime, and certainly not in the hour it takes to fell a mature tree that grew in what we now judge to be an inconvenient place, or in a place more profitable if built on.
##Being so large, and taking so many decades to reach their present size – often longer than a human lifespan – brings a sense of awe and of wonder. The beauty of nature, especially in difficult times, brings joy and brings hope. We should savour it and save it.
Trees, woods and forests clearly have a powerful influence on the human mind, but they also hold a key to preserving the ability of humans to continue to thrive on this planet. We should save them as much as we should savour them. On this page we celebrate just a few creative achievements that reflect our passion for nature, and spur us on to protect it for us all to enjoy now, while we can, and for future generations to stand a chance of being able to thrive in future.
– Geoff Bushell 2021
Below are some atmospheric verses about trees penned by Didcot Writers, a locally-based group whose members enjoy creative writing, and others.
Click / tap photos to enlarge / close
Now there's just a sea of mud
As diggers scour and chainsaws scream.
Where all assembled spill its blood
In nature's nightmare, not its dream.
It may be too late to turn back time,
To save the forests, to stop the rot.
There'll be a price paid for this crime
When this world ends, all gone to pot.
But I believe we'll see the light.
We can raise again this final oak.
If not the tree then save its seed.
One day they'll surely see the need?
Gather its acorns, plant them right
And, just in time, our fate revoke.
Maybe I'm a hopeless case,
An optimist who tried too late.
But better that than quit the race
To save the last oak from its fate.
It lies prostrate dismembering.
Above the furrowed plaited bark,
cropped jagged twigs are taut as ears,
a blind eye turns up to the lark,
branch stumps cut snub like severed tusks
or open like an empty mouth.
Bulges protrude scaled lizard heads,
a foot-shaped bark shard slipping south.
Inside its gut the fire failed
to render it to charcoal shreds.
Soot smells bear witness to the fire.
Here wood is crumbling into bread.
The split trunk shows dry river beds
where sap was driven to the leaves.
Smooth strata snake along the length,
and halted lava curves and heaves.
Such devastation, but look close,
here other creatures penetrate,
the hollow trunk an entrance where
cream toadstools snugly generate.
© Margaret Gallop 2021
Inspired by the remains of an old tree in Fleet Meadow, Didcot
Photography by Margaret Gallup
Roger Phipps, East Hagbourne
Mary Howitt (1799-1888)
– Anton Pavlovich Chekhov, Russian playwright and short-story writer
– Charles Darwin, English naturalist, geologist and biologist
– John Muir, Scottish-American naturalist, environmental philosopher, botanist, zoologist, glaciologist, and early advocate for the preservation of wilderness in the USA
– Henry David Thoreau, American naturalist, essayist, poet, and philosopher
– Robert Louis Stevenson, Scottish novelist, poet and travel writer
– William Blake, English poet, painter, and printmaker
– Lord Byron, English peer, poet and politician
– Prince Charles
– John Muir
– Isaac Asimov, American writer and professor of biochemistry
– John Muir
– Sir David Attenborough, English broadcaster and natural historian
– Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, German poet, playwright, novelist, scientist and statesman
– Translation by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, American poet and educator