Monday, May 22, 2006

Video: Fall Harvest in Western Ukraine I

Watch the video

This is footage taken in late September, 2005 in the town of Pidhajtsi (pop approx. 4,000) in the state of Ternopil in western Ukraine.

These people are gathering the remaining corn stalks in their fields after having had completed the fall harvest. They will use the stalks as windbreaks, i.e., as protection against the strong, bitterly cold winds of the Pre-Carpathian winters (Pidhajtsi is in the foothills that climb up to the Carpathians of southwestern Ukraine). They will place the stalks either directly alongside the outside face of the walls of their home, or will line the fences around their home with them.

Note that they are using a horse and wagon; for the most part, those who use a horse and wagon for fieldwork and hauling can not afford a small tractor, though there are those who still prefer the old way to the modern. The modern and premodern live side-by-side much more in Ukraine than in the West, which means that the line between culture and nature, city and countryside is nowhere near as distinct in Ukraine as it is in the West.

Others who choose not to use the stalks for wind-breaks merely burn the stalks in the fields. Throughout the harvest season, the hillsides are dotted with small fires burning--quite a sight at night.

Heating and insulation are a major issue in Ukraine today; the traditonal, mud-and-clay walled homes of the East Slavs were much better insulated than the more modern homes built in the region since the turn of the 20th century or just before. Ukrainians have among the highest per capita consumption of natural gas in the world. Their winters are bitterly cold, but their more moderny homes are very poorly insulated. The Soviet government found it easier to build cheap homes and to burn lots of energy to heat them; this is the legacy still badly effecting all of Ukraine today.

Notice the little girl in the footage. She was fabulous!

For more info about the people of Western Ukraine, especially vis-a-vis poverty, subsistence farming, low wages and unemployment, see comments to last post.


The Ranger said...

I was raised in NC working like this. I still like it and always will. I hope your trip is going well.

Stefan said...

What part of NC? If it was the Western part, then I can imagine why you are so drawn, geologically speaking, to the Carpathians.

Do tell more about how you grew up, either here or on your blog. . .How is it similar to the life you see/experience in Ukraine? How is it different? This will make very interesting storytelling!

I have been drawn my entire life to the Appalachians and the Eastern US, while the Rockies and the Western US have been mere curiousity for me. As the cliche goes, the East Coast is that part of American society still quite attached to the sophisticated European continent, while the West feels, well, pure pure Americana.

I have been to Ashville a couple of times, and been out backpacking in the Smokies and in a Wilderness Area off the Blueridge Hwy called Shining Rock. (Also have hiked and lived a while in Pennsylvania and spent a summer in Vermont, and hiked around New Hampshire, and also survived a near-hit of lightning on a hike in the Catskills not far from the town of Woodstock, or near Mt. Trempor, if anyone knows the place. . .there's a Rinzai Zen Center and Monastery near there. . .)

Great music in Ashville! I was hoping to go to the Mountain Song and Dance show in Ashville the year I was backpacking around Shining Rock, but had to cut my trip short because some friends planned a wedding the weekend of the festival.

Little known fact: the Mountain Song and Dance festival in Ashville is the oldest running folk festical in N America.

The second oldest running folk festival is in St. Paul, MN (the Twin City of Minneapolis), called the Festival of Nations. The Ashville show is dedicated to old tyme and bluegrass, while the St. Paul festival is international.

I dream of doing at least three further big trips in my life: Hike the Appalachian trail, hike the Carpathians, and spend a summer traveling the Transiberian RR.

The Ranger said...

Stefan, I was raised in the central part of the state. My family comes from Ashville and Cherokee. I have family that still lives on the reservation and also have family that lives in the Ashville area.
I was raised on a working farm and ranch and yes it is still in my blood. I have walked a lot of the trail. It is a long hike and takes a lot out of you . I was a young man and in good shape and it still hurt.
The first time I saw Western Unraina I thought I was at home and still feel that way when I return. There is a calmness that enters me and I feel like I am one with the land and running water. Sounds corny I know, however I do have a feeling that I can't express in words. It is kind of like I know that the land loves me and wants me there. Strange I know.
The train trip does sound good. I would like to go as well just to see it. You my friend have the advantage over me.You speak the language and that is the good part. I do not. Oh I have tried to learn and just can't hear it right.
Cheers and thanks. Rick

Tarheel said...

I too grew up in NC, in the central "foothills" part of the state.
I think the mountain culture of NC and the south in general may be as close as you can get in America to what would be a true 'peasant-type' culture. People are attached to the land and maintain more traditional ways. They are also less interested in 'getting ahead' than in being what they have always been. They maintain a traditional music culture. Of course I realize this shorthand description is stereotyping to some extent, but I think you are right in seeing the connection.

Stefan said...

thank you for this affirmation of my observations and that of the fellow commentator here.

first of all--

I very much appreciate how you put it--that people are more interested in being who they are and who they have been, than they are in being driven "to get ahead." so long as that is not meant in any negative sense--as a criticism of the way those darn peasants are--then this is an excellent summation of the attitude in many rural and barely capitalist regions of the world. it is an attitude that is very important to learn from by those of us in the hypermodern west, in my opinion--whether that "western world" exists geographically in the west or in the minds of westernizers anywhere else in the world. so again, very well put.

second, i don't know if i would call this stereotyping--perhaps
generalization, but generalization isn't always an illegitimate procedure. generalizations often are very instructive heuristic devices for pointing out important similarities/commonalities at the start of a discussion. only further discussion or elaboration reveals how accurate or how far off are the comparisons.

the other fellow commenting to this post confirms this comparison--coming from NC, he feels quite at home in the carpathians. the filmmakers of the flick "cold mountain" felt that the carpathians at least looked similarly enough to the eastern united states that they filmed their project in transylvania in romania (they also naturally did so because they could pay far, far less for set building, etc. in romania; that the carpathians of transylvania looked rather familiar was a big plus, no doubt.)

and of the folk culture/music--what can one say? there are endless possible comparisons.

also, the hutsuls (an ethnic group living in the ukrainian carpathians) were the subject of a negative stereotype, not just in ukraine but all over the former soviet union--hutsuls were a bunch of stupid, stubborn, backward, savage, primitive hillbillies. a latvian friend in riga where i have been living for much of the now-past year was surprised when i told him i was going to a hutsul festival in ukraine. he didn't even know that a hutsul--or gutsul, since he is a russian-speaker--was a real person or member of an ethnic group. he simply thought it a name for a stupid person, and had never even wondered where it had come from! this, btw is from a 36 yr old fellow who had plenty of upbringing in the ussr in latvia.

so many possible comparisons. and on some weird spiritual plane, i can talk about karma, and talk on and on about how i have been drawn to the eastern united states my entire life (i am from minneapolis), where i spent much time long before ever going to ukraine (and though i have spent nearly as much time out west, the western us has never inspired within me the kind of spiritual connection to place i feel when out east).

and i felt this way about the eastern us and its mountains long before the advent of the internet and availability of pictures. growing up i only saw photos of people in the homeland, never of the landscapes or the homes. i had no idea how pre-carpathian, foothill-covered western ukraine looked (but for my galician grandparent's often vague descriptions--they were more interested in telling the details of the people and events than they were in describing the landscape; my head, however, was always more full of how poltava region looks, as my grandmother from there often waxed in vivid details about the landscapes of her childhood years). and i had only a very vague sense of how the ukrainian carpathians looked.

as i got older and became more educated, i learned a bit of geology (my favorite non-degree related course work and some of my leisure time reading today is in geology and linguistics), and so i rationally understood that the appalachians and carpathians are quite ancient mountain chains of quite similar elevation, vegetation and wildlife.

then the internet came and i would search and search for images--of ukraine in general, but honestly for images of the carpathians in particular (i am also an enthusiast of hungarian folk dance and music from transylvania). it took some years for images to appear on the web from ukraine or the carpathians in general, but once they started to, the more and more they began appearing. i was both stunned by but also somewhat expected, i guess , the similarity i saw in the photos. what most impressed me was how deeply attached i felt to the mountains and foothills of the eastern us before ever really knowing the landscape/geology of western ukraine and the carpathians.

thus i was truly beside myself with joy my first days in the foothills of the carpathians, in the pidhajtsi region, in my ancestral homeland. i felt so at home. to be honest, the nearly one year that i spent living in a small, ukrainian-carpathian foothills town is the only time i have ever felt spiritually in place and at home. i have wondered a lot, mostly in the US, even doing the VW-bus- driving-out-west hippie thing off and on for some years in my early to mid 20s, but never felt at home out there (as i already mentioned). and i don't feel quite in place and at home where i have been living now, in riga, latvia. . .though this is a fabulous city and latvia a wonderful country.

in terms of feeling spiritually connected to the land, only the eastern us has inspired in me a sense of connection that is close to what i now have come to feel, every time i am in western ukraine.

interestingly enough, i read this comment of yours and started thinking of this response while cooking up an authentic hungarian gulyas (goulash) from the recipe of a hungarian friend. i was also listening to a cd of a hungarian folk ensemble i bought in budapest this past summer, and was dancing around a bit while cooking (it takes about 2 hours to prepare this dish). sometimes i think i will never feel perfectly at peace in myself nor at home anywhere because i was meant to be born with hungarian instead of ukrainian "blood," as the saying goes. . .

but not really.

once again, thanks for commenting and all the best to you.