A bunch of interesting stuff that's been up on the M*7 tumblr and Delicious of late:
Big picture images of the Eyjafjallajokull volcano in Iceland.
Robert Macfarlane on managing Roger Deakin's estate
Oneohtrix Point Never live podcast
Einstein's letter on atheism, written to Erik Gutkind
Klaus Dinger on the Dinger beat.
Frank Kermode on TS Eliot
David Sheppard interviewed about his Eno biography. Mp3 available here.
Marcus Boon's brilliant Wire piece on Pandit Pran Nath
Mountain*7 - for the person with nothing better to do
Entries tagged as deakin
Port Eliot Litfest
Lots of great stuff going on over at Caught By The River. The guys have got a book coming out next year, featuring a stellar cast all describing their favourite rivers including Bill Drummond, Jon Savage and Irvine Welsh. They're also heavily involved in next year's Port Eliot literary and music festival - all set in the sumptuous grounds of Port Eliot House on the South Coast of Cornwall. There's all manner of stuff going on and in that setting it's well worth a pilgrimage.
Roger Deakin's Shepherd Hut - image by Justin Partyka
There's also a couple of cool links over there - to The Wooden Tree which is collating a database of great images of trees (am I getting old?) and a link to Henry Thomas' 'Fishing Blues' and a cracking fishing compilation from Jon Savage... Lastly, from a while back, some great images of Roger Deakin's Walnut Tree Farm, which is already becoming a semi-mythical place frozen in some other time.
In my cabin I learnt the sheer luxury of day dreaming. It has been my making and my undoing too. How many days, weeks, months have I lost to it? But perhaps it isn't lost time at all, but the most valuable thing I could have done.
Roger Deakin, Notebooks
The east coast of Jura
What a summer job: go for a few walks and that, wherever you like really, and write a few hastily constructed pieces and we'll pay you for it and give you your own column in the New York Times!
I suppose I'm being a little unfair but I'd kind of expected a bit more from Will Self's walking column in the NYT. The pieces have got an odd tone, as if he wasn't sure of the audience, or if he could let loose his full grand, petulant style. And the editing is godawful in places. Take this piece, where he walks out to Orwell's house at the far north of the island of Jura. I've read a similar account of this journey in Roger Deakin's Waterlog and it's full of drama and the bleak harshness of the land. It's also full of it subject: it inhabits. Self's piece is so badly paced and crunched together that none of the themes get a chance to breathe; and the landscape descriptions are dead and flat, with Self oddly failing to bring any animation to the surroundings at all. It's probably partly the fault of the medium and I'll check the rest of the series for sure but well...
The Wild Places
Robert Macfarlane's The Wild Places has become something of a node for me in recent months - that special kind of book that seems to expand and fill space, throwing out ideas and experiences, prompting explorations of places and books. When I first finished it back in February I had an almost insatiable hunger to be outside; and I was driven to lookat things, look at them narrowly, trying to pierce some secret thrum beneath the surface of things. Like Annie Dillard, Macfarlane has the amazing ability to make you see again - partly because of some vicarious thrill at his own almost hallucinatory clarity of vision and ability to translate this into prose, but also because of the way you return to the source, re-examine things you realise you hadn't truly looked at in years, if ever.
The other function of this node has been how The Wild Places has directed my reading. Macfarlane includes a bibliography in the book (as he does in Mountains of The Mind) - an item of intense allure and repulsion for the likes of me. So I have found myself in dusty corners with obscure books (I got a copy of Ted Hughes Wodwo through the post just yesterday, evidently from the library of a heavy smoker if the yellowing pages and tobacco-stink are anything to go by), half-crazed on steepling hangars in the grey glow of dusk dredging up incantations from the journals of Gilbert White, and looking up into the crowns of great trees wondering at the secret lives of the canopy...
All of this is of course, by way of avoiding a review, to urge you to go out and get a copy, and of course to climb a tree and forget everything for a while. It's also to recommend two recent pieces which are loosely adapted from The Wild Places and available elsewhere. This, from the chapter on Holloways which he explores with the inimitable Roger Deakin, and also this short piece on freshwater swimming which is over at the very excellent Caught By The River.
Rook, silhouette (photo from catb)
What with all these nature pieces soon I'll be growing a beard and sleeping in ditches. Hang on...
Living World, Radio 4's 'gentle weekend natural history programme' recently went to the Norfolk coast to witness the raucous spectacle of 80,000 rooks roosting in a ancient woodland. A great little program full of simple joy and knowledge. Thanks to Speechification for pointing it out. And for hosting an Mp3 of the show!
And there is also this from Roger Deakin's posthumously published book, Wildwood, a book about man's relationship with wood, and woods. The chapter on rooks is a fantastic evocation of a night spent camping beneath a rookery in another Norfolk woodland, this time a little further inland. As Deakin sets camp in his bivouac tent at the foot of a huge stand of Ash trees he notices that 'the sky can seem very pale in summer once you've grown accustomed to the darkness. I could make out the silhouettes of trees, but the rooks and their nests melted into the general blackness. In the wood, complete silence but for the occasional minor rustling further off. Starlight filtered down, strained through the black leaves...As I began to drift in and out of sleep, drugged by bluebells, I felt doubly submerged, a long way beneath the surface on the sea floor of the wood. Once I was woken with a jolt by a sudden mad commotion in the rookery caused, I suppose, by a bad bird dream: a pouncing fox in the skull of a rook that sent a wave of alarm through the canopy.'
He wakes at dawn to the glorious cacophony of the rookery
Hours later, while the sun was still in the horizon I drifted back into consciousness to the most raucous of dawn choruses...Settling my head back into the mossy pillow, I exulted in the luxury of waking in a rookery in full cry.
By the time I swam into full consciousness, most of the young rooks were out of their nests, perched among the topmost twigs. They basked in the first rays of sun that turned the green to gold around them, their black feathers gleaming blue, green, purple and bronze, absorbing the warmth. The parent birds soared off in sallies of flight accompanied by crescendos of cawing, returning with breakfast for the fledglings who expressed their satisfaction in half-choked high-pitched mewling. Each time they landed, the rooks fanned their tails in greeting: gesture is an important part of their language. A good deal of the rooks' circling, gliding flight seemed to be nothing other than joyful orisons with no apparent destinations in the fields. In February I had watched them here, flinging themselves into a strong wind and somersaulting wildly upward, then diving straight down again towards the wood like bungee jumpers, checking their swoop just in time with the tilt of a wing to glide far away across the valley towards the church on the far hill...The more they flew, the more noise the rooks made. Whether you can call it melody is the question I lay pondering...I think of their utterings as conversation, or the roughest of folksong. Rooks speak in the strongest of country burrs. They are rasping, leathery, parched, raucous, hoarse, strangled, deep-throated, brawling, plaintive, never reticent, and like all good yokels, incomprehensible...Intruding on the privacy of rooks from a small tent on the wood floor was never meant to be at all scientific, but it was plain to me from where I lay that they had quite a rich language. I sometimes heard a private, muted, muttering note, uttered into the depths of the nest behind net curtains, strictly for the ears of the family. Also pitched in a lowered voice was a kind of squeaking that sounded like contentment. The rooks didn't seem to mind my presence at all. It even occurred to me that having roosted all night under the same ash-leaf roof, I had somehow been accepted into their company by some ancient law of hospitality. Rooks are, after all, the most sociable of birds...
Martin Strel swims. For miles. As of now he has swum the Danube, the Parana (South America's second longest river), the mighty Yangtze and the Amazon. Yes, the Amazon - all 3,278 miles of it. That was 30,000 strokes in every 10 hour day, and for 67 days without a day off. He wore a wet suit to protect himself against snakes, spiders, mosquitoes, poisonous insects and microbes, not to mention the candiru, a worm that has designs on swimming up your urethra and lodging itself there with miniature spikes. It is furiously territorial once attached and can only be removed with it's brand new home. He got third degree burns from the sun. He was smeared in vaseline to protect cuts and grazes and so to ward off hungry piranhas.
The obvious thing to scream is WHY? And Strel, like many extreme adventurers, seems largely unable to answer the question. In a way I guess the deed itself is at once a eloquent response to some greater question that resides inside the man himself. Something we can never be party to. There are two recent articles on Strel that are worth a look even if they rather lamely attempt to answer the very same question. A piece in the New York Times and this piece, in which Sam Wollaston swam a stretch of the Thames with Strel which was in the Guardian magazine a few weekends ago...
Book: Roger Deakin - Waterlog
ISBN 13: 978-0099282556
And speaking of swimming I recently finished Roger Deakin's marvellous book, Waterlog, which is an exploration of Britain via it's waterways - its ponds, lakes, canals, lochs, moats, the sea. In the book, Deakin, a profoundly ecologically minded man, and a passionate advocate of fresh and saltwater swimming, sets out from his moat in Suffolk to swim across Britain and gain what he calls a 'frog's eye view' of things.
In many ways, the book is like a mirror image of Jonathan Raban's Coasting in which Raban takes to the sea looking to gain some perspective on Britain from afar, and also in a quest for some wilderness, some escape. Yet if Raban is running from something (Raban is always running from something), Deakin's journey is less a flight away as much as a flight inward - both in terms of his immersal in the waterscape of the country and a gently melancholic exploration of himself and what he is capable of. While Deakin is often within shouting distance of a major town or city, what he finds whilst paddling along streams and rivers is that he is quite detached and in a strong sense wild. And whether he is floating above old field margins in the sea between Cornwall and the Scilly Isles or bravely exploring the epic waterways and ditches near the Denver Sluice in the Fens he is always seeing with a humming intensity, logging the landscape and in Keats' phrase 'taking part in the existence of things'. Whilst I may not exactly be stripping my keckers off and jumping in the Solent any time soon, what Waterlog does is make you look again, see the world with newly focused eyes which is the greatest praise you can give any form of art.
I came to Deakin through this beautiful elegy by Robert Macfarlane, which I read a couple of years ago soon after Deakin had passed away. I was captivated by the way Macfarlane had portrayed Deakin and the way in which he lived - his tumbledown house with its moat, its wild hedges and swallows in the chimney; his timber framed car with moss in the seat wells; his many outhouses with writing desks and rickety beds which he would routinely spend nights in. Deakin is like a living presence in Macfarlane's beautiful book, The Wild Places and in many ways, the book is very much about Deakin, or at least what he seemed to embody. It's such a shame that he passed away when he did because he seemed to come to writing late and if Waterlog (and his second book, the recently published Wildwood) is anything to go by he had so much to tell.
There is a piece by Deakin over at Open Democracy a teaser for Waterlog. I hope and pray every time I walk through the water meadows in Winchester to see a someone in trunks and goggles arrowing through the water, but as yet I remain unfulfilled. There is also links over at the very fine Caught By The River to two fabulous radio shows Deakin did for Radio 4 .
Lastly, Loudon Wainwright's The Swimming Song is so deeply enmeshed in Waterlog, and in Deakin's life (the song was played at his funeral) that I just had to include it here.
Download: Loudon Wainwright III - The Swimming Song