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i like going through my family photo archive. archive, of course, is a big word and is not entirely applicable in this case. it’s mostly old prints that i keep in a plastic bag in a paper box. not the most sophisticated way to treat an archive, i know.

i have looked at those photographs since i was a child. both of my parents were enthusiastic about photography and we always had a decent camera at home. my dad showed me how to develop film and make prints. as in many other families, we did it in our bathroom, oblivious to the deadly effects of the chemical soup we were releasing down the drain. it was the late eighties.

the family archive grew and i found it mystical to study in the privacy of my room. old and new together. i don’t know what it was (and is) that i enjoy so much about it. a good old mix of nostalgia, curiosity, imagination, and day-dreaming. the other day, i was looking at the few photos that i have scanned and was struck by one in particular.

it’s a picture of me hanging on a pine branch. i am four. we have just moved out of central asia to the baltic region and everything is new. especially the landscape. the smells, the trees, the light, the way the air feels when you breathe it in. the minimalistic and elegant nature of a flat forested landscape where water collects in myriad lakes or flows towards the sea. when land and sea meet, they make an impression as if they’re kept apart by a magic power because they almost form a single horizontal line. how does the sea not wash over?

the old photograph spoke to me with newly-discovered significance. perhaps it is my presently heightened awareness of how childhood experiences can help form attachment to or detachment from a certain environment later in life. i have spent the last two years studying human attitudes to nature and landscape and it most certainly prompted me to look at that photo with new eyes. it suddenly dawned on me that this is it, that is where and when it all started – my aesthetic attachment to moderately northern, baltic landscapes. i saw it very clearly.

i remembered feeling exhilarated as my dad picked me up so i could reach the branch. he did that a lot, probably encouraged by seeing how happy it made me. i was intoxicated by the new atmosphere. there was a small pond deeper into the woods where it was quite dark and where we went to feed the ducks. there were mushrooms and berries to pick. there was a thousand things to explore. late summer to early autumn as they unravel around the gulf of finland is still my favorite time of the year. i wish i could define what it is exactly that makes my heart clench in joy but i can’t. i can only try to record glimpses of it – natural details and human-made artifacts. i can find them anywhere, in thicker or thinner concentration. but sometimes nothing can replace the real thing…

childhood month in martyshkino


Nature in all its manifestations has always been very special to me. I grew up in semi-urban and rural places with immediate access to forests, meadows, and lakes. Nature was where I spent all my free time; unguarded, alone, or with friends. I am convinced that my respect for nature stems from my childhood years and the way I could interact with the natural environment.

I remember being fascinated by all things natural from the time I was aware of my own existence. Birds outside my window, plants and trees, ants, lizards, bumblebees, dragonflies, hedgehogs, rain, snow, hail… the list of wonders can go on and on. I remember spending most of my time outdoors with my sister, other children, or by myself. I would play hide-and-seek in a wheat field with friends, collect mushrooms and berries in a forest with my family, or just climb trees wishing to be a Tarzan. I could sit in tall grass under my favorite oak tree at the edge of the woods for hours waiting for a moose to come out or hoping to spot a hare. The outdoor environment was full of magic and meaning and charged with everyday revelations about nature and about myself.

Another important element of my childhood was the fact that my parents encouraged my interest by giving me geography atlases and nature encyclopaedias. They were far from being naturalists themselves – just regular people sharing a caring sentiment about the natural world.

[ m e m o r y:
…I come home from school. I eat cookies with milk and go to my room. My parrot is greeting me with a trill and starts flying around in the room. I take my current favorite book from the shelf, full of anticipation – I am going to read about the ocean – AGAIN. The encyclopaedia is on marine life. It is a voluminous tome with vivid photographs and rich texts. I open it at random and study a photo of a derelict monster fish – it looks horrifyingly sad. I flip through the book,  lost in my imaginary world.  I am hoping that someday I will see some of these creatures but at the moment I don’t even know what a real sea looks and feels like, let alone an ocean… ]

A place of particular awe for me was a smelly stream that ran near our apartment building. Its banks were overgrown with various grasses and its muddy waters were full of life – insect larvae, polliwogs, and an occasional fish. It was my own little wildlife observatory.

During the teenage years, nature was my refuge. When I was in eighth grade, I went through a truancy period when I was regularly skipping school for no easily understood reason. I would take my schoolbag with me in the morning, leave the apartment, and go into the forest. I would spend up to six hours there, alone. Often I would climb a tall tree and sit in it for a long time just observing what went on down there – not much usually: a bird skipping on the ground or a stray human passing by with a dog. I was alert to sounds. The perceived silence was in fact filled with aural stimuli. The wind made trees talk. I listened…

[ m e m o r y:
I am probably six years old. I am spending winter at my grandmother’s in Estonia. We live in a small private house with a big garden. The two bird cherry trees are my favorites. It is early March and I feel that nature is preparing to wake up. I break off a small twig from one of the bird cherry trees and put it in a glass with water inside the house. A week or ten days later I discover that the twig has grown roots and is about to bloom. I am the happiest person ever.]

Being in a forest is a very comforting feeling. I feel sheltered by trees. I believe they connect with the cosmos in a very special way – graceful, bizarre transmitters of energy. They grow straight towards the sky. They have managed to harness the solar energy in a manner no other living organism has. TREES are magnificent. They are NATURE to me in the purest form.

DSC_0053 trees2 DSC_0178 DSC_9133 DSC_9138 DSC_9146 trees trees1

a happy 2013 to everyone! i am very glad to introduce a new element on this blog – INTERVIEWS. i have been entertaining the idea for quite some time now and settled on a simple q&a form with follow-up inquiries. at least for a start. i am certain that it will be evolving as i go.

i want to know how people perceive HOME; what is it to them? is it a stable notion rooted in geography and tradition? a dream world of imagination to refer to for inspiration? a place? a school of sensations and memories?

my first interviewee – IRA – is a friend of mine who has lived an uprooted life for many years now, moving from one place to another, exposed to a whirlpool of sensuous and intellectual stimuli. she runs a blog where she keeps track of the changes she has been going through – a lifelong learning process, as she calls it. the blog is full of surprising insights and beautiful photographs so if you read russian i recommend that you give it a thorough look.

here is what ira had to say on HER sense of home.

hoopoeinanoak: your age and anything else that you think is important to know about you. in a couple of sentences.
IRA: I am 30 years old and, even though I am tired of living a nomadic lifestyle, I can’t seem to stop travelling. As a kid I desperately wanted to explore the world. However, I never precisely defined what I was expecting to find and perhaps that is why I keep moving from country to country.

h: where are you from?
IRA: I come from St. Petersburg, Russia. Growing up, I also stayed in many different places all over Russia when visiting friends and relatives.

h: what place/s do you have an attachment to? why?
IRA: At the moment I don’t have any specific place I have an attachment to.

h: where is home for you? why?
IRA: My home is my husband. I used to have some apartments I called “home” but nowadays I move to a new country almost every year and so the concept of “home” is sort of non-existent to me.

h: how do you relate to the place where you live now? is there an intimate connection?
IRA: At the moment I’m living in Edinburgh, Scotland. I guess we bond. He has a resilient attitude and an old-fashioned style. I appreciate his features and he supports me in my everyday activities. My life is really comfortable thanks to him.

h: what are two or three of your favorite memories from childhood? what makes them special?
IRA: I enjoyed making a trek to the countryside with my friends when I was little. We would make a team of 5-6 kids, take some food and toys and walk to some remote river or hills. We were absolutely convinced that we had arrived at some far-flung undiscovered land ☺. We played, told stories and shared snacks. Those were good times, when children could feel free and adventurous, and parents did not have to panic when letting us out of the house.

I remember my mom taking me abroad when I was 13. This trip to Italy changed my perception of the world: suddenly it became massive and diverse. When we came back I found a private English teacher for myself. I believed that learning English could help me to explore the world. And you know what? It did help ☺

h: what do you think has changed? why is it harder for kids today to “feel free and adventurous”? has the world really become a more dangerous place or is it people’s perceptions that have shifted?
IRA: I am not sure that the world has really become a dangerous place since then, but my perception of it has definitely shifted. I have been conditioned to see certain things as being threats to my safety. Kids are free of such fears. Ignorance is bliss.

h: what would you change in your immediate environment (house, street, neighborhood)?
IRA: I would get rid of all the roadwork related to the trams being returned to Edinburgh’s streets. It takes way too long to install the infrastructure and I am getting tired of waiting.

h: is there something from your past you feel nostalgic about? (how you perceived the world, your surroundings, people, smells, time… anything)
IRA: I feel nostalgic about good family times: travels, activities and meals.

h: your dream house/ living space: where, how big, what colors and shapes, your routine?
IRA: It’s spacious but not big. I value air and unrestricted views. I hate cluttered spaces and threadbare furniture. My dream house has at least one glass wall looking on to a natural site (woodland, field etc.). It is good if the house merges with the landscape from outside. The inner walls should be painted white; décor includes big artistic objects or paintings.

h: painful memories: how do they influence how you see/feel your home/place/environment?
IRA: Painful memories do influence how I see some places. I don’t go back to the places where I felt unhappy even if some friends or family still live there.

h: do you think your background (family, social status, culture, etc.) has a role in how you see ideal vs undesirable when it comes to defining your home? please specify.
IRA: When I was a child I hated the idea of living in a house somewhere outside a big city. I imagined being torn away from everything that was interesting for me. I guess I had to go through several capitals and megalopolises to understand that I don’t really enjoy concrete jungles that much. I can only call a place “home” if it allows me to relax and charge my batteries – something that never happens in a big city.

h: is nature an important element of your sense of home?
IRA: It has become valuable for me in recent years.

h: could you please elaborate on it a little bit? in what way?
IRA: It makes me enjoy life as it is.

h: what is travel to you? how does it change your perception of self, if at all?
IRA: Travel is my life nowadays. Traveling used to give me an opportunity to see myself from outside, compare or analyze things. Now I need to settle down to be able to do all of that because constant travelling distracts me from myself.

h: fill in the blanks ————->>

* in my garden/ backyard I would like to have these trees… willow, linden, and spruce.
* I would never want to live … in a Chinese megalopolis.
* I feel comfortable surrounded by … heaters ☺
* a view/ sight of … a river makes me feel at home.
* home is where … my husband is.
* I cringe when I see … rudeness.
* I wish people just stopped … lying.
* I hope more people will … listen to themselves
* this natural sound makes me the happiest: … silence of a desert.
* I think nature should … be respected.

(photographs from ira’s personal archive)




my friends know that moominvalley is my ultimate happy place. it is where i mentally retreat in times of distress. it is also what i try to make my own immediate environment look and feel like. moomins live in a landscape that is alive. it is a character in its own right. you are never fully alone in a forest or on a tiny rocky island in the baltic sea. you may be sad or angry at times but there is always a magical chance to interact with the landscape and not let dullness take over. landscape always has in store adventure and thrill. it also offers solitude for those who seek it. it is your friend and a stranger at the same time and you need to be patient, attentive, and self-aware to make the relationship work.

these are my crude thoughts on a thesis topic. there is one moomin book that is particularly important to me: ‘moominpappa at sea’. i reread it every summer: it always manages to put me back into a child’s state of wonder about the seemingly trivial things around you and to help me re-imagine my dream world as a necessary reference in real life. what better way to write a research paper than choosing a subject that represents your own self?!

(the photographs are from an exhibition by roger gustafsson called “hommage à… trollish adventures in contemporary art” organized by the finnish-norwegian cultural institute in oslo. i was lucky enough to attend its opening in march 2012.)

a soviet military base in zerbst, a small town in east germany’s sachsen-anhalt. my home of five years and one of the places where i grew up. happy times. mostly. we came there when i was in third grade. everything was so new, so different. i liked it there. for two or three years after we moved out of germany and went to live in russia, i was in a state of denial. lived in a cocoon refusing to accept the reality, which was that we were never going back…
i visited eighteen years later. the base had been abandoned for all those years. the germans have yet to figure out what to do with it, i suppose. i came in january. it had snowed non-stop for a week already and the drive from berlin proved to be a slight adventure. of course, the irony was that it barely ever snowed when i lived there. a little bit like a fairytale where you have to push over obstacles along your way.
what i saw made me feel uneasy. marauded buildings with gaping windows of broken glass, no railings inside. i managed to climb onto the porch at one of the entrances to my building and went inside to see my apartment. it felt eery. there were all kinds of sounds as if something was moving through the building slamming doors, tapping on the raw concrete. the only thing missing was evil giggles. i don’t know whether it was the wind or the fact that i was in the middle of snowed-up nowhere or both but it did freak me out. i went upstairs to take a few photos of what became of our old apartment and then retreated quickly.
i had been anticipating that moment for years, imagined what i would feel, how excited i would be… i shouldn’t have. when it came to the real thing i found myself trying to be emotional but somehow it wasn’t working. i got closure.