August 24, 2011

READING: Wildwood: A Journey Through Trees by Roger Deakin

A sudden decision to write a series of songs about the concept of wilderness led me to pick up this book that's been lingering unread on my bedside table for months.

It's a series of essays, each of which deals in some way with trees. It's captivating, and you can really imagine what it's like to wander deep in ancient forests and to feel their dark and arcane magic. It's also full of interesting anecdotes, histories, and insights into the diverse and particular varieties and cultures of the woods.

It gets into the difference between ash and willow, between coppicing and pollarding, between root and burl. Deakin attends an ancient ritual, enacted every year, whereby the British woodland poor reassert their right to pollards cut from manorial forests, chanting "Grovely! Grovely! Grovely! and all Grovely!" He describes the contrast between the shady world of burl dealing, where shotgun-toting schemers soak rare walnut deformities in water to increase their weight before selling, and the sterile burl libraries where the slivers are kept, barcoded and serialized, before they are applied by hand to the interiors of Jaguar XJ6s. He helps artist David Nash chase one of his creations, a giant wooden boulder, as it wanders up and down a tidal estuary. He tracks down wild Ur-apples in Kazakhstan, and explains how they gave birth to all modern cultivars. He watches birds, catches moths, and follows green roads, holloways, drovers roads, and ridgeways, all of which existed long before any kind of plan or pavement.

This book made me want to do a lot of walking around, to watch trees patiently -- for years even -- as they grow and change, and to learn lost arts, like laying a hedge or building a bender. I finished it feeling profoundly sad: I know I'm going to miss Roger Deakin.

Books it made me want to read:
King Solomon's Ring by Konrad Lorenz
A Million Wild Acres by Eric Rolls
The Woodlanders by Thomas Hardy

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