This is an unusual and rather poignant book. Published posthumously, Notes From Walnut Tree Farm comprises the edited highlights of the notebooks kept by author, conservationist and swimmer Roger Deakin during what turned out to be the last six years of his life. The selected notes have been arranged into calendar months, so that they read like a single year’s thoughts, reflecting the changing seasons. It’s a format which works very well.
Deakin’s notes were clearly never intended for publication in their current form. Perhaps he hoped to use them as starting material for some future book. But his literary executor and editors have done Deakin and us a great service by ensuring the thoughts contained within his notebooks saw the light of day. The Roger Deakin who emerges from these pages is one of those rare beasts: a committed nature lover and environmentalist, with at least one foot planted firmly in the real world. I suspect that he did hug the occasional, unsuspecting tree, but it would be going too far to accuse him of being a tree-hugger.
“Jottings, in their spontaneity and complete absence of any craft, are often much truer to what I actually feel or think at a given moment,” Deakin observes. Their spontaneity also means that his jottings record passing thoughts which might not have escaped editorial pruning. Deakin was clearly a lover of the minutiae of life: “You could spend a lifetime studying a hedgerow, or a pond,” he notes, and “Just as popular history has, until recently, tended to focus more on kings and queens, admirals and generals, than on the everyday lives of ordinary people, so natural history has tended to favour the bigger creatures and plants over the smaller ones. Whales, lions, elephants, sharks and anacondas generally command more column inches or television time, while their smaller counterparts in creation are, literally, over-looked.” True to this philosophy, Deakin’s notes contain thoughts and observations of such minutiae as the ant crawling across his desk, and the insects attracted to the light of his window.
Postscript: I have since re-read this book several times. All of Deakin’s books are wonderful, but this one is my favourite.