Great Northern Books, 2003
Reviewed by Mary Dunn
Judith Bromley’s book is very curious. It is unlike anything I have ever read. I would say that I have experienced it rather than read it. As she led me through the seasons of a single year, I found myself wanting it not to be autumn but to continue to be summer. I found myself engaged in the process of gauging the height of the sun, and the point in the valley where the sun never shines. I felt really glad that the populace don’t have access to ‘our’ wood, and that it remains undisturbed and sacred.
Come Down to the Wood is an intensely focussed piece of observation. It requires concentration and attentive senses. The observation is so acute that it includes self-observation of the author’s own attentiveness.
The author describes the book as a “portrait of the spirit of the place, and my relationship with it.” Her style somehow conveys quietness, cautious tread: moisture, “fast flow and gentle eddy.” She tells us that, in September: “Cobweb after cobweb, bejewelled with diamond drops, is slung across from grass to seed-head, from stem to low slung branch.” She exercises our ability to distinguish between similar hues of red: “…rosehips warm to vermilion and fatten into scarlet; the haws crimson deepens; herb robert’s crane’s bills stand erect and blush...”
Judith is able to articulate the way in which the place engages her spiritual self: “…and in the sunshine my spirit expands into the essence of the day…” And she engages not just her spirituality but also her sexuality in this wonderful woodland, where lords and ladies “unfurling…reveal pale flesh-like phalluses, which blush as they age, darkening to passionate maroon before the whole erection collapses…” Her erotic paintings of bracken, as they unfurl and interlace, allow us into a secret world of plant relationships. We are invited to meditate on the ‘spent’, post-coital state of the grasses that have discharged their seeds and are now “ripening to straw.”
Many writers have outlined the bioregional vision in which we aim to engage with the land so that we know it intimately, and the land itself determines aspects of our lifestyle. Many of us aspire to develop an appropriate ecological footprint, balancing what we take from the land against its ability to absorb waste material, and eating local produce within a seasonal rhythm. Beyond this, members of GreenSpirit regard their bioregional vision as a core aspect of their spirituality. Seldom have I seen the two integrated as clearly as in Judith Bromley’s book. Her intimate observation of the woodland, never straying into sentimentality or romanticism, is a template for our own examination and engagement with our landscape.
Generations of urban living have resulted in the loss of this level of close involvement, where the height of the sun and the timing of seed release and the flow of water were all essential knowledge for survival. But this close knowledge is not essential for our physical survival any longer; it is essential for our spiritual survival. If it is indeed true that the universe is Spirit, how else might we connect with this dimension of being? Simone Well said: “to be rooted is perhaps the most important and least recognised need of the human soul.” To know oneself to be in one’s own land, in a storied landscape, with ancestral history and rhythms particular to that piece of geology, flora and fauna: this is the bioregional vision. The kinds of soils and rocks under our feet; the source of the waters we drink; the meaning of the different kinds of winds; the common insects, birds, mammals, plants, and trees; the particular cycles of the seasons; the times to plant and harvest and forage: these are the things that are necessary to know.