Tuesday, September 7th 2010

Field notes 2010: if a tree falls in a forest…

This is the third of four installments chronicling my visit to the Mogielica Human Ecology Study Site this summer. Here are parts one and two.

My last day at the field site was rather eventful. I really wanted to hike Mogielica, the path up the mountain starting only a fifty minute walk away. The always good-natured Laura came along.

Fifty minutes along the path I knew came and went. I realized we were on a road that had been built since I’d last been here. New houses popped into view, then a store. I had no idea how to get up the mountain now that my old reliable path was gone.

Thankfully, Laura had driven to the base of Lopien to hike it the weekend before, which was another thirty minutes walk. So we changed plans to hike that mountain instead.

We get to the parking lot and Laura finds the path to Lopien. Up to this point, the road, though narrow, had had open fields, yards and homes along it. Walking through this part of the Polish countryside is like walking through an idyllic storybook farming village. The homes and yards are cared for, the hay neatly raked, stacked or rolled, only the guard dogs that bark threateningly from their pen or leashes breaking the spell (and the few allowed to roam free, who try to chase us, making our hearts race in a most un-storybook-like way).

If the countryside seems to reflect every storybook’s happy village, the paths up the mountain are part of the enchanted forest. Dark, mature trees line the path thickly, and the air drops a few degrees cooler as soon as you step in. Far less light gets in, and the dirt is damp and quiet under your feet. There is very little to fear in Poland, except the increase in recent years in poisonous snakes, part of a failed experiment to reduce the rat population.

I hate snakes.

We don’t get very far at all before we encounter a tractor. Its wheels are jerked over so that it diagonally blocks our path. Since the path is cut into the dirt a bit, there is a six inch lip on either side of the path. We walk toward the tractor to try to find a way around. Maybe if we grab one side? Maybe we could pull up on a tree?

The buzz of a chainsaw freezes us into silence. Thirty to forty feet in front of us, just past the tractor, an enormous coniferous tree comes crashing to the ground, landing directly across the mountain path. As in, a few dozen feet in front of us. The breeze from its descent rustles our hair.

Laura and I laugh, because what else is there to do? Two minutes earlier to our hike and we would have been crushed. We decide we have had enough of a hike and head back.

I guess there are more things to fear in Poland than snakes.

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