Paperbacks: Wildwood, by Roger Deakin

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The Independent Culture

With a mother called Wood, a father whose first name was Greenwood and a great-grandfather who ran a timber yard, Deakin claims he has "sap in his veins". With more twists than a corkscrew hazel, this enormously pleasurable "journey through trees" begins in his Suffolk farmhouse containing 323 beams ("a small wood") and takes in such varied sylvan associations as pencils, rooks and burred walnut used for the fascias of Jaguars.

We learn that only one of the hundreds of willow species is used for cricket bats, which should last a thousand runs, that driftwood is used by fish and dolphins as "reference points" in the ocean and that Stonehenge developed from a vast wooden structure. (Its mortice-and-tenon joints are a wood-working technique.) In the Australian outback, Deakin encounters the mulga tree that can be used for both weapons and food (its ground seeds look and taste like peanut butter). He visits Kazakhstan to see the ancestor of our homely apple and takes the seeds back to Suffolk, where he anticipates delicious but irregular apples, "Tesco's Despair". Sadly, Deakin never saw them grow to fruition. He died aged 63, soon after finishing this book. His literary legacy of Wildwood and Waterlog, a paean to swimming, are two of the finest books ever written about man's relationship with nature.

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