Book 5. Who are we? (2001)
A garden for eternity
I set off on a day-trip to the country along with employees of the Anastasia Cultural Foundation of Vladimir. We stopped by the picturesque shore of a small pond. The women went about preparing a variety of salads for lunch, while the men attended to building a fire. I stood at the edge of the pond, gazing at the water and lost myself in thought. I was in a pretty gloomy mood. All at once Veronika, a resident of a nearby village, came up to me and said:
“Vladimir Nikolaevich, just about seven kilometres from here, in the middle of these fields, there are two former manorial estates. There’s nothing left of the buildings, but the fruit orchards have been preserved. Nobody looks after them, but they still bring forth fruit year after year. They give a lot more fruit than the village orchards which are tended to and fertilised.
“In 1976 there was an extremely cold winter in these parts, and a lot of people lost their orchards and were forced to
plant new ones, but these two, out among the fields, weren’t touched by the cold at all, and not a single tree was lost.” “Why didn’t the cold touch them?” I asked. “Maybe they were a special variety, cold-resistant?”
“Just the usual variety. But the way everything was set up on these former estates — the way they did it on just a single hectare of land — wow! It’s pretty much the way Anastasia describes it in your books. Two hundred years ago people planted Siberian cedars all around it along with local oak trees... Another thing: the hay from the grass that grows there is a lot richer. It keeps for a long time.
“If you like we could go see the place right now. It’s just a dirt trail through the fields, but your jeep can make it.”
I couldn’t believe my ears. Who? How? A gift like this — and just at the right place and at the right time. Are such ‘co-incidences’ really coincidental after all?
“Let’s go!” I said.
The trail ran across fields belonging to a former state farm.2 I said ‘fields’, though they were really more like hayfields or meadows, all overgrown with tall grasses.
“They’ve really cut back their growing areas here,” observed Evgeny, Veronika’s husband. “The farm company doesn’t have enough money for fertiliser... Anyway, the ground’s getting a rest. And not just the ground. The birds have started singing again this year. You didn’t hear such happy twittering before. What are they so happy about? Maybe ’cause there are no chemicals on the fields now Before the revolution there were villages here in these meadows — my grandmother told me about them. But there’s no trace left of them now
“Look — there it is, to the right of the trail — a former estate.”
In the distance I could see tall trees growing densely to-gether. They appeared to cover about a hectare of ground. This place seemed simply like a green isle of forest, all sur-rounded by fields and meadows. As we drew closer, I could see in amongst the dense grove of two-hundred-year-old oak trees and bushes an entrance leading to a woodland oasis in-side. We went in through the entrance and...
There we were inside... Just imagine: there inside were ancient apple trees with gnarled trunks, spreading their branches out into space. Branches literally dripping with fruit. They hadn’t been dug around — they were just growing there amidst the grasses, they hadn’t been sprayed for insects, but these old apple trees were bearing fruit, and their fruit showed no sign of worm infestation. Some of the trees were real oldies, their branches were breaking under the weight of the fruit. Real oldies — quite possibly this was their last year for bearing fruit.
They will soon die off, but alongside each ancient tree you could already see shoots of a new tree breaking through the soil. The thought actually came to me that these trees probably wouldn’t die — at least not until they saw the fresh and healthy shoots coming from their seed.
I walked through the orchard, took a taste of the fruit, wan-dered among the oak trees growing all around, and it seemed as though I could discern the actual thoughts of the Man who had created this splendid oasis. It was as though I could hear him thinking:
“Right here, around the orchard, I should put in an oak grove. It will protect the orchard from the winter cold, as well as from summer heat in dry years. Birds will make their nests in the tall trees and stop the caterpillars from taking over. I’ll plant a shady oak allee by the shore of the pond. When the trees grow up, their tops will come together, giving shade to the spacious allee below.”
And all at once a kind of vague thought made my blood course faster through my veins. What was it demanding of me, this thought? And then... it came in a flash: of course, Anastasia! Naturally you were right when you said that we could feel God in coming into contact with His creations and in continuing His creations. Not by wild antics, jumping up and down and new-fangled rituals, but by directly turning to Him, to His thoughts, it is surely possible to understand His wishes and our own purpose in life. Here I am standing beneath the oak trees on the shore of a man-made pond and I can literally read the thoughts of the Man behind this living creation. And he — this Man, this Russian, who lived here two hundred years ago — no doubt felt more than others the thoughts of the Creator, which enabled him to bring about this Paradise creation. His own garden, his own family nest.
He may have died, this Russian, but his orchard has remained, and is still bringing forth fruit, and feeding the children of the neighbouring villages, who come here every autumn to delight in the fruits. Some people gather them up and sell them. And you, my fine Russian fellow, no doubt wanted your grandchildren and great-grandchildren to live here. Of course you did! I can tell that because you didn’t put up just a mansion with a limited life-span, but something that will last for eternity
But where are your grandchildren and great-grandchildren today? Your family domain has been abandoned, it’s all grown over with grasses, and your pond is drying up. But your allee, for some reason, didn’t get overgrown with wild grass. In fact the grass beneath it is like a carpet. Your corner of Paradise which you created — your family domain — is no doubt still awaiting the return of your descendants. Decades go by, even centuries, but it is still waiting. So where are they? Who are they now? Whom do they serve? Whom do they worship? Who chased them away from here?
We did have a revolution — maybe that’s to blame for eve-rything? Of course it is. Only a revolution is made by people when some sort of qualitative change takes place in the consciousness of the majority. What happened in the minds of your contemporaries, my fine Russian fellow, that your family domain has gone to waste?
The local old-timers told me how the ageing Russian land- owner headed off a blood-bath on his domain.
When a group of revolutionary-inclined residents from two nearby villages, pumped up on local beer, marched en masse to pillage his family domain, the old landowner came out to meet them with a basket of apples, only to be slain by a bullet from a double-barrelled gun. He had known already the night before that they were planning to pillage his house, and he had persuaded his grandson, a Russian officer, to leave the domain. The grandson, a front-line veteran, decorated with St George’s Cross, fled together with his comrades-in-arms with front-line Mosin rifles slung over their shoulders; their open wagon also carried a trusty, battle-worn machine gun. He probably went into emigration and now has grandchildren of his own growing up.
Your descendants, my fine Russian fellow, are growing up in another land, while in Russia, in your kin’s domain, the leaves of the trees in your orchard are rustling in the breeze, and every year your old apple trees are bringing forth fruit, astounding all the residents around with a luxuriant harvest. There isn’t even a trace of your house left, all the outbuildings have been torn down, but the orchard lives on in spite of everything — no doubt in the hope that your descendants will return to taste the best apples in the whole wide world. Yet your descendants are still not coming.
Why have things turned out like this and who is making us seek our own happiness at the expense of others just like us? Who is making us breathe air filled with noxious gases and dust instead of floral pollen and beneficial ethers? Who is making us drink water deadened by gases? Who? Who are we today? Why do not your descendants come back, my fine Russian fellow, back to their family nest?
In the second domain the apples were even tastier than in the first. Around this orchard had been planted beautiful Siberian cedars. Local residents informed me that there had even been more cedars earlier — now only twenty-three of them were left. During the days following the revolution when they still had a day-labour system, they said people were paid for their work with cedar nuts. Now the nuts were there to be collected by anyone who wanted to. The only thing was, sometimes they would beat the trees very hard with logs4 to make the cones fall to the ground.
Twenty-three Siberian cedars, planted by the hand of Man two hundred years ago, still stood there all in a row, like soldiers protecting this splendid orchard from freezing winds and harmful pests. There had been more of them, but one by surrounded by tall pines. A single cedar by itself could not with-stand the blasts of wind, as its root system is not all that extensive. Cedars are nourished not only through their roots, but also absorb the surrounding space through their tops. That is why the pines or young cedars protect them. Whereas here the cedars were all standing in a row. They lasted the first hundred and fifty years, but then, after their tops expanded, they began falling, one after the other.
For the past fifty years nobody thought of planting pines or birches beside them, and so the cedars were left to defend the orchard, standing up against the angry winds all on their own. It was probably just last year that one of them began falling, but came to rest against the top of the one next to it in the row. I looked at the sharply leaning tree trunk, whose top was intertwined with that of its neighbour. Their branches had grown together, and the falling tree was still living. Both trees were green and bearing seed. There were only twenty-three left. They are still standing there, supporting each other, bearing seed and protecting the orchard.
Oh you Sibiriaks!5 Hang in there, just a little longer, please! I’m going to write about you...
Oh, Anastasia, Anastasia! You taught me how to write books, but why didn’t you teach me to write words that would be understandable to a lot of people right off the bat? To a whole lot of people?! Why can’t I manage to write in an understandable way for a great many people? Why does my thought get confused? Why do the cedars fall, and people only look at them and not do anything?
Not far from these former domains, which have preserved right up to our day their splendid orchards and shady allees, are located several villages. The sight of these villages spoils the whole surrounding landscape. If you look at them from afar, you get the impression that some sort of worm ran amuck, laid everything waste and dug up the flower-covered meadows. Slums full of grey village houses, farm buildings thrown together out of various rotting materials, dirt from roads broken down under the wheels of lorries and tractors, all contribute to this impression.
I asked the local residents whether they had been to the orchards laid out among the cedar and oak trees. Many had been there, tasted the apples. Young people were accustomed to going to the place for picnics.
“It’s lovely there!” was chorused by young and old alike.
But when I asked why nobody had tried to set up their own homestead in the same ‘image and likeness’, I got pretty much the same answer each time:
“We don’t have the kind of money the landowners who created this beauty had.”
Older residents said that the cedar saplings had been brought here by the landowner directly from Siberia.
When I asked how much it cost just to take a cedar nut from
one of these trees and plant it in the ground, I got a strained silence in reply
Which brings me to the thought that it is not the lack of opportunity or financial means, but our own inner coding that is somehow to blame for all our woes.
Nowadays people with money are putting up a lot of fancy houses in the country. The land around these houses has been either dug up or buried in asphalt. In twenty or thirty years these houses are going to be in need of repair; they won’t look like new any more. And their children won’t need this old derelict. They won’t be needing a family domain — a Motherland — like that, and so they’ll go off to find themselves a new one.
But they’ll be taking with them this same mysterious coding they got from their parents and repeating their life as temporary caretakers on the land, instead of creating something for eternity Who will be able to remove it and how — this mysterious coding for hopelessness?
Perhaps what Anastasia has said and shown about the future of Russia will somehow help in this regard. And just to allay the doubts of the sceptics, I have put on the inside covers of this book photographs of these amazing Russian orchards, spreading out their fruit-laden branches to the Russia of the future.