Intro: This text was written in 2016 - a few mushroom seasons ago. It was the first time when I approached forest from theoretical perspective. My perception of forest as a place has changed today. Previously, I was interested in a person’s place in the forest, now – in a forest’s place in a person. A person, as Sudesh Mishra puts it, “as a singular life, mine or yours, as an ever-changing zoē-assemblage”. Thus, my interest swiched from justice to respect and care towards all forms of life especially in climate crisis era. Currently, I would rather think how we can invite forest – not just visit it, to invite it in order to be attached to life in general and get rid of “hierarchical thinking founded on our general disregard for the assemblage in which we are an element among others." (Mishra, 2019)0.
Each one of us, then, should speak of his roads, his crossroads, his roadside benches; each one of us should make a surveyor’s map of his lost fields and meadows.
Bachelard, G. (1969)
When I was applying for the master’s program at the UAL, I was not so much thinking about my professional development and career as I was rather looking for a new location on the map out of my home country. The location that would provide me with another angle and would change my status from ‘acting agent’ to ‘observer’ for a while. I was looking for a new critical impartial theoretical optics, which would intensify my vision and would allow me to look at myself as a subject constructed by the culture and shaped by the context.
When we first started to discuss places and spaces during the course, I was staying in the centre of the October Square in Minsk. The square that holds a memory of official military parades, civil resistance rallies and violently suppressed protests. The more I wanted to describe this place the stronger was the feeling that I need to get to the square from home, a place with a ‘sense of attachment’1 and where I could be myself. When I was looking for a place I have a subjective and emotional attachment to, I found myself far from the city - near Khatyn forest, our family favourite place for mushroom picking.
In most cases, people name them after nearby villages or towns. Khatyn forest is named after a memorial complex, a former village in Logoisk region in Belarus. ‘Khatyn forest’ can mean various places, not only because this space had been made ‘meaningful’2 by different people, but also as the territory is huge and just a small part of this landscape is known and practiced by myself and can refer to the definition of a place theorised by Cresswell - ‘a meaningful location’3.
Homeland is where your soul spends a night when you sleep. Baradulin, R. (1995)
Born in Vilnius, at that time the capital of Lithuanian SSR, I moved to a small town in the new-born Republic of Belarus with my family after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. After a short time, I moved to Minsk with my mother and sister in the result of my parent’s divorce. The home of my childhood is divided between countries, cities, and houses by external and internal family factors. All apartments I was living in as a child remind me of the feelings of anxiety and uncertainty, these memories are blended with the excitement about the new and unknown at the same time. This complicated mix of emotions is in stark contrast with my memories about Khatyn forest, the secure space that did not change dramatically over the years, even with its elusive flora it was a place of stability, peace, calmness, with a sense of family and home. It may explain why in my way of finding the place of attachment I appeared near the forest instead of being in the house.
‘Mushroom hunting’, ‘mushroom picking’, ‘silent hunting’, ‘third hunting’ describe the same activity of gathering mushrooms in the wild. This tradition with origins in the prehistory is still strong and popular in the territory of Belarus.My family usually went to the forest early in the morning on the weekend. My uncles in their hunting gears - special knives, baskets, caps protecting from ticks - were introducing the route to the rest of us using names of spots understandable only by our family members. Naming, according to Creswell, transforms a portion of space into place by investing meaning. ‘Ok, we go by Narrow Path through Moss Plot and Red Glade to the Dark Forest, we will circle around the Black Swamp, then we will go back to Heather Meadow through the Small Ravine. Let us all meet here again in 4 hours. Is everything clear?’ my uncle Igor was asking while people were putting their rubber boots on. All of us could orientate ourselves in forest easily. Having been here many times, we worked out our own floral ‘signboards’. Before dipping in the realm of branching trees, we split into small groups and we dispersed in the forest. Each of us was enjoying solitude, but still we were feeling close and united. We were shouting each other’s names from time to time to ensure no one was lost. ‘In-ha-a-a-a-a-a’! ‘O-o-o-o-ou’!
Some people were lost later, not in the forest. ‘After cutting a mushroom, a bit of its stem is noticeable on the ground. Inha, remember, it is important to cover this hole with a piece of moss in order to hide your place from other mushroom pickers’, uncle Sergei told me when I was about 6 years old. ‘Is the forest full of holes then?’ I asked. He didn’t reply and just smiled ironically with his eyes. Uncle Sergei died in a car crash seven years ago. He was the bright star of our mushroom team with his very special style of hunting. He always ran deep into the forest to secret places known only by him, ran so far away that our screaming of his name was met only with an echo. He was lost many times in Khatyn forest, but he never admitted it. His dirty face expressed serenity when he was back and showing his bucket full of porcini. Covered with pine needles and spiderwebs, he was celebrating victory in a meaningful silence. My mother always joked that he had a full basket only because half of it was the forest litter: bark, moss, and dry leaves. Looking at him I always imagined his war with nature in dark spruce woods. Every time when I see all the family’s mushroom baskets after hunting today, I feel the dirty one is missing. As well my uncle’s secret places in the forest are ‘missing’ him. They were replaced by my imaginary fir groves, his battlefields. Walking in Khatyn Forest, I feel some- times that missed people are just keeping a proper distance to stay close but invisible over the branches of trees. Those who’ve gone gave a space to newcomers, the partners, and spouses of grown-up children and their already single parents. This is the law of the forest - nothing leaves, it is just replaced. In his article Sounds and Mushrooms for The New York Times (1981), music critic Edward Rotstein gives a piece of conversation with John Cage, the famed composer of sounds and silence and an enthusiastic mushroom picker:
A woman once asked Mr. Cage, ‘’Have you an explanation of the symbolism involved in the death of the Buddha by eating a mushroom?’’ Mr. Cage thought: ‘’Mushooms grow most vigorously in the fall, the period of destruction, and the function of many of them is to bring about the final decay of rotting material. In fact, as I read somewhere, the world would be an impassible heap of old rubbish were it not for mushrooms and their capacity to get rid of it. So I wrote to the lady in Philadephia. I said, ‘The function of mushrooms is to rid the world of old rubbish. The Buddha died a natural death.
In The Poetics of Space (1969), Bachelard describes house/home as the ‘real cosmos’, the first universe that shapes the understanding of all spaces outside. According to Bachelard, interior spaces of the home pro- vide ‘appropriate places for the soul or psyche’4. Khatyn Forest is a place of childhood, my ‘daydreams’ in ‘solitude’5. I found Bachelard’s approach to home relevant to the understanding of outside places, where past moments of depressive, pleasurable, and inspiring solitude are located in the basement of shady conifers and on attic branches of the forest. When I write about Khatyn forest my language becomes softer and my critical optics are slightly fogged with poetry. As Bachelard (1969) puts it:
Memories of the outside world will never have the same tonality as those of home and, by recalling these memories, we add to our store of dreams; we are nev- er real historians, but always near poets, and our emotion is perhaps nothing but an expression of a poetry that was lost.
Sliding histories from personal and collective memories, relating them to descriptive, constructional and phenomenological approaches, the mycelium, my mind map, was growing in a very natural way. It was forming fruiting bodies, the mushrooms of ideas. For my mental research, I used the tactic of mushrooms hunting: when you find one you never leave the place immediately, you circle around for a while, since the fungus never grows alone, there are always more nearby. In Sounds and Mushrooms interview with John Retallack in 1991, John Cage said ‘that ideas are to be found in the same way that you find wild mushrooms in the forest, by just looking’.
When I realised my sense of home is in the forest I started to think about its ‘past inhabitation’6, what it witnessed in different times and how the memories of others inscribed in space. Other individuals may understand Khatyn forest as their own ‘perceptual’7 space and place. In The Lure of the Local (1997), Lucy Lippard states that our own location is ‘layered’. Being laced with individual accounts, the place is full of ‘marks’ - ‘human histories and memories’; a place is characterized not only by the ‘width’ but also with the ‘depth’ 8. My forest is repleted with shadows and ghosts of familiar and unfamiliar people. My solitude is among the crowd. The silent walks are speechless conversations with many in fact. Silence does not exist in John Cage’s 4’33” (four minutes, 33 seconds) Sounds Like Silence performance (1952), and, projecting it on the forest, there is no total isolation as well as the virginity of landscapes.
Forests, even in a legal sense, belong to many in Belarus. Private ownership of forests on Belarusian territory was abolished after the October Revolution. All forests are the exclusive property of the state, they occupy 9,5 million hectares, almost 40 per cent of the country. All the forests have an open public access for recreation and individual non-commercial harvesting. I remember myself being a small girl and lying on the warm furnace in the cloying fragrance of the onions braids and the tied bunches of garlic in grandmother’s house and listening to her childhood memories. Flipping through the album of her stories now, I often see the forest as the background. She is six years old and gets up at four in the morning every day during the summer in order to go with her sisters for berries and mushrooms to the forest. They go back to the collective farm and help their parents at seven in the morning. They sell berries and mushrooms later on at a local market to buy school dresses for September. They are singing songs together while being in the forest all the time and are grateful they are all alive, as they were coming to the same place to pick wood sorrel to boil it with rotten potatoes a few years before. When I grew up I understood that that soup from sorrel was a regular dish during the Soviet famine and that trade was allowed for the collective farmers only after millions of deaths. My forest is experienced, my grandmother’s one was an ‘existential or lived space’9. As Lucy Lippard (1997, p.14) puts it:
For non-landscaped people, land is an idea. For land-based people (...) it is the concrete epitome of experienced reality.
I’m supplementing the mosaic of collective memory with fragments of my family stories, and my forest is widening.
The forest expands not only due to the inclusion into the broader historical discourse; it also becomes a place surrounded by other spaces. I’m zooming out the map mentally by dipping into my memories and physically by clicking minus button on Google Earth to see what beyond the boundaries of my favourite piece of the forest. I see the roads, the small towns, and the fields. I see other forest massifs in which I finally notice empty spaces without old trees. These holes on the forest’s body are the former villages that no longer exist. In Guba, one of those villages that disappeared, my great-grandmother had lived. It is hard to find and identify this village in the forest, as all the roads are overgrown with grass now. The only identification marks, the old fruit trees left from former orchards, are stirring with the forest trees while approaching the place. I have no memories about my great-grandmother, and I had never seen her. Despite this fact, one story about her life I remember very well. She hides in the pit not far from her house, being not able to run fast to the forest together with other villagers escaping from the punitive detachment. Being lame, she would not run away, thence she gave her infant child to people from a neighbouring house who were absconding in the hope that the forest would save them. The auxiliary police battalion surrounded the village and met people on the edge of the forest. All caught villagers together with children, including neighbours with the infant, were forced to gather in the granary and were burned. My great-grandmother survived. The forest is a shelter. The horror is when danger overtakes you in the safest space. Of the eighteen houses of Guba village fourteen were destroyed in 1943 during the war. The village was restored and lived until its natural death caused by increasing urbanization in the country.
However, there are other almost imperceptible spots on the map. These villages, the old scars, were not re-stored after war, as all of the houses and buildings were destroyed and burned together with its inhabitants. One of the burned villages is just one kilometre away from my mushroom forest. The Khatyn memorial commemorating 9,200 destroyed and more than 600 burned with all residents villages in Belarus. People tend to reanimate only those places they are attached to. If the place is not a home for anybody, it does not disappear completely. It is preserved as a place of memory. Perhaps, symbolic foundations with bells on the tops of the furnaces were chosen to refer to tombstones, the tombstones of homes with bells ‘tolls for thee’10.
The massive village liquidations were described in the Khatyn story (1973), the novel of the Belarusian writer Ales Adamovich, and Out of the Fire (1980), his other book written in cooperation with Yanka Bryl and Vladimir Kolesnik. The books, based on real-life experiences of Ales Adamovich and personal stories of survived witnesses, in turn, served as the basis for the scenario of the Come and See film (1985) by Elem Klimov. In one of the first scenes of the film, the aircrafts are bombing the forest in order to destroy the partisan camps. This is the first shocking state for the main hero Flora, who will be transformed dramatically through the horrifying events in the film. I remember how this scene impressed me when I saw it for the first time. It was worse than the shots of bombing cities. The explosions, emitting clods of peat into the air in the forest, are revealing the meaning of the Belarusian word ‘вусьціж’, the highest extent of the stunning and numbing horror. ‘Come and See’, the name of the film, was taken from The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, described in the Book of Revelation of the New Testament.
I heard the voice of the fourth living creature saying, ‘Come and see’.
I looked, and behold, an ashen horse; and he who sat on it had the name Death; and Hades was following with him.
Apocalypse begins with the bombing of the forest. A place of life turns into a place of death. A forest-savior becomes a forest-battlefield. In the final shots, the dark figures of partisans together with main character Flora are running in a snowy frozen forest with bare deciduous and exhausted coniferous trees. Lacrimosa from Mozart’s Requiem is used for the conclusion of the film, referring to last crawling steps of a human death, the very final ending of a life in its sinister irreversible slowing of a rhythm. Putting a viewer alone in the winter forest Klimov leaves the hope for rebirth. We know that Lacrimosa is followed by Domine, as well as we cannot stop the spring from coming.
Or can we?
As well as ‘content and meaning’ of a place ‘cannot be divorced from experiences and intentions’11 of an individual, an individual, in turn, can not be formed without being shaped by places. Thanks to the family tradition of mushroom picking, the forest has become a meaningful place for me. Therefore, now it is my ‘secure point’ from which ‘I look out on the world’. Perhaps, if Khatyn forest didn’t’ keep memories of the Second World War genocide in its soil, I would be not so much interested today in the searching for the answer to the question how does the apocalypse begin? I’m walking along the forest road leaving footprints on the wet sand. Hunting is over. I may try to approach the main square of Minsk now. If I fail I will always be able to return back.
Do not stop coming here’ my uncle Igor says. “Even if you cannot see mushrooms today, it does not mean they are not here. Mushrooms will continue to grow in the same place. Mushrooms are rooted”.
Text: Inha Lindarenka
Photos: Inha Lindarenka, Anton Sarokin
1 Mishra, S. (2019) ‘Developing a Sense of Taking Partinterview’, by Krystian Woznicki. Mediapart. [available online]https://blogs.mediapart.fr/…/1…/developing-sense-taking-part
1-3 Cresswell, T. (2015) Place an introduction. 2nd ed. UK: Blackwell Publishing Ltd.
4 Cresswell, T. (2015) Place an intro- duction. 2nd ed. UK: Blackwell Publishing Ltd. 5 Bachelard, G. (1969) The poetics of space. Boston: Beacon Press.
6 Cresswell, T. (2004) Place – a short Introduction. Oxford: Backwell. Introduc- tion: ‘Defining Place’.
7 Relph, E (2008) Place and Placeless- ness. London: Pion.
8 Lippard, L. (1997) The lure of the local. New York: New Press.
9 Relph, E (2008) Place and Placelessness. London: Pion.
10 Donne, J. in Heming- way, E, (1967). For whom the bell tolls.
11 Relph, E (2008) Place and Placelessness. London: Pion.
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