From the Chernobyl Notebooks

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;
www.autodafe.org

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