6-הבל

11,7 - 1,6


I visited a forest, for example, between Łącza and Rudziniec, which I used to frequent long time ago. It was a sizeable, fairly old, mixed forest located on slightly undulating terrain, criss-crossed by perpendicular paths and many streams, crossing the paths at an angle. Clearings appeared here and there, in other places, ponds.


Once, on one of my first visits, I got lost in this forest. I have never had a good sense of direction. If I can’t see the sun or (other) stars, I have no idea where north is, and even if I do know it, that knowledge rarely contribites to understanding where I am. After several changes of direction, if I don't really focus my attention, I can't remember where I came from. So I was walking along a path through the forest, to get something, maybe brushwood; I wasn’t going long or far. It was spring, everything smelled intensely. It was warm, but not yet stuffy. You could already hear the insects, but hardly see them. Everything was grayish-green. I was healthy, satiated, and at peace. Walking ahead in complete inner balance, I suddenly realised that I didn’t know where I was. That feeling did not overwhelm me all at once; for a moment I had the impression that I was connected to the place from which I had come by a thread that I could not see but would be able to find. But, after turning around a few times and taking a few steps in each way, I lost it completely. The thread disappeared and there I was, standing in place that suddenly became foreign and hostile. From toes up to throat, I was flooded by a paralysing wave of terror mixed with grief and longing, probably for a prematurely lost life. Everything I knew became an inaccessible past, behind glass. I was probably standing a few hundred meters from the others, but I might as well have been on another planet, in another galaxy. After a moment of standing still, I started calling for help. I let out a stifled cry: “help”. The word seemed odd to me, inappropriate, metallic in taste, and clumsy, but I did not know any other. Calling out I heard myself, as if from a distance; I called out two, maybe three more times and saw two slightly older colleagues walking along the path towards me. They were astonished. They inquired as to what had happened. It was hard for them to comprehend that I had gotten lost. That I thought I was lost. Three minutes later we joined the others. I was resigned to facing the ridicule I expected. I quickly armed myself with complete indifference to them in those three minutes. To my surprise and disbelief – which continue to this day – the ridicule was virtually non-existent. Hardly anyone noticed that anything had happened.


In the summer of 1992, a train passed near where I had gotten lost. A spark from under its wheels started a fire, as a result of which the entire forest burned to the ground over the course of a few days. Trees, bushes, grass, mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and insects – all turned into ashes, which the wind then blew from place to place, over the blackened soil, for some time. And then, gradually, a new forest was planted, which now lives again. I went there recently, for the first time since before the fire. I experienced a strange sensation, as if having been lost, I found myself in a place I had never been before. That I know this forest, although it has different trees growing in completely different places. And that it has never stopped burning.


(transl. Magdalena Małek-Andrzejowska)