Wildwood by Roger Deakin

Wildwood: A Journey Through Trees by Roger Deakin is a highly individual book, unique even. Ostensibly about various types of trees and their wood, it combines natural history, diary and travelogue, and is written with passion, enthusiasm and personal flourishes which make it impossible not to like it.

Deakin, one of the founders of Friends of the Earth, shifts time, location, subject and writing style with each new chapter. He starts off at his home in Suffolk, discussing his hedgerows, the wooden propellor on his desktop, the old railway carriage where he often sleeps. Moving further afield, he roams the Southern half of Britain talking about the willow trees used to make cricket bats, the Celtic tradition of the Green Man, the moths which can be found in a forest at night, and artists who work with driftwood, or who fashion objects from unseasoned oak and then leave it to misshape itself. Finally he roams the world, rambling through Polish forests or tracing the ur-apple and the ancestor of all walnuts to the mountains and valleys of Kazakhstan and Krygestan.

As you might gather, it’s a rather random journey, held together only by the common topic of trees, and by Deakin’s infectious passion for his subject. Particularly moving are his tales of school camps in the New Forest, where his teacher got the whole class carrying out detailed surveys of the local plant and animal life. You can’t help thinking that this inspirational teacher had a huge influence on the course British Natural History, as not only Deakin but several other leading British naturalists graduated through this same teacher’s wildlife camps.

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