An arboreal army marches across England.
Near Oxford, England, a stalwart battalion stretches several miles across the landscape. It’s been there for centuries, rooted, quite literally, in the ground—the troops are oak trees. They guard Blenheim Palace, which was a gift to John Churchill, England’s first Duke of Marlborough. His forces defeated the French in 1704 during the War of Spanish Succession. Legend has it, the trees were planted en bataille, as if honoring Churchill’s victorious regiment, says photographer Simon Norfolk. He read the tale in a guidebook (though no hard evidence supports it).
To Norfolk, the palace’s oaks represent at once England’s great empire and its decline, “the last of the old vanguard still standing on the battlefield.” Encircled with ghostly Halloweenish fog (from a smoke bomb the photographer detonated) and starkly framed against an eerie twilight sky, the tree above writhes as if in pain, a circular hollow looking for all the world like a howling mouth. In autumn its twisted, leafless arms stretch toward—or in defiance of—heaven.