Part memoir, part travelogue, Wildwood by Roger Deakin is woven with rambling reflections and insights, loosely tackling its theme for a wide-ranging foray into the woods – without ever getting lost. Deakin discusses rookeries, the Green Man, eco-houses, even walnut-inlaid Jaguars in this lengthy reflection on wood as a lived and living thing.
His warmth and insight gained from years of living in – and caring for – his own home through crafting, mending, sustaining, and observing his own small part of the world shows a rare intimacy with the nuance of the lived environment. It’s a delight to read, channelling the likes of Henry Thoreau without ever becoming pedagogic.
Deakin’s own love of wood as a material to work with comes across strongly, but his passion doesn’t always translate for someone lacking the tactile knowledge of timber and carpentry that Deakin possesses. It’s the sort of thing that works better on film rather than on the page. Elsewhere, Deakin’s exploration of his theme takes him as far afield as Poland, Kazakhstan, and the Australian outback, in each case a refreshing re-centring of perspective outside what is often an introspectively anglicised subject.
I still haven’t found the book I’m looking for – a focused natural history of trees and woodland along with a scholarly intersection of their cultural significance – I suspect Oliver Rackham is likely where I’ll find that and where I’ll probably head next. Wildwood by Roger Deakin came reasonably close, but was ultimately too loose and idiosyncratic to be quite the book I’m looking for.
There is a short foreword at the outset of the book which is easily overlooked but succinctly sets out Deakin’s aim in his writing – to broaden people’s understanding of trees as more personal and individual, which he undoubtedly succeeds at. What I’d add to that is how he has successfully shown woods and wood to be part of a much larger ecosystem of homes, communities, and histories inhabited by an expansive cast of craftsmen, artists, walnut harvesters, thatchers, and more. It’s this display of the interconnectedness of things that makes this book a treasure to read.