Notes From Walnut Tree Farm by Roger Deakin is published by Hamish-Hamilton. A book about change and sameness in country life, it is filled with observations of the wild and not so wild. Published after his death from the notes he left behind, the editors have done their work to satisfaction.
Roger Deakin died in 2006, leaving behind 45 filled exercise books of diaries covering his last six years of life. Terence Blacker and Alison Hastie, two close friends, skilfully edited them into one coherent book. Rather than going by real time as recorded by Deakin, they arranged his writings into the four seasons starting naturally with spring to bring it to conclusion in winter. They contrived thereby an admirable composition as natural as the flow of the seasons.
Roger Deakin’s observation of nature around him and his farm is minute, but never boring. With keen eyes and adroit hearing, he brings to life animals and their sounds, plants, trees, wind, and seasons. His observations lead him off into philosophical thoughts, or into humour, or through one into the other. But even with thoughts drifting, he never becomes either disjointed or chaotic in the flow of his ruminations.
If you like the countryside and are not living there (like me), this book makes you hear and smell wet grass, hay, and fallen leaves. Deakin’s many observations about spiders, frogs, trees, and squirrels will remind you of times spent outdoors and the many small miracles to be seen there. This is not a wild book about the wilderness, but an orderly book about orderly country life with its joys and its sorrows, its complaints and its rewards.
I am no friend of posthumously published books. They usually seem like disjointed limbs being put together the wrong way; or they feel like the dustbin has been emptied on the desk and just been scanned. Not so here, where the book, I suspect, is more of an entity than the original diaries ever were. When I had finished, I felt I had rushed through the book, though I had taken my time to read it. It is a book that lends itself to slow reading with long thoughts in between sentences or paragraphs.
Ideally, I think, it should be read season by season and in season to get the feel for its ebb and flow. I will put it aside now, and take it up again in spring.
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