My mother's stories
The forest at last
For a long time I held a grudge against my parents for tantalizing me with their tales about different nice places and never going anywhere with me for company, not bothering themselves with my longing to see the mountains and the forests. Now I understand that they didn't do it on purpose, but it only recently came to me that my parents travelled a lot in their youth not because they loved travelling as I do. It was not entertainment for them. At that time a lot of people were rooted out of the habitual soil. A huge fly-wheel of collectivization and industrialization scattered them ruthlessly all over the country. So was it really surprising that after finding their place under the sun my parents were happy to settle down at last and didn't want any more travellling in their lives?
Moreover, it was not so easy to travel in the USSR. Tickets were more or less cheap, of course, but there were always great difficulties with accommodation. There weren't enough hotels in our country. Nevertheless, even those that we had stood half-empty, and it wasn't a simple thing to get there. I remember one of my co-workers once told me how he had to run around an unfamiliar city for hours till he found a hotel with a receptionist, who decided he looked trustworthy enough and it was safe to take his bribe and give him a room.
Deficit was a usual thing in the USSR. Popular goods never stayed long in our shops. As soon as they appeared on the shelves a huge queue would line up in front of the counter. Circling like a snake it filled the whole room of a shop with its long tail sticking out of the entrance door. I have never belonged to those quick-witted people, who had acquaintances among shop-assistants and could buy goods hidden under their counters. Even more so I was not one of those crafty ones, who used to make money on total deficit of goods. So my lot was to stand in queues. In the 80s it seemed I spent half of my work-free time standing in those lines. No wonder in that. It was the time when Soviet Union era was gradually drawing to a close. But in the 70s, when I was a teenager, our economic situation was not so desperate. There was still plenty of milk, butter, sausages and cheese, and it was only for meat and imported clothes that people pushed each other in lines. And for tickets too, I think, because at that time walking tours and camping were getting more and more popular. It was like a gulp of fresh air for everyone, who loved nature and travelling. After getting the tickets they were free like a wind to go wherever they liked. The whole country lay in front of them and no hostile receptionist or a greedy owner of a private house could prevent them from putting up their tents in some remote picturesque place.
I remember how my parents, as well as other adults, used to roll their eyes when they saw young people with heavy backpacks and the inevitable guitar attached to one of the rucksacks. Lunatics – that was a proper word for those youngsters from the older generation. I, on the contrary, watched them with greedy interest. And what an unexpected gift it was when one of my classmates told me that she'd discovered a tourist club not far from our school.
A short young man with round blue eyes and light-brown moustache, who was in charge in that club, called himself a tourist instructor. I liked him very much when I first saw him. He was so funny, joking all the time and making us all laugh. How exciting it was to listen to him talking about all the wonderful places where we could go with him. And about tourist rallies where we could take part in sport competitions and singing near the huge camp-fire. It was he who told us about the code of true tourists, who never left garbage after themselves, burning all the litter that could be burnt and burying everything that could rot in the soil. They could cope even with tin cans, putting them into the fire for a while, then squashing them flat and burying too. Squashing was necessary to prevent some small animal from getting stuck in a can with its head. All of that sounded so fascinating. It seemed that tourists were so different, much better people than the rest of mankind.
Surprisingly my mother didn't object too much to my first one-week tour that had to take place during our spring holidays. A fortnight before that our instructor booked a gym hall in our school and gave us such a training session that my legs ached terribly at least a week after that. It didn't decrease my determination to toil somewhere far away from home with a heavy backpack on my shoulders. Besides, our rucksacks weren't going to be too heavy, because we didn't have to carry tents or a lot of food, eating mostly in local canteens and sleeping on the floor in gym halls of rural schools. To be honest, I didn't like much that first tour. Living at the edge of the city I could see the same country-side just beyond the boundaries of our settlement. Actually, I loved those wide fields with narrow forest belts along the roads but it was the last week of March and everything looked bleak and sad. Only once did we cross a real forest with huge trees. Yet, those bare branches without any greenery on them gave me a sensation of theatrical scenery in brown and gray shades. Although even that gloomy forest gave us an unexpected present when a wild sow with a bunch of cute striped piglets crossed our path.
By the end of the first tour I had completely changed my attitude towards our instructor and didn't find his constant joking funny anymore. I understand now that he used it to keep a large group of teenagers under his control. Nevertheless it was difficult not to notice how maliciously he chuckled making fun of one of us in front of the others. His disciplinary measures didn't add any charm to his image either. In my opinion he went too far giving slaps on the side of the head even for little faults. And it didn't matter that our instructor never used them on me personally. “Let him try!” I sometimes thought fiercely but was always very careful not to break any of his orders, trying to avoid any clashes with this man.
It may look odd but all these disappointments didn't extinguish my passion for travelling or lessen my desire to go on the summer walking tour through the Carpathians with our instructor. And what choice did I have? Our leader warned us that this three-week tour would be much more difficult and demanding, but, whatever his other faults were, he did manage to describe vividly all the attractions of that mountain region. He told us of swift mountain rivers, waterfalls and the most beautiful lake of Sinevir, where the water was incredibly clear and blue. And of pine-tree woods with mysterious thickets of fern on the ground and smooth columns of trunks going high up in the air, where we could see patches of deep blue sky between tree crowns. Wouldn't it be a real forest at last – the forest I had dreamt of since my early childhood?
To be continued...