From the Chernobyl Notebooks

What the animals knew that we didn't

| May / June 2004

An old beekeeper's testimony:
'That morning . . . I went out into the garden, it was already in bloom. All in white. But I felt there was something missing, some old familiar sounds. Then I realized, it came to me-I couldn't hear the bees. The hives . . . dozens of hives were standing right there, under the apple trees. What is it? What's wrong? I put on my mask and began checking-the bees were sitting in the hives, not making a sound. Not even buzzing. And the next day they still didn't leave the hive. And the day after that. . . . I just thought: They're sick . . . got poisoned with something in the fields. . . . It was only afterwards, two weeks later, that they told us there'd been an accident at the atomic power station. And it's only 30 kilometers from our village. No distance at all. But we didn't know about it for a long time. The bees knew, but we didn't.'

A cowhand's testimony:
'That evening . . . the herdsmen drove the cows back to the farm and they told us. They were amazed . . . trying to guess what had happened. . . .They described the scene to us: That afternoon the herd had gone down to the river . . . to the watering-place . . . but when the cows bent down to the water, they immediately turned away. They didn't drink. The herdsmen drove them back, and the cows came away again . . . running. . . . Nobody could explain it. . . . Afterwards (many days later), they told us on the radio about the Chernobyl explosion.'

A boy's testimony:
'That morning I woke up . . . whistled for my friend. We got on our bikes and set off to go fishing. We stopped outside the village to dig for worms-we knew a place beside the collective farm stables that was crawling with these worms. Thick ones, thin ones, any kind you like. We dug for half an hour. Rummaged and burrowed. We couldn't find a single worm. They'd all gone deep into the ground. . . . At home no one believed us. . . . A lot of days went by. And then everyone started talking about Chernobyl. And that was exactly when it happened.'

From the author:
'Who is attached more firmly to this earth, more securely man or the animals: birds, bees, little beetles (who didn't return to the contaminated zone for several years), the plants. . . . Maybe we need to learn from them in order to survive. Learn how to survive. Learn what they know and keep it in our memory. Their cultures. . . . their civilizations. . . . After Chernobyl. . . . I see an ant crawling along and it is closer to me now. A bird flies past and it is closer. The distance between me and them is decreasing. Everything is life. We are all living time.'

Excerpted from Autodafe (#3/4). Available from Seven Stories Press, 140 Watts St., New York, NY 10013;

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