By Thomas Macintyre
…Belka the squirrel had been swishing her tail back and forth, and when I looked at her she held out a walnut for me to take. “This is a present” she said, as I took the nut. “It is a nut that was too high for you to reach in the tree. We must all help each other you know – humans and animals and all other life on earth.” Having thanked Belka I waved a last farewell to my friends and began the walk back through the reeds. Just as I was about to begin the walk up the hill I heard a loud croak from Irenushka the frog and then the words of the Water Fairy being sung across the reeds: “Tom, we also have a gift for you. Keep walking, you will feel it soon.” I heard soft chanting words blowing in the breeze: “Earth fire wind and hail; open the realm of the fairytale.”
Soon after, as I reached the road that would take me to that other world, I heard a roaring thunder and saw the heavens open up as a torrential rain began to pour. Soaked in seconds I trudged along, my socks squelching in unison with the klomp, klomp of my wooden shoes on the road. For a second I felt a twinge of annoyance at being wet and cold, but then I stopped on the road and felt a sense of goodness swell up inside of me. Looking up at the sky as rain drops pounded my face I thought to myself: ‘the blessed water in a fairytale – the parting gift from Romashki.’ (Excerpt from page 153).
…and so finished my fieldwork (and literally my written thesis) into an ecovillage called Romashki in Ukraine. For four months I carried out ethnographic research into the alternative rurality being lived by a very special family. Pietro and Olga Raevski, once a doctor and lawyer respectively, had forsaken their established life in the city of Kiev, Ukraine, for the dream of creating their own fairytale world in the countryside. With nothing more than some simple hand tools, pots and pans, and an intuitive desire to reconnect with mother earth, they set about transforming a run down piece of land into a garden of Eden (please refer to blogs part 1 & 2 for further information, or the attached thesis).
Five years after they made this move my own path crossed theirs and the opportunity arose for me to study this very alternative way of life. My objective was to explore their past and present lives with the intention of presenting an engaging and inspiring narrative which could exercise the moral imagination of those interested in an alternative image of the countryside and its possibilities. Specifically my research questions were:
1: What are the motivations behind a change in life-style from an urban to a rural space and place?
2: What are the routines and practices of an alternative rural reality and what is the philosophy behind these?
3: How are these routines and practices constructed and developed over time?
1: Through conducting life-history interviews on Pietro and Olga Raevski I was given a biographical window into their past lives. Through their stories I discerned the contours of two individuals disillusioned with their lives in the city: Pietro through being an ineffectual clog in the modern machine of medicine, and Olga through the insincerity, lies and power in the world of law. Unable to individually break free from the life they did not want, they were destined to meet each other. Both romantic dreamers, they read books of different ways to live with nature and with the motivation to create their own place closer to nature, the final push to came with the coming birth of their daughter Ulyana: “We wanted our daughter to be born in a more beautiful place,” Olga told me when I asked what the ultimate motivation was for them to change their lifestyle.
2: Through participant observation I became part of the day-to-day lives of the Raevski family. This life was ordered through the philosophy of living in harmony with the natural world around them and cleansing themselves of the ‘bad information’ from the city. Their routines and practices thus involved employing the natural resources around them to meet the requirements of living, avoiding as much as they could elements of the ‘system,’ such as money. Food was collected from the garden and the surrounding countryside; meals were cooked on a fire fuelled by dead wood collected from surrounding forests; washing was done in a nearby lake with mud substituting soap, shampoo and toothpaste; and heating was generated through daily walks and minimally through wood burning adobe/cob stoves.
3: This lifestyle was created through a re-conceptualisation of the relationship between man and nature whereby Pietro and Olga are in the process of reconfiguring the resources around them (ideas, people animals, plants etc) in such a way as to live in a self-described fairytale (refer to the thesis for the discussion of how Actor-Network Theory was employed to conceptualise the man-nature relationship and how the Actor Orientated Approach was employed to explore the fairytale reality of the Raevski family). This research illustrates how alternative routines and practices are created through the courage to begin a new way of life and how these routines and practices change as new factors become meaningful, in this case, the spiritual teachings of a religious leader called Vissarion from an ecovillage in Siberia, Russia.
In conclusion, it is interesting to think about what the role of this particular fairytale is in the greater narrative of society and life. This life-less-ordinary is an inspirational story which gives hope to those who want to change their lives. It is a story about a couple who dared to dream of a new life away from the city and who actively set out to make this life real in the countryside. However, this back-to-nature lifestyle is physically and mentally tough. As the snow started falling and it was time for the (icy) daily swim in the lake, I realised this life was not for me. What I came to realise through my time in the village Romashki living with the Raevski family is that as individuals in society we can indeed create the fairytale reality we want to live. But there are too many contradictions and ambiguities to find ultimate meaning in somebody else’s dream. To live the dream it must be ones own.