Notes From Walnut Tree Farm by Roger Deakin was 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. If you are living in the city and hope for country life, this is an exercise in what you can expect. And if you live in the country, it might open your eyes to what is going on around you.
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 with winter. They contrived 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. For readers that enjoy being drawn into an author's world this book is a feast. And the world is not make-believe or pretended, but our very own. His observations lead Roger Deakin off into philosophical thoughts, or into humor, or from one to 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. Roger 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 has become of an entity than the original diaries ever were.
It is a timeless book where moments can extend over pages; it is also timeless in its sense of continuity of country life. And it makes readers lose track of time as they follow the author in his ruminations and drift into their own. At least that is what happened to me. It is a book to enjoy before a roaring fire with a cup of tea beside you. A chapter can fill an afternoon.
When I had finished it, 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.