Thursday, February 12, 2009


Reading Roger Deakin's The Wildwood and I come up with any number of delightful stories be it the interior walnut veneer of a Jaguar car (always wanted an XKl140) or Japanese wooden prayer shoes. But firstly a Japanese tale...

This is to do with driftwood, that rather lovely material of wood that has ended up in the sea and is given back to the land in various beautiful convuluted shapes. Well the story is more human than that for it takes in the concept of being cast out on the sea and left to live or die on the will of the currents.

There is an initiation custom by certain monks on an island in Japan in which a novice monk is launched in a wooden box on the tides, the currents could take him out to sea and he could never be seen again. Or the boat may take him on a circular trip back to shore, so the box can either be a coffin or a boat, the novice has consented to be human driftwood.

Perhaps we are all human driftwood, the vagaries of life pushing us here and there like a tumbling piece of wood on the crest of a wave, reminding us that though there may high crests there is also deep troughs of dark water as well.

Deakins has on his desk a wooden pine prayer shoe of a monk that has been washed up by the sea, and he wonders on the fate of its owner. Another fascinating thing I read is about the waves around the Islands of Japan, there is a painting somewhere of great crested waves meeting together, it always fascinated me, apparently this is a 'truth' (I will explain later) the sea does work in this different way quite different to the seas of our shores, that lap gently back and forth with the tides.

Now why I bracket the 'truth', for years I have loved the Chinese paintings of tall vertical sided mountains, these rocky crags with stunted fir trees make an eloquent magical landscape with their tiny bridges over rivers, but I never believed such landscapes could exist. That is until I saw a television programme a few months ago and saw the exact shape of the mountains somewhere in China.
Another story Deakin tells is about David Nash, an artist who sculpts in wood, often with a chainsaw, his works can be seen all round the world. Now I' m not quite sure I like the way he has with wood, he tends to 'torture' living trees to adopt certain shapes, but one story is fascinating. He lives and works in Wales at Blaenau Ffestiniog, and this tale is about a wooden ball carved and then set free on a river. David Nash followed the journey of the wooden boulder over the years, for it took a great many years for the boulder to dislodge itself from the rocks of the river and move gradually downstream till at last it reached the estuary. Here Nash would hire a boat and follow its progress as it washed back and forth on the tides over the months and lodged on different beaches. One day of course it disappeared and is now presumably out on the wide sea floating who knows where, another piece of flotsam that may appear years later on a foreign beach...... The Wooden Boulder can be found in this rather long article here....


  1. I've just finished reading 'Wildwood' too, some of it I enjoyed some of it I didn't and I agree with you about David Nash's way with trees. I ended up not knowing whether I liked Roger Deakin or not - I'm reading Notes From Walnut Tree Farm at the moment and that gives me the same ambivalent feelings about him. I do wonder whether the farm is still there and unaltered now that he's dead or whether it's been 'restored'.

  2. Hi Rowan, Know what you mean about Deakin, there is an element of 'selfishness' in him.. in that he goes about 'experiencing' things but doesnt actually contribute to life. Its all very well swimming all round England and living in a house completely connected to the natural world. Probably its best to put him down as an individualist who crashed out in the 1960s and refused to conform to life ;)

  3. "Wildwood" is wonderful and I'm glad you're reading it. The perspective from here, thousands of miles away, is one of nostalgia, and hence I'm not sure I'm one to judge objectively.