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Winter trees

Wildwood: A Journey Through Trees

My 21st. book for the Mount TBR 2015 challenge is Wildwood: A Journey Through Trees by Roger Deakin.





The trouble with taking months to read a book is that by the time you get to the end you've forgotten what you read at the beginning. (And it doesn't help that I haven't the first idea how to go about reviewing a book like this either.) I'm not at all sure when I actually started this non-fiction book, possibly as far back as May or June, I know I abandoned it for a couple of months as I felt I wasn't really connecting with it. Anyway, I decided to pick it up again a couple of weeks ago because having got over a third of the way through it seemed a shame to give up on it.

The book is basically a celebration of trees... woodlands, forests and single trees; the fruits of those forests, the people who use them, what they do with the wood or fruit, how they make a living and so on. The author spent a lot of time camping out in woodlands, or on his own land where he had an old caravan affair he would spend summer nights in. The writing is rather beautiful and it was interesting reading about his experiences living out in the natural world and the wildlife he encounters.

There are also several chapters on his childhood. He attended an independent school where an inspirational teacher took classes of boys camping in the New Forest to study everything about a small area of woodland. They kept valuable records of the flora and fauna and a generation of boys were inspired to take an interest in the natural sciences.

Deakin covers quite a few areas of the country for the book: The Forest of Dean, parts of Devon, Essex, Hampshire, Suffolk, where he lived. We learn about moths, rookeries, bluebell woods, collecing driftwood on the coast and much, much more.

I rather thought that this was a book entirely about the British countryside until I turned a page and suddenly the author was walking in the Pyrenees. Huh? All of a sudden it became an overseas travelogue. I was not expecting that. After the Pyrenees he moved on to The Carpathian mountains to walk through forests with a friend who was retracing her father's footsteps as he ran from the Nazis in WW2. Then Deakin is off to Kazakhstan to look for the origins of the apple amongst the wild apple woods of the Tien Shan Mountains. From there he travels to southern Kyrgyzstan to learn about the walnut forests from the people who spend months each year camping there, harvesting the nuts. He met and stayed with local families and learnt about a way of life very few people know about in the west. I certainly had no idea that a large proportion of the world's walnut crop is grown in Kyrgyzstan. I wasn't even quite sure where it was to be honest - it's in Central Asia and has borders with China, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, capital city, Bishkek. I love having my knowledge of the world enhanced by reading books such as this.

Personally, although I quite enjoyed the the beginning sections of the book that dealt mainly with the British countryside, the book really took off when he went travelling overseas. That's just me though. I'm very much into mountainous locations and loved hearing more about places I'd read about in Clear Waters Rising by Nicholas Crane. But also the completely new regions - to me - of Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan and the mountains and forests that exist there.

The saddest thing was that I knew before I started that this was Roger Deakin's last book. Wildwood was published after his death from a brain tumour in 2006, aged 63. To lose a writer such as this is a real tragedy. Not enough people write about the beauty of nature and the diversity of the peoples of our world in such a meaningful and sympathetic way. I only gave it a three on Goodreads: if it were possible it would have been a three and a half. A lot of it worked for me but some of it didn't. Long sections on Australia just didn't connect with me and I found myself skim reading those. Others might enjoy those of course, just depends on your outlook. Anyway, I'd really like to read his book on wild swimming, Waterlog, at some stage and next year plan to use Bev's Mount TBR challenge to read a lot more non-fiction like this. I have already made a pile... Say no more. ;-)

Comments

The book does sound interesting, though maybe not enough for me to pick up. Writing about Nature is tricky, I think. A lot of what is being written is the author's visceral reaction to what he's seeing, which may not always come across as all that interesting. I've read a few, with varying degrees of success. I'm glad you were able to eventually find some interest in this book, though.
On reflection I altered my Goodreads score from 3 to 4. Sometimes I think I should wait a day or two before I decide. *G*

A lot of what is being written is the author's visceral reaction to what he's seeing, which may not always come across as all that interesting.

I think an awful lot depends on the the ability of the writer to convey beauty or an interesting scenario in a thoughtful way. Of course, sometimes I'm just not interested in the subject which means the poor writer is on a hiding to nothing. *g*
Thank you for picking this up - it's on my Mt TBR too, based on my memories of Waterlog from ages ago. I am usually a reader of the more domestic, but your preference for remote high places is infectious.

(For an introduction to some of the other 'stans', as a BBC Four documentary called them, there's Craig Murray's Road to Samarkand. Gripping, but in a very different vein.)
Oh, I *do* want to read Waterlog.

but your preference for remote high places is infectious.

Hee, hee... sorry about that.

I shall look into Road to Samarkand. TBH I may already have seen it... memory is adled these days. My mother-in-law went there years ago too.
It does indeed sound intriguing, although for me it's a have-to-be-in-the-mood type of book. But the entire thing is a far-away-places-with-(sometimes)strange-sounding-names account, including the British locations from my U.S. p.o.v., and that adds ambiance.
Yes, it was a have-to-be-in-the-mood kind of book for me too and for a couple of months I just wasn't.I do love a far-away places book though so it was a huge delight when suddenly off he went... to far-away places!
Waterlog is wonderful. You might also like Richard Mabey's Nature Cure.
Good to hear that Waterlog is excellent. I don't know the other book so I shall look into it. Lots of inspiration on Goodreads too. :-)
You might find Waterlog more satisfying than Wildwood since it doesn't venture abroad. The same is more or less true of Notes from Walnut Tree Farm. That GR list is great and there are many more I could add to it. I have my own book collection on the subject.
I don't mind abroad or a UK base in countryside books to be honest. I'm an equal opportunities armchair traveller. ;-)

You mentioned Richard Mabey in your first comment. Oddly, there's an essay by him in the paper today about yew trees. I'll post a link tomorrow when it becomes available online. It seemed like it's from a book called The Cabaret of Plants. Not sure if this is a new book or what. If this essay is from that book I think it'll be worth getting.
Thanks! It's a new book. :)
I've been eyeing this book whenever I saw it in the shops, partly because I love the title, and partly because the cover and the feel of it just attract me somehow, but I've not picked it up any further than to glance because I was worried I'd put it on my shelf and then it would stay there, as non-fiction books often do with me, somehow... but as always, you make me think that perhaps that wouldn't be so...*g*
Yes, it is a book that seems to be all over the place atm. Possibly because this kind of countryside writing is suddenly quite popular. The cover is gorgeous, I agree. You are always welcome to borrow it if you feel in the mood at some stage.