In April 2020, the Norfolk artist Jayne Ivimey took to waking every day while it was still dark, gathering up her drawing materials and a thermos, and driving to the nearby Felbrigg Wood where she would watch the dawn rise. She would stay there every day until dusk, and kept up her visits for the following 13 months.
Fearing all contact with people and learning to live in seclusion, the wood became my second home, a refuge from grief and a chance to change the structure of my waking hours, so as to avoid the emptiness of daylight.
It was the beginning of lockdown. Jayne’s husband Peter Sinclair had died on 31st March, having been in an induced coma for several weeks. Lockdown meant that there was no support system, no one to turn to in those days.
We were enveloped in a kind of darkness, cut off from all the life lines that were important to us: our families, friends, cities, great works of art.
As recorded in her extraordinary and unusual new book A Tree Is Best Measured When It’s Down, she found solace in the trees of Felbrigg Wood, particularly in the great fallen beeches to which she gave names, families and personalities.
Fallen warriors lay all over the wood, many of them shattered by the fall, but the shifting light of the day revealed that some still retained a more or less undamaged form. I examined the the bend of a knee, the cruck of an elbow, the crease where the soft turn of a thigh meets the hip. The more I got to know these dead trees, the more familiar and alive they became.
It may seem strange, this manner of self-healing, taking comfort from trees, but Jayne Ivimey’s book of words, photographs and drawings, with a sensitive and perceptive introduction by Julia Blackburn, are an unusual and profoundly moving record of her life after Peter, of those extraordinary times, and of the restorative power of nature. At a time in our history where the performative, 21st century style of emotion is all the rage – you can’t bake a cake on TV without bursting into tears – A Tree Is Best Measured When It’s Down feels unusual, authentic and true.
It is early days in 2024, but this is already one of my books of the year. At the moment, there are just a few self-published copies available through her website. I hope that a mainstream publisher will notice it and give it the wider distribution it deserves.