Deakin’s ‘Wildwood’ pt. IV

Not only could the man write, he could seamlessly slip across genres, such as into travel writing as he does below… and he could read the psychology of insects!

Prague railway station, like the rest of the night city, appears to be lit by a single forty-watt bulb. It may help create atmosphere, but not when you’re struggling to read a railway ticket with your reservation details on it in Czech. Prolonged scrutiny with the tiny Maglite I have learnt to carry when in Eastern Europe reveals our sleeping car is Number 315, and we clamber up the steep iron steps and tumble into our home for the next twenty-four hours clutching a bottle of Mikulovsky Muller Bohemian white wine bought on the platform. We stow away our picnic of apples, oranges, bread and Prague ham in a cupboard above the tiny dining table that is also our desk, which is in turn the hinged cover to the washbasin. Life in a sleeping car is a miniature, tightly organized affair, like caravanning, or sailing.

Our Ukrainian steward welcomes us aboard. Well, he nods briefly as he checks the tickets, anyway. He is a suave, taciturn character with his own den and a stash of Pilsner at the far end of the carriage. We have a compartment to ourselves, and explore it much as a you would try out a new Swiss army pen knife. Everything folds or slides away, and, yes, you can get two people into one bunk, but it’s a squeeze. We draw the net curtains, turn on the bedside reading lamps and pour out the wine. As we slip out of dimly lit Prague, I half wish I had brought slippers and a dressing gown, perhaps even a cigarette holder. We spread out the picnic dinner and trundle through the blackness towards Slovakia and the Carpathian Mountains.

Later, lying on our backs like knights in effigy, we drift into sleep. To sleep on a train is to be teased endlessly, lulled insensible by the rhythmic mantra of wheels and rail joints, then, just as the dream is getting nicely into its stride, jolted awake by a sudden lurch to the left and the banging of bogeys directly beneath as we sway wildly round sharp bends or squeeze through tunnels, climbing steadily into the Tatra Mountains. We could tell we were in the mountains by the wheeze and screech of steel on steel as we wound upwards.

[…]

Later, there are rivers, sowllen and brown with meltwater from the mountains, and poplars full of misltetoe. Every cottage garden has its own miniature orchard: a dozen trees set out in two rows with the lower trunks whitewashed like bobby socks to keep the insects at bay. We debate this whitewashing of the tree-trunks. My travelling companion, Annette, thinks it might be to make them show up at night and help people avoid them as they return home, legless with vodka. My theory is that no streetwise insect would dream of exposing itself to predatory birds by crossing a band of whitewash.

– from the late Roger Deakin’s recently-published ‘Wildwood – A Journey Through Trees’ (pp.215-217).

Something tells me that it’s writing like this that can be appropriately described as redeeming, in its true sense of the word.

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