A Journey Through Trees
Free Press: 392 pp., $26.95
Can someone tell me why old-fashioned naturalists write so beautifully and present-day environmentalists write so badly? Deakin's writing, in this and his previous book, "Waterlog: A Swimmer's Journey Through Britain," is teeming with creation. Bluebells, badgers, cow parsley, hazel, hedgerows, foxglove, rooks, robins and small-leaved limes -- this is pagan England, land of Celts and fairies. "Waterlog" was about water; "Wildwood" is about wood. "In the woods, there is a strong sense of immersion in the dancing shadow play of the leafy depths, and the rise and fall of the sap that proclaims the seasons is nothing less than a tide, and no less influenced by the moon." Trees, yes, those in his backyard and beyond, but also the enduring uses of wood, the many ways we live with wood -- heat, chairs, cricket bats, artists who work in wood. Deakin, who founded the British environmental group Common Ground, lived on a farm in Suffolk that he purchased in 1969, rebuilding the timber-frame house constructed in the 16th century and tending the orchards and walnut trees; coppicing the wood (cutting young tree stems down to encourage shoot growth) to provide habitats for a variety of insects and animals.
Every naturalist (especially those of English descent) must explore the myth of the Green Man -- Deakin makes his pilgrimage to the sacred groves of Devon and the Nemet River (today the River Mole). The Green Man, he writes, "is the spirit of the rebirth of nature. He is the chucked pebble that ripples out into every tree ring. He is a green outlaw and he is everywhere, like a Che Guevara poster." Deakin may well be a reincarnation of the Green Man, with his Franciscan lifestyle and insistence on pure life. Certainly he speaks the language of a richer time: droving, barrow, scything. He leads his reader blindfolded down strange paths and shines his beam on infinite ecosystems. Bluebells give off a phosphorescence that "blurs the blue meniscus lapping at the trees," "a woodpecker shrieks across the field. A wasp worries the windowpane," badgers knock the tops off dustbins like teenagers, "emerging early from the snouting dingles of the town at dusk," a pearl-bordered fritillary butterfly settles on his book, "enjoying the reflected sunlight."
He sleeps in a shepherd's hut on his land; he builds himself an ash bower, with a floor of ivy and mosses, "eight trunks cross-gartered with wild hops," a thatch roof of "soporific female flowers" that "hang from the green ceiling like grapes."
The Daily Coyote
Simon & Schuster: 280 pp., $23
A few years ago Shreve Stockton drove across the country on her Vespa to start a new life in New York after two years in San Francisco (oh, to be young and footloose!). On the way, she passed through Wyoming and fell in love with the landscape, especially the Bighorn Mountains. When New York City didn't "click," Shreve lit out for the territory, landing in the tiny Wyoming town of Ten Sleep.
Soon, she met a rancher who offered her a rustic cabin on his property, Shreve's dream cabin (also Shreve's dream rancher -- oh, to be young and footloose!). One day the rancher, who also worked as a trapper for the U.S. Department of Agriculture killing coyotes, brought home a coyote cub. Reluctantly, Shreve took the cub in, fed him from a bottle, let him sleep in her bed, named him Charlie (the code name trappers use for coyotes) and gave him the run of the cabin and her life.
Shreve started a blog, "The Daily Coyote," which became an overnight sensation in the nature-starved Web world. In its prime, the site received more than a million hits a month, some of it judgmental. In the 18 years he'd had his job trapping and killing coyotes, Mike the rancher told Shreve, nothing like the impulse to save this cub had ever come over him. "The Daily Coyote" is an insight into the boundaries between wild animals and humans.
"I had made it a point not to own him," Shreve wrote after Charlie inexplicably bit her one day, "and to coexist without ever being the boss of him."
She notices, as he gets older, how differently the coyote behaves around men. In an effort to assert her dominance, Shreve struggles against her nature to "become the energetic alpha." "The Daily Coyote" is an excellent example of blogging at its best -- clear, curious, intimate -- a sharing of experience that leaves room for the voyeur's own insights.
Radical Approaches to Landscape, Cartography, and Urbanism
Nato Thompson and Independent Curators International
Melville House: 168 pp., $29.95
Living in cities, we need a new way to think about how we move and what we notice (lately, I've been feeling like a shark on L.A. streets: to stop is to die or risk the wrath of fellow drivers and parking police). This strange, exciting book offers just that -- a new way to notice public space. It is the brainchild of Nato Thompson: the results of his fascinations with urban planning post-Katrina, abandoned or unnoticed urban landscapes and public art.
The photographs included here highlight the imaginative work of organizations like the Center for Land Use Interpretation (here in Culver City), The Urban Land Institute and the American Assn. of Geographers, or the Grupo de Arte Callejero (cartographers who have mapped the homes of employees of the former Argentinian military dictatorship), as well as individual artists such as Deborah Stratman, who photographs parking attendant booths in Chicago, and Trevor Paglan, who has photographed the CIA's secret prisons in Afghanistan. Experimental geography, Paglan writes in an introductory essay, is a way of creating "new spaces, new ways of being." You cannot separate culture from space or the materials we live in and among. "Ultimately," writes Thompson, "all phenomena resolve themselves in space." The text I sometimes find opaque, but the images are mind-bending.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times