Roger Deakin’s Notes From Walnut Tree Farm is one of the most charming and interesting books I’ve read in a long time.
Charming, because it is a collection of thoughts on nature, throughout the seasons, from one of our most well-respected British nature writers. Interesting, because it is unplanned; unstructured by the writer himself, who passed away in 2006, a couple of years before the book was published (it was compiled by Robert Macfarlane). Interesting, because it seems to distil so many things into pithy observations or philosophical reflections about a man living with wildlife at the centre of his existence. These are thoughts of someone so engaged in the business of watching the world in which he lived (predominantly at Walnut Tree Farm, in Norfolk), but also talking of the farm in the context of the wider world. Month by month, through all types of weather, through all times of the day, through all sensations one may experience with the natural world, this is all filtered through an acute and deeply sensitive lens; these are Deakin’s genuine attempts to understand not only his surroundings, but his reactions to it.
All of us, I believe, carry about in our heads places and landscapes we shall never forget because we have experienced such intensity of life there: places where, like the child that ‘feels its life in every limb’ in Wordsworth’s poem ‘We are seven’, our eyes have opened wider, and all our senses have somehow heightened. By way of returning the compliment, we accord these places that have given us such joy a special place in our memories and imaginations. They live on in us, wherever we may be, however far from them.
There are mentions or discussions, of a few writers and artists who have themselves engaged with nature, but more importantly Deakin discusses his interactions with the sentiments of those writers, an effort to engage with what they meant. In another sense, it becomes more than a book about nature, but a kind of free-form prose poem itself.
On Walnut Tree Farm nature is more than just a subject; it seems to be the medium through which Deakin understands literature.