I had the pleasure a few weeks back of happening upon a radio program on BBC Radio4 which featured the late environmentalist Roger Deakin. I only caught the very tail end of the program (and sadly wasn't able to listen in on the archived show while it was available), but I did at least get to briefly hear Deakin speak about Walnut Tree Farm (the famous moat where he would swim in particular) complete with sound effects as he gave commentary about the surrounding environment.
I think I owe it mostly to Deakin (and whoever pointed me in his direction to begin with) for my now ongoing nature-reading kick. If you're not sure you'd like to read books about nature/the natural environment, I can think of no better place to begin than Roger Deakin's marvelous Notes from Walnut Tree Farm. I picked it up less for the reason it's a book about nature than the fact that it's written in diary format, a genre I've been dipping into throughout the year (and enjoying immensely I might add). So what began as a good read in a genre I had been enjoying turned into a discovery of a new genre I now am eager to explore. The usual bookish serendipity you see.
Roger Deakin passed away in 2006, but my impression from his writing is that he was a really lovely man. He had a great love and respect for the environment as well as a great curiosity. He didn't just look at nature as something outside his window to be dealt with or put up with but lived with it and in it fully. And nothing was too big or more importantly too small to not give careful attention to. More than once he would write about an ant that had been lost in the mess on his desk and his fear of crushing it, or a spider that had put up a web somewhere in his cottage, even the common house fly was not ignored. Where others might complain about a loud or mischievous bird, he revelled in it's music.
As I was reading it made me step back and think about my own relationship with the natural world--something I admit I have always thought about as something strictly outside and sort of compartmentalized to be taken in doses. Nature is for the weekends or holidays when you get to travel somewhere exciting, but Deakin would never have thought that way, I'm sure. It's given me a new respect and interest in the world outside my windows.
Notes from Walnut Tree Farm is exactly that--notes jotted down over the course of the year, reflections on what he was doing or thinking and especially what he was seeing. The book is divided up by month. Some entries are quite short--just a line or two, but some are several pages in length. There are poems, bits from books, conversations and stories, and he's often very funny and a little irreverent. I don't usually write notes in my books (mostly due to the fact I tend to read while doing something else--walking on a treadmill or riding the bus), so I dog ear my books--turn down the corners and hope I'll remember what it was on the page I wanted to return to. There are lots of dog eared pages in my copy of Notes from Walnut Tree Farm. Rather than listen to me go on about the book, let me share a few passages so you can get a sense of Deakin's "voice".
"Cats are angels. They sustain me invisibly by their presence. They are full of love, and they engender peace. They are household angels, like swallows in the chimney."
"Last night at finner I sat between two women. The one on my right told a story about a sudden increase in the numbers of green woodpeckers in the Fens where she lives with her husband. The woodpeckers couldn't resist the clapboard walls of their house, and pecked a hole and built a nest in the cosy recesses of the insulated cavity wall while they were away on a spring holiday. They reacted with annoyance instead of delight, evicted the woodpeckers and had the wall repaired. 'It cost us £600 in new insulation and builders' bills,' she said. She complained they were forced to hang balloons all round the house from the eaves to repel the woodpeckers. I suggested it might be more rewarding to have the builders adapt the chosen section of wall into a built-in woodpecker bird-box."
"The great antidote to racism is travel. If only people would travel more adventurously, they would soon learn the deep respect for other peoples and cultures of the true traveller. I don't mean tourist bu traveller: one who finds himself depending on the goodwill and hospitality of other people--the natural human civility of other people in other countries--and who knows what it is to be a foreigner."
"Working with a scythe is silent, rhythmical and conducive to thinking. A power tool simply jams the brain with its din and violence and sense of hurry. A scythe is unhurried, but it can fell a fair-sized area of grass and herbs in an hour of steady work, and by six I have very nearly cleared the whole front lawn."
"Mellis--Robinson's Mill Advertisement. The people at whom the smart, whole-page aad is aimed are 'dog walkers'. 'Mellis common is ideal for dog-walkers.' Why not just walkers?"
"Simply 'walking' is conceived as a cranky, long socks and shorts, Ramblers' Association, left-wing sort of thing to do. The affluent have dogs and go 'dog-walking'. 'I'm just going to walk the dog down to the post,' they say, unhooking the Barbour from its peg by the door."
"A warm, sunny day, but cooler in the evening, and a change to wind and rain said to be on the way. Emperor dragonflies about, and the carp very frisky and bold in their planet orbits of the pond."
I'm looking forward to reading Roger Deakin's Wildwood eventually but I've just started Frank Browning's Apples: The Story of the Fruit of Temptation. Apples are my favorite fruit (well, one of them anyway), and since this is prime apple picking season it seemed only fitting.