Poles re­vive an­cient tim­ber float­ing tra­di­tion

Kuwait Times - - HEALTH & SCIENCE -

A group of Poles have as­sem­bled tree trunks into a long raft and are stream­ing down the coun­try’s long­est river, the Vis­tula, to re­vive the an­cient tra­di­tion of tim­ber float­ing. Their day be­gins at dawn with a prayer-”When dawn breaks, the earth, the sea, all of na­ture praises you”-which cap­tain Zdzis­law Niko­las sings in his bass voice while the whole crew stands around an im­age of their pa­tron saint. They sing it at night too like their an­ces­tors, says Niko­las, who sports an im­pres­sive han­dle­bar mous­tache.

“Saint Bar­bara was the pa­tron of those with dan­ger­ous jobs, like min­ers and fire­fight­ers and also rafts­men, be­cause that too was a dan­ger­ous job: there was a strong river cur­rent in the spring,” he adds. For cen­turies, tim­ber float­ing brought wealth to many vil­lages along the Vis­tula and its trib­u­taries. Men sent mer­chan­dise of all kinds but es­pe­cially wood from the forests of south­ern Poland down­stream to the Baltic port of Gdansk.

“As soon as the ice melted on the Vis­tula and the cur­rents of the Vis­tula and the (tribu­tary) San were flow­ing freely, raft mak­ers got to work and sent the wood float­ing down to Gdansk,” Niko­las says while steer­ing from the back. “The whole vil­lage of Ulanow did this job and it was of­ten a fam­ily af­fair passed down from fa­ther to son. It dis­ap­peared with the be­gin­ning of the war in 1939 when the Ger­man army’s bombs de­stroyed the bed of the Vis­tula river.” Af­ter the war, tim­ber float­ing was re­placed by trucks and trains.

Wild river

In 1991, Niko­las re­vived a broth­er­hood of Ulanow rafts­men who or­ga­nized their first de­scent last year. “Ours is the most ex­ten­sive tim­ber float­ing to­day in Europe... We do it out of pas­sion, to re­vive this trade. Not for fi­nan­cial rea­sons,” he said. The crew left Ulanow, a vil­lage in the south­east of Poland, on July 2 and floated down the San. They hope to do the 724 kilo­me­ters be­tween their vil­lage and the Baltic in 29 days. Two weeks in, they were docked on a beach in Gassy, a cou­ple of kilo­me­ters from War­saw. Their raft is made up of four smaller ones as­sem­bled by ty­ing to­gether long planks of pinewood. It weighs 50 tons and is 70 me­ters long. The first and last rafts are used to steer. This year the de­scent is hap­pen­ing as Poland cel­e­brates “The Year of the Vis­tula”. It is a very wild river that has known lit­tle de­vel­op­ment and dredg­ing. Shal­low in some ar­eas, there are tree trunks hid­den un­der­wa­ter that can jam a raft.

Pol­ish wood in Am­s­ter­dam

Back in the day the rafts­men put a whole lot at the mercy of the river, Niko­las said. “Wood mer­chants would en­trust their mer­chan­dise with the rafts­man, who of­ten risked los­ing ev­ery­thing he owned, his house, his wife and chil­dren-all of which he would bond,” he said. “Once the wood ar­rived in Gdansk, it was cut in saw mills and then ex­ported through­out the world,” he added. “It is even said that the whole city of Am­s­ter­dam was con­structed with

Pol­ish wood, all of those beau­ti­ful houses, en­tire neigh­bor­hoods of the port made with pine that grew in Poland. These pines were ex­ported to make masts for sail­boats in Eng­land and Nor­way.” The rafts­men sleep in tra­di­tional thatched tents and cook meals on an ever-burn­ing fire. “Two weeks into the de­scent, al­most all our sup­plies are gone,” says Zyg­munt Osip, as he added cab­bage to a big cook­ing pot. He did last year’s de­scent and joined the crew again this year. “I did ev­ery­thing to get time off work and for my wife to let me leave and I suc­ceeded, I’m here,” he said. “For me this trip is as beau­ti­ful as first love.”—AFP

WAR­SAW: Pas­sion­ate re­vive the an­cient prac­tice of ‘tim­ber float­ing’ on the Vis­tula river near War­saw, Poland.—AFP

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Kuwait

© PressReader. All rights reserved.