Deakin, R. (2008) Notes From Walnut Tree Farm Hamish Hamilton ISDN 978 0 241 14420 6
Not a waterways-related review this one, instead it’s a review of the last musings of one of my favorite writers on the natural world and our relationship with it.
For the last six years of his life, the nature writer and broadcaster Roger Deakin – author of Waterlog and Wildwood who died in 2006 aged 63 – kept notebooks in which he wrote his daily thoughts, impressions, feelings and observation. The journal format – loose, tangential and capable of microscopic intensity – is just right for the minute observations that successful nature writing depends upon.
Notes From Walnut Tree Farm collects the very best of these writing and wonderfully capture Deakin’s restless curiosity about both the natural and human worlds, his love of literature and music, his knack for making unusual and apposite connections, and his distinct charm and humour.
Deakin befriends ants, mourns foxes and feels closer to the pheasant who feasts on raisins on his lawn than to his 12-bore-toting neighbour. Deakin’s accounts sing, as unruly and robust as the world he bore witness to.
As Olivier Laing in The Observer wrote:
Deakin’s greatest gift – indeed, his legacy – is to make the ecologically-minded life a matter of gleeful fun. He’s both hedonist and subversive, loving to trespass, to wander at will. It was this quality that made Waterlog compelling reading, reconfiguring the British isles into an enchanted realm in which rivers prove a delightful alternative to roads for a population of joyfully anarchic swimmers. Breaking tedious health and safety rules was all part of the fun. It’s a spirit that presides here too: ‘There’s a deep-sprung excitement about English woods,’ he notes, ‘precisely because they are forbidden places – they’re in private ownership.’
Notes From Walnut Tree Farm is so busy and bustling with life that it seems hard to believe that Deakin is no longer prowling his house in the company of his cats, swimming in his moat or darting through an autumn night to sleep in his beloved shepherd’s hut. Whilst I would advise anyone new to Deakin to start with the magnificent Waterlog, this posthumous collection is a worthy summation of the clarity and colour of his writing.