| One sunny day Marty, Luba and I decided to go visit several of the surrounding small villages where people still live in log homes (izba) and sell fresh milk from goats or cows. Baba (grandmother) Nadia was out back of her pristine, small farm tending to her chickens when we arrived. Dressed in brightly colored shawl and skirt, she welcomed us as if we were old friends. Our task for the day was to find some wool from which Luba could make more felt animals. Nadia had some lovely soft Romanov lambs wool which we purchased. She then directed us to a neighboring village where Baba Nadeshda tended a small herd of goats and sheep.
Nadeshda's community truly reflected the classic small Russian village or 'darevnaya'. This word is also used to describe the spiritual essence of those peasants who have lived and died there. So one can be in downtown Moscow enjoying fruits and vegetable grown in the village gardens and be filled with the spirit of 'darevnaya'.|
I remember many years ago during the 'unstable times' when I was weeding a friend's country garden. At the time he was an up and coming 'big boss' and I marveled at the change that came over he and his big burley bodyguard when we were in the country. As they hung their shoulder holsters over the fence post and started weeding carrots, they became like little boys again. 'Scratch any Russian and you will find a peasant' my friend used to say.
| Finding Baba Nadeshda and her sheep was a special journey in itself. Entering the village from the south we asked a woman with goats for directions. After a tour of her farm and a discussion on goat genetics and why her present buck was no longer viable, we were directed toward the village green, the historic hub of the 'darevnaya'. Here was where the villagers once cut their winter hay. |
In a ring around the green, now brown and weedy with disuse, lay the thirty or so log homes, interspersed by a smattering of new houses. Stopping again for help, we were again asked for tea by complete strangers. Then we met an ancient man working on his tractor who pointed out Nadeshda's house. Finally reaching her back yard, Luba announced to a farm hand that some American sheep farmers had arrived looking to buy some wool. Shortly a weathered face propped on a rugged set of shoulders and clutching a waking stick rounded the corner and we were face to face with the fairy tale grandmother from Hansel and Gretel. The warm, toothless grin, the single white hair curling down from the chin, the pointed nose sporting a mole, the tall felted boots and knee high wool socks, crusted with years of mud and manure. A black cat appeared to complete the picture.
At first she was too shy to let us in her barn much less see her animals. But once we began describing shearing techniques, the search for the scissors led us through the barn door and moments later we were able to catch a look at her sheep. Her days were now spent following her flock as they grazed the periphery of the village. Sadly there were only a few families with animals left here but that meant ample grass and hay for her needs. But all her wool from this years clip had been sold so after agreeing to return next spring, we began the 40 minute walk back to Luba's home. On this walk home an idea began to take form in our minds.
| Today Luba makes her felted farm animals from wool that was grown in Romania or Ohio and from mohair that was grown in Texas and washed and combed in South Africa. Once it is blended here in the States and becomes Peace Fleece, it is carried by either ourselves or our friends to Russia for Luba to use.
What a carbon footprint!|
The obvious solution is for Luba to purchase fleece from her neighbors or for her to produce it herself. So as darkness fell and we made our way home, we began to play out what it would look like for Luba to become a shepherd, a "cha-ban".
Imagine if you would a dacha community of 300 families each living on about 1/4 of an acre of land. Each parcel supports a small house, garden, tool shed, privy, steam bath and car park. Now add a flock of 3 sheep, small barn and place for hay storage. Pretty tight quarters. But Russians have lived like this over the years, whether it be at the country dacha or in a crowded Moscow apartment. Upon returning home, we began redesigning the back yard hoping to find space for a few new woolly neighbors. Luba will keep us posted.
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and share with her your own stories of life's surprises.
| A cold wind blew down the Volga River as we crossed the new bridge heading north out of Yaroslavl. The van was filled with kids from the Pyatyorka Orphanage and they were excited to introduce us to their four legged friends across the river. One year had passed since we helped initiate the Russian-American Horse Healing Project and we were eager to see first hand the results. From working with horses and local youth here on our farm in Maine, we knew that young people could find new ways of expressing their feelings through brushing, walking or riding a horse. As we watched the kids from the orphanage work thru their routines with their teacter and fellow students, we were excited to see that horses were again taking the lead in helping young people navigate the path to adulthood.