The content and opinions expressed in this blog are mine. They do not represent the US Government or US Peace Corps - Jud Dolphin

Monday, August 30

Ordinary Life: Into the Forest

My day begins with a phone call from Annya. I have known her for over a year and every time she calls me something interesting is bound to happen. "My Babushka wants to know if you want to go to the forest."

Among Ukrainians, going to the forest is one of the preferred leisure activities. Ukrainians love their land and especially the forests. I've heard many a discourse bestowing the benefits of pine scented air and the healing qualities of nature's beauty. They say going to the forest can heal mind, body and soul. Who am I to disagree?

Annya continues, "My Babushka has a special place to pick ground apples. Will you join her and a couple of friends?"

I have learned to never say no to an invitation and immediately agree. I will learn about forging for ground apples.... whatever that may be.

It's a beautiful day. The oppressive heat of a few weeks ago is gone. Blue skies mixed with delicious marshmallow clouds hover over golden fields. The sunflower crop has been harvested and the corn awaits its turn. Distant clusters of people work fields by hand. I think they are harvesting potatoes for their family's winter meals.

Much of the land is unploughed. I am told that ownership disputes have not been settled since the demise of Communism. In addition, markets and infrastructure for crops are undeveloped. Ukraine is rich in natural resources, but has yet to benefit fully.

I look out over the Ukrainian landscape. I try to imprint the images into my mind. I am aware that my time in Ukraine is running down. Already I have been here more time than remains. I want to capture the sights for my old age memories.

Summer is turning towards Fall. Fields in greens, yellows and browns flow across the horizon. Mounds of hay dot the landscape. Stork nests adorn the tops of electric poles like large baskets A horse drawn cart trots down a two rut path. Flocks of geese waddle across a pond. Babushkas sit on benches outside of village homes watching our train swoosh by.

About an hour later, we arrive at a village station. It's like hundreds of others that mark destinations across Ukraine. I am surprised to see a professionally dressed woman waiting for us. She is the Director of the Station. I learn that my Babushka worked for many year as a ticket-taker on the trains. She knows everyone!

"Please come inside," says the Director in Russian. "We have prepared a little welcome for you." Within moments, we gather around an office table. Pizza, chicken cutlets and of course, fresh tomatoes and cucumbers appear along with a tort (cake) and a small bottle of vodka.

We toast to health and then to friendship and then to women and then the vodka runs out. I savor the moments. An ordinary train trip has been transformed into an occasion. What a welcome!

Now into the forest, we go. Sun shadows speckles are path. A backdrop of white pines scent the air. Here and there, a cluster of birch trees stand out. I am feeling the healing qualities.

We walk and then walk some more. After about 3 kilometers, we spy our first ground apples. They are about the size of golf balls or even smaller. They grow under the white pines on ground hugging shrubs. "Pick the yellow ones and leave the green for later," my Babushka instructs.

We get busy filling bags and then pouring the contents of our bags into a big sack. Babushka and here sister have a family dispute about the best way to hitch the sack to the bike. I have been taking photos and now capture the squabble. We all begin to laugh. Sisters will be sisters.

The ground apples are terribly soar like lemons. Each one will be cored and either boiled for compote juice or ground into marmalade. It's a lot of work.
As we scurry back to catch our 6:00 pm train to Konotop, I realize that this trip is more than foraging. It's a chance to enjoy friendships, delight in impromptu parties, see the countryside and taste the beauty of nature. For this American, it is also a way to remember a Ukrainian way of life.

1 comment:

  1. Nice post, Jud. You capture life there so well. What are you all doing in that last picture???