Reading Roger Deakin’s book Notes from Walnut Tree Farm was a great joy. The book is composed of excerpts from notebooks he kept during the last six years of his life. He wrote in them almost daily his observations, impressions, thoughts, feelings and doings. So while the book is strung across the course of a year from January to December, the entires are pulled from six years of writing. They are not dated with a year and on any given day there might be multiple entries from various years. It sounds complicated and disjointed but it really isn’t. I had intended to read the book a month at a time, to move through the year along with the entries. But I couldn’t stop reading, I was enjoying myself far too much to be able to dribble the goodness out over an entire year.
Deakin has a keen eye and a great knowledge of the history of the land. He is a fan of the commons and the wild, an advocate for stewardship. He loves cats and birds and holds a great respect for all living things including the insects that make their way into his study since it seems his window screens are either non-existent or of such a large mesh he is guaranteed to be visited by something while sitting at his desk:
I think, yes, it really is another world, this microscopic insect world, a world apart. But almost at once I realize that to put insects into ‘another world’ or ‘a world apart’ is dangerous. In fact it is the rationale for exterminating them with pesticides. If theirs is ‘another world’, it has nothing to do with us. It is unconnected, and, whatever we choose to do to it, we ourselves are unaffected. The very reverse is the truth of course. Unless we realize we share a single world with the insects, and that if we harm them we harm ourselves and the rest of nature, we will end up destroying ourselves — committing suicide, in fact.
I think we are beginning to discover this with the bees and people are starting to speak out about it. But it has taken far too long to get to this place and we have a long way to go. It is easy to feel sorry for a dead honeybee, not so easy for people to be sorry about ants or flies.
If I can be enchanted by my cat, rolling in joy on the brick terrace before me, why can’t I be enchanted by a green shield bug in my vegetable garden, or two ants meeting and exchanging information with a flourish of their antennae? Or the billowing fizz of cow-parsley in full flower?
But Deakin isn’t all nature yes and civilization no, bugs good, people bad. It is possible to have a balance.
I blame the Romantics for all this self-consciousness about landscape and inspiration. Wandering lonely as a cloud may be the last thing you need sometimes. Going round the corner for breakfast in a steamy cafe may be much more like it.
Deakin has much to say about trees. I learned quite a lot about pollarding and coppicing, two things that seem to be a dying art, as is creating and properly maintaining hedgerows. He is also a person who enjoys working with wood and has considerable skill at turning felled trees into bookshelves or even sculptures. He is the kind of person who respects the tree and the wood, which I believe must infuse his work with respect, passion and love.
How wonderful it must have been to be Deakin’s friend and walk with him around his farm in Suffolk and the surrounding area. Deakin died in 2006, but he has left us his notebooks curated into the beautiful Notes from Walnut Tree Farm through which we may walk with him anytime no matter the weather.