"A profound meditation on the human need for connection with nature, as one man seeks solace beneath the bows of an ancient oak tree."—Peter Wohlleben, author of The Hidden Life of Trees
"James Canton knows so much, writes so well and understands so deeply about the true forest magic and the important place these trees have in it. Knowledge and joy."— Sara Maitland, author of How to Be Alone
Joining the ranks of The Hidden Life of Trees and H is for Hawk, an evocative memoir and ode to one of the most majestic living things on earth—the oak tree—probing the mysteries of nature and the healing role it plays in our lives.
Thrown into turmoil by the end of his long-term relationship, Professor James Canton spent two years meditating [PA1]beneath the welcoming shelter of the massive 800-year-old Honywood Oak tree in North Essex, England. While considering the direction of his own life, he began to contemplate the existence of this colossus tree. Standing in England for centuries, the oak would have been a sapling when the Magna Carta was signed in 1215.
In this beautiful, transportive book, Canton tells the story of this tree in its ecological, spiritual, literary, and historical contexts, using it as a prism to see his own life and human history. The Oak Papers is a reflection on change and transformation, and the role nature has played in sustaining and redeeming us.
Canton examines our long-standing dependency on the oak, and how that has developed and morphed into myth and legend. We no longer need these sturdy trees to build our houses and boats, to fuel our fires, or to grind their acorns into flour in times of famine. What purpose, then, do they serve in our world today? Are these miracles of nature no longer necessary to our lives? What can they offer us?
Taking inspiration from the literary world—Henry David Thoreau, Leo Tolstoy, Katherine Basford’s Green Man, Thomas Hardy, William Shakespeare, and others—Canton ponders the wondrous magic of nature and the threats its faces, from human development to climate change, implores us to act as responsible stewards to conserve what is precious, and reminds us of the lessons we can learn from the world around us, if only we slow down enough to listen.
Dr. James Canton runs the Wild Writing MA at the University of Essex and is the author of Ancient Wonderings and Out of Essex: Re-Imagining a Literary Landscape, which was inspired by his rural wandering in East Anglia. He was awarded his PhD by the University of Essex and reviews for the TLS, Caught by the River, and Earthlines. Canton is a regular on British television and radio and lectures frequently. He lives in Essex, England.