Saida in wonderland

Black earth is cracking under my foot because of the heat, exposing rare areas of ground that are not covered with a thick carpet of forbs. A strong smell of honey hits my nose, gadflies are circling over my head. I gain speed as I descend a steep hillock to a makeshift in clay by the river dam, where I used to sculpt clay toys as a child. I am in Dolgusha village, basically, in the middle of nowhere in Central Russia where my grandfather grew up. The place appeared on the maps of Russia somewhere around 16th century. The name means “long” place, which I interpreted as a place where souls live long as the village used to have many citizens over 100 years old. 

The frogs become silent when I try to get through the dam, overgrown with tall sedge. A couple of jumps and I am on the opposite hill, where the sage blooms. Now I climb upward, forcing the lizards to suspend their sunbathing. I am in anticipation of the chalk faults, which are visible here and there in the hillocks. It was there that my mother, as a girl, found a mammoth tusk, which is now in the regional museum of local history. I peer into the rifts, hoping to find ammonites or bullets. This area was a battle field during the Second World War but it was left untouched by the soldiers because, as locals say, it was hidden by the milky fog that was so thick that the troops took a turn around the village. The fog stayed over the village for days and when the threat was gone, it disappeared as fast as it come in the first place. I love this story, I love the way it’s told. But it’s not the only curious story you can hear in this place. Here you will definitely be told a story about protective hobgoblings, cunning silvans, magical meadows and heeling power of plants. Every time I come here, I switch to an explorer mode and go into the wild thinking about these stories and looking for artefacts.

I’m almost at the top of the hill, where the wind cools my skin and I can sense the forest. It has almost no trails and you need to navigate the terrain in order not to get lost. I walk from memory and in a while I find the magical meadow with giant bells. In this place, I become Alice in Wonderland, losing the sense of time and experiencing trembling feelings in the face of incredible creativity of nature. Everything around speaks to my essence, I dissolve in images, sensations and colors. It’s easy to feel the connection to the nature when you are in a small place that has never seen any sign of concrete. But this place is rather special. The nature with its endless buckwheat fields, hills covered with wild strawberries and rivers with blue clay shores stay at the centre of people’s lives until now. It protects and provides and sometimes it seems that it doesn’t change. After all, these giant blue bells were growing here since over half a century. 

I lose the sense of time and find myself daydreaming in the evening. It’s time to go home, where sweet herbal tea and pastries are probably already being prepared. With a tired gait, I walk back across the alley of mighty oaks and maples where hedgehogs rustle in last year’s leaves, sit down on an old swing that has seen several generations of children gazing at the sunset. Here, the weather for tomorrow is forecasted precisely by the color of the sunset (I wonder if it still works). The village is rapidly plunging into twilight and lights are lit in a few houses, which means that the time has come for more stories and tales, which, I can’t wait to hear.

Saida Ibrahimova

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