I’ve reread Roger Deakin’s Wildwood: A Journey Through Trees, not cover to cover but leafed through and read the chapters that snag my attention. Deakin died five years ago, his literary legacy being three incandescent books normally shelved in the natural history section.
An urbanite by disposition, I’m not instinctively drawn to nature writing, but I became intrigued by Deakin’s Waterlog: A Swimmer’s Journey Through Britain (1999). Inspired by John Cheever’s sad, little short story The Swimmer, Deakin decided to swim the length of Britain, using whatever lake, river, rock pool, tarn or swimming pool was available. The concept was sufficiently idiosyncratic to persuade me to read the book, and to introduce me to the burgeoning open-air swimming community, greatly enthused by the attention gained from the success of Deakin’s book.
Frankly I’d read Deakin whatever his subject, for the man’s fierce, self-deprecating wit is the magnet. After Waterlog I read Wildwood , a stunning homage to the ‘fifth element’ of wood. Deakin travels through Britain and across Europe, Central Asia and Australia, unpicking our enchantment with woods and with trees. It is a remarkable book, my favourite chapters being those about his house and land in Suffolk.
It is Deakin’s posthumous Notes from Walnut Tree Farm that is his most personal book, and my favourite. Pieced together from his journals of the last six years of his life, it is an attentive and intense collection of observations about nature and conservancy.
Without Deakin’s incitement I’d never have explored the natural history section of my local bookshop. It is a section surprisingly rich in beautifully written, lucid books about nature and the wild. Two discoveries I recommend highly are Kathleen Jamie (with a recently published second book of essays: Sightlines), and Robert Macfarlane (his latest, The Old Ways, due soon).