the guardian Fri 03 July 2009
The late Roger Deakin was the author of Waterlog, a book about swimming in the wild, and a founder of both Common Ground and Friends of the Earth. He lived by himself in a house in Suffolk - Walnut Tree Farm - chosen because it was deep in the country and distanced from the suburban sprawl in which he grew up. Notes from Walnut Tree Farm is an edited collection of his daily jottings. It charts his intense interest in local wildlife history, the reasons why certain tracks appeared when they did and the uses and abuses of common land. Alongside a nose for natural history, Deakin displays a sensory immersion in the minutiae of the natural world around him, from the woods (a "society of trees") to the hedgehog he brings in from the cold and the ant that crawls over his desk. Both down-to-earth and ethereally poetic in its observations of plants, sky, animals and his own relationship to them, Deakin's diary is an addictive ode to both everyday conservation and the interconnectedness of the world.
the guardian Sat 20 December 2008
It is a fine thing when a publisher rouses itself to produce a book of a physical quality worthy of its text. These extracts from the celebrated naturalist's diaries of the last six years of his life, mostly in and around his Suffolk home of the title, have been arranged to cover a single calendar year, so that the reader might share in Deakin's rapturous observation of the changing weather and seasons. He swims in his moat, sleeps under the stars, adores his cats, and instructs us as to the "optimum dimensions for a writing shed". (I took note: 14ft by 9ft.) He also has a philosophical mode, swift and laconic: "I am interested in the society of trees. A wood is a society of trees, and it stands for democracy and society." And I was delighted to read of his fetishism of the Rotring Art Pen, which I share. The lesson of this gorgeous and deep book is that nothing is boring if you look at it hard enough; and though there is a lot of fascinating material about working outside with plants and timber, my favourite parts were the anecdotes about particular spiders or ants inside the cottage, wandering over the writer's desk or lurking by the window, seen close-up with a patient and wondering gaze: they are little narrative masterpieces.