In the wilds of an ancient forest
It was getting close to midnight and we were still jolting along narrow country roads. There was some comfort in the knowledge that our accommodation for the night was booked, but in rural Poland, up on the eastern border with Belarus, we couldn’t expect a five-star hotel with 24hour reception.
We hadn’t intended to be so late. Time had slipped away from us; despite the lack of a common language, we’d spent the day with a hospitable Polish family who fed us mushroom pierogies and quince schnapps.
We were then on our way to Bialowieza National Park, a virtually untouched remnant of the ancient forest that once covered northeast Europe.
It’s a place where wild predators and prey still roam freely and is so special that a guide is required to access the protected zone.
The park is home to huge old trees and to European bison, lynx, beavers, wild boar, elk, innumerable birds — and wolf packs.
Hidden in the wildflowers and moss on the forest floor are the lonely graves of partisans killed during the dark days of World War II.
One day we were up at 4am walking to the forest edge in the hope of seeing bison, the shaggy icon of the park, come down to the cleared land to feed.
Golden birds that our guide identified as yellowhammers hopped in the low bushes and a pair of corn crakes called to each other from the tangled grass on either side of the path. A roe deer appeared briefly but disappeared back into the thick forest with a skittish flash of its white rump. Ripples spread on the surface of the little stream as beavers dived on their dams.
The bison were elsewhere that morning we’d risen so early. However, waiting in the bone cold, amid the absence of any human noise, while the sun rose slowly and burnt through the mist, spangling the spiders’ webs, was an experience to be treasured.
And, yes, when we finally arrived at our accommodation, there was someone waiting up for us.
When my husband’s head cold developed into a hacking cough, our lovely hosts brought chicken soup and dosed him on healing honey from their own beehives deep within the forest. Send your 400-word contribution, with full postal address, to: [email protected]tralian.com.au. Columnists will receive a selection from Australian stationer Notemaker that includes a MiGoals passport wallet ($29.95), Delfonics canvas pencil case ($16.95) and a clothbound Moleskine Voyageur notebook ($44.95). More: notemaker.com.au.