Wildwood: A journey through trees, By Roger Deakin

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The Independent Culture

Very few books have the power to change your life, to help you evaluate what's important and real in the world, but this exploration of our relationship to trees – and to wood – is one of them. It reveals how central wood has always been to the way we talk and think about ourselves. In Shakespeare people go "into the greenwood to grow, learn and change"; the Chinese consider wood as the fifth element, and Jung counts trees as an archetype in the collective unconscious.

Wildwood takes the form of an extended ramble, beginning in the New Forest where Deakin recalls his earliest forays into botany as a schoolboy, detailing all the different plants he and his friends could find while crawling on their hands and knees over small patches of ground: "Some of our projects... read almost like Swift's accounts of the scientists' experiments on Laputa in Gulliver's Travels." This isn't simply a book about trees; it's about how you can learn to look closely at life.

More than that still, it's about what the trees symbolise. "Woods," Deakin writes, "have been suppressed by motorways and the modern world, and have come to look like the subconscious of our landscape." They contain ideas about how we might rescue lives which have become somehow buried or lost.

Deakin roves as freely as he writes, travelling through Devon, and abroad in the Ukraine and Australia, sharing the journey with diverse companions who share his passion for life. Some of the scenes he describes are hauntingly beautiful: the sound of a newt "singing", or how pale the night sky can appear in summer after you've grown accustomed to the darkness. Others, like his description of a solitary ash tree, vandalised and scarred by pollution in a park at the centre of a Ukrainian town, are desperately sad. This is a moving, passionate account of nature.

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