We climb up and over a tall mountain and descend past paragliders and gypsies, blueberries and cranberries and cows— down down down, along a stream, to a little valley.
I stop at the third house I see. It’s wooden and yellow with paintings hanging on the outside walls.
Nick pulls up behind me. Looking at the house, we hear a voice behind us. I make to move on, not wanting to disturb her. Getting up from a bench in the shade, she walks over to greet us.
Where are we from? Where are we going?
She is Христина, sounds like “Christina” starting with an H and rolling the R.
She invites us into the yard to eat mushrooms.
These mountains are full of mushrooms. We see mushrooms and mushroom hunters everyday. They bring them home and dry them and sell them by the roadsides. They offer them on every menu. They paint statues and pictures of mushrooms. In Ukrainian, mushrooms are груба ” sounds like “riba” starting with a soft H and rolling the R. Христина calls them “gryba” with a growl.
She pulls another bench into the shade and offers Nick a seat. She motions me into the house to get the gryba.
I stoop through the entry way into the house, past steaming pots. All the floors are covered in knit rugs. I peek into the living room. Embroidery and photos and paintings adorn the walls. She’s knit and stitched everything by hand. Nick stoops in and she shows us pictures of family.
We collect bowls of stewed wild mushrooms and enameled metal mugs of beer, white bread and large soup spoons and head to the yard.
Prepared with a little salt and a little butter, the mushrooms are rich and slippery.
We talk of the Polonina we descended, about the Carpathian mountains, about the past.
Христина was born in her parents’ house next-door in 1947. She was their only daughter. She had two sons and a daughter. During the Soviet era, she cooked for a large camp. She used to be a bartender.
Where will we sleep tonight?
She insists we sleep there. The village has a store with everything we could need– beer, wine, bread. We must stay. She’ll cook us potatoes with salo and we can wash up in the stream.
It’s getting late, we accept and set up our tent in the yard. She brings us blankets and pillows and instructs Nick how to make the bed.
We walk to the store together. It’s in her friend’s house. Villagers sit in the garden on the front porch, drinking bottles of beer. We buy beer and a pepsi bottle half full of homemade wine and walk back to her house.
She waves us in and sits us in front of the televisor. Her favorite soap is on. She stands and explains who loves who and who’s brothers with who and who doesn’t know about it as she moves in and out of the kitchen making potatoes.
We carry everything out to the yard and picnic in the waning sun. Walking past, the post lady joins us for a mug of wine. The wine may be a few weeks old or it might just be funky– tastes like a cigar box poured out of an old boot– wood and leather and dirt.
We all laugh and drink it anyway.
It gets dark. The post lady goes home. We pack up and go to sleep in the tent in the yard.
In the morning, we drink coffee and tea and talk mostly about the same things, things worth talking about again.
Where are you going?
We’re going to Kolochava.
Where will you eat?
Where will you sleep?
And she waves us down the road.
Pictured: her husband and son and husband.