My cousin Hryts from Pidkamin in Brodivshchyna was in a fine mood when I talked to him a few days ago. As he pointed out, August is his favourite month, as it is for most of the inhabitants of this bucolic rural oasis a little ways north of Ternopil in Western Ukraine.
“Why so?” I asked with my usual naïve curiousity.
“Oy Bozhe!” he exclaimed dismissively, yet good-naturedly. “As usual, you are as thick as a turnip. Why, it’s Obzhynky time once more, don’t you know?”
“Obzhynky…” I muttered slowly, as some vague and distant memories started to find their way from the dark recesses of my brain’s Ukrainian archives. I remembered that it had something to do with harvest time and some folk rituals that borrowed equally from Ukraine’s pagan as well as Christian traditions.
“Yes, Obzhynky!” he re-iterated, as the fog was still clearing from my mental search efforts. “It is that wonderful time of year when we have reaped what we have sown, and can step back and revel in the certainty that we will have plenty to eat this winter.”
I paused for a moment as I realized that Hryts still pursued a way of life that was utterly foreign to my own. He grew his own food. He tilled his own piece of land and relied almost entirely on Mother Nature for his sustenance. Although Pidkamin has most of the accoutrements of modern civilization, most Pidkaminites still essentially pursue the way of life that countless generations of their ancestors had done for centuries, if not millennia.
“Don’t you celebrate Obzhynky?” he asked, interrupting my reverie.
“Well, um…” I stammered, not exactly sure how to reply. “You know Hrytsiu that I live in the city, and, well, we don’t really grow our own food, and we don’t really have a harvest time. We just get anything we need at the grocery store, any time of the year.”
“Ah yes!” he exclaimed wistfully, “You have completely lost touch with nature and the natural cycle of the seasons. I guess celebrating returning from the grocery store wouldn’t exactly hold any special meaning in your way of life.”
I could sense there was a hint of mockery in his tone.
“But Hrytsiu,” I shot back, “You have to admit that our modern way of life does have its benefits. It has made life much easier and more dependable.”
“Really?!” he exclaimed, “Aren’t you the one that is constantly complaining to me how stress-filled your life is, how the complexities of modern economics makes your life a financial roller coaster, how the processed food you buy in your grocery store has more chemicals than nutrition, how your young people cannot find a job, how so many of your friends are afflicted with cancers and ailments that we did not even know existed a century ago, how all that wonderful technology that surrounds you is obsolete or broken and has to be replaced every couple of years?”
He was on a roll and continued on – “I will let you know that my kosa (scythe) has served me well for some thirty years. I know exactly what I will be doing every year that God grants me on this earth. The rise and fall of interest rates or rate of inflation or unemployment have minimal effect on the way I live.
When I need some potatoes or carrots, I go down to my komirka (root cellar) instead of the grocery store. When I need eggs or milk, I only have to walk over to my barn. I make or grow almost all that I need or use, and chemicals are as foreign to me as democracy to Russia.”
I was left momentarily speechless after that tirade, as I tried to digest what he had said.
“Well, I suppose you have a point…” I stammered.
“I am glad you realize that!” Hryts replied. “And by the way, thank you for buying me this new mobilnyj (cell phone). That last one did not have much in the way of features or apps.”