“I go among the Fields and catch a glimpse of a Stoat or a fieldmouse peeping out of the withered grass – the creature hath a purpose and its eyes are bright with it. I go amongst the buildings of a city and I see a Man hurrying along – to what? the Creature has a purpose and his eyes are bright with it.”
Birds and wind and wild flowers. Sometimes I wish that’s all there was in the world.
Sometimes I could wish away this village of 2000 souls in Polissya, Ukraine, a village I’ve been coming to for years and know the squabbles and tragedies and mean gossip and jokes – I wish I could turn my back on it and be left with just this vast, tireless wind whirling up lapwings and larks; with storks steadfastly beating across it; hawks and buzzards prowling its currents.
Big weather, the kind you can’t ignore, sweeping away warmth and silences and hesitations and fears in its generous, unheeding, unstoppable way. Sweeping clouds, rainshowers, earth from newly ploughed fields and ash from burnt plains and woods.
Some of the ground, burnt on purpose by lazy farmers and foresters, is speckled over with the bright green of grass and the white of windflowers. Another place is still crackling smoking black from an unplanned forest fire last week, pushed on by the wind, that gobbled up trees and ant heaps and larks’ nests; the villagers rushed to dig trenches like a frontline in a war, to stop it before it reached houses and families and swept them away with everything else in its heedless way.
This ground will have been burnt over and over, in times of war and destruction. By the Cossacks, the Bolsheviks, the Soviet partisans, Vlasov’s turncoat army, the Germans… The grass and the flowers grow back, every time. The larks fly up, up, doing what they always do, flinging themselves through the wind at the sun. The lapwings perform their unerring death-defying aerobatics. This is their element, this is where they belong and what they were made to do. It’s hard not to believe they are enjoying it.
You can put human emotions on the birds: they must be revelling in this wind and their freedom and mastery within it – when really isn’t this just programmed survival instinct to attract a mate, really aren’t they leading a life of constant watchfulness and terror, death present in every moment –
Human constructs. The birds are in their element, doing what they were made to do. The creature hath a purpose and its eyes are bright with it. The birds don’t have to think what their element is. Only us adaptable humans struggling with death and survival have to do that, have to try this and that, loving and hating, making and unmaking, ploughing fields and burning fields.
I suppose for some people, war is their element. Destruction is their element. If it weren’t, we wouldn’t have so much war and destruction, I suppose. On some sort of level, war is supposed to be something like this heedless wind and that forest fire, sweeping away whatever rubbish is in its path, clearing the ground for new grass and wild windflowers to grow.
I think this is bullshit. This is why I wish, sometimes, there were only birds and wild flowers, wind and sunsets and maybe the odd hedgehog. This is why I could do without those 2000 people in the village, and the 159 call-up papers that arrived last week.
That’s 159 adaptable humans from one village, called up to go to war. Dads and alcoholics and hard workers and skivers, wife beaters and nurses and apples of their mother’s eye, grandchildren of Bolsheviks and grandchildren of Cossacks, gentle souls, foresters and farmers, lovers and loners, patriots, and probably someone else who would really like there to be nothing in the world except the wind and the birds, right now.