The town of N.
There's very little virtue in hard labor.
The charm of rustic life is something that I as a lifelong city dweller find hard to get accustomed to. Your life is reduced to your family's sustenance and survival.
A couple of days ago, I visited a small village 200 mi away from my city; my last name stems from the name of this place. Back in the day when my father was alive and we were still on speaking terms, he'd often tell me about a village that our ancestors might have been born in, the village our name might have originated from. Whether his stories were real or whether they were just a mere confabulation, I don't know. Still, I'd been feeling like exploring this place since my father's death in December.
A gravel road was winding and at times treacherous; the traffic was at best sparse. As the landscape became more mountainous, the air grew colder, and the sun became more obscured by clouds. Squeezing the road at both sides, a thick forest seemed to be intently watching the car as it bombed along. The lead colour of the clouds grew duller the closer we were to the village.
The chtonos dwells in this dismal realm.
Our arrival to N., a town twenty miles away from the village, coincided with a parade marking the proverbial V-Day. As such, the main road was cordoned off with police. I asked the officer for directions. What escaped my attention at that moment but thrusted itself into my mind later, on the night of this day, was how bad the teeth of the people we encountered were.
The village lay further northwards. It met us with its dilapidated Soviet-era bus stop sporting the letters of my last name. We left the car there and embarked on our exploration of the village.
As I'm writing about this place now, it seems so...nondescript. My mind fails to grasp something remarkable about it. Well, the truth is, it is nondescript. The right part of the village featured a row of old wooden houses so typical of the Russian village. Many were crooked; an even bigger number seemed completely abandoned. Only when our twenty-minutes' long foray was coming to its end did we spot a car moving in our direction, leaving clouds of dust billowing behind. However, we did notice, albeit occasionally, some specks of human presence and activity. A farmer not older than fifty years old building a shed adjacent to his house; a combine harvester and a tractor, ostensibly, properly looked-after. At the right end of the village there formidably stood a grain elevator whose monotonous hum could be heard from quite afar.
As we made our way into the left part of the village, it seemed to be bristling with activity. Three old women were sitting on the bench near one of the houses and chatting. Sheep were grazing on a vast field in the distance. Some boys, maybe, fifteen years old, were sitting on a bridge across a small rivulet, watching us with curiosity. There, city dwellers must be an uncommon sight. For God's sake, who'd willingly come to a place like this?
I greeted the grandmas and inquired into any whereabouts of my namesakes. With a sigh, they told me that there had been only two people in question and they had left the village a while ago. Our talk diverted to the topics any talk with grandmas from the village would eventually divert to: the young are living, nobody wants to fill the earth and put down the roots there. Everybody would rather uproot their existence and start it anew elsewhere in cities.
Unhospitable. Dejected. Empty.
The nation can't exist if its villages are dead.
The Bolsheviks eradicated the kulaks, the mainstay of former Russia. Those were prosperous peasants who owned large farms, had cattle and horses, and could hire some labor if need be or rent their land. Then came kolkhozes with their machine tractor stations and what not. Still, the system was largely unproductive and not half as efficient as it ought to have been. After the collapse of the USSR, the matters became even worse. With the advent of market economy, the village was left to its own devices, as was pretty much everyone else. Granted, during the relative prosperity of the 00s, the situation might have improved here and there, but it ultimately failed to resuscitate the village.
It must be admitted that some attempts were indeed made. The Law on the Far Eastern Hectare enacted six years ago gives one hectare (2.5 acres) of free land in the Russian Far East to Russian citizens and foreign nationals as long as they live there for five years. I don't really have any data that I would trust on that matter, so I cannot really pass my judgement on how well this project fared thus far. But wouldn't it be wise to extend this law on all Russian villages? For fuck's sake, we have plenty of land. The Urals, Siberia, elsewhere. Russia has plenty of land that remains uninhabited or unused. Why would we need all these affairs (you know what I'm talking about, but I have to self-censor myself) that make the whole world turn against us and hate us if we have that much land that we don't really tap into?
It's beyond my ken.
I've always wanted to live and prosper on my own land and take care of it. I want to see it thrive. I want my kids to be born here, and I want them to stay here.
And I will.
There's very little virtue in hard labor.
Perhaps. Or maybe not.