Looking At The Mountains
For Julius and Katharina Derksen
Lavarov, The Caucasus, 1925
The Slav bandits and rogue soldiers are gone.
After years of war and revolution, Lenin and the Bolsheviks
control Russia. But here in the Caucasus
along the Rostov-Baku railroad, Mohammed's people dwell.
Yesterday, Gerhard Harder shot a Mohammeden from the mountains
breaking into his sheep shed. After Tienche bandaged
his leg, I took him on the wagon to the authorities.
We complain; they just smile and say, "You have too much."
Too much! Beautiful Lavarov, Mennonite village pioneered
ten years ago. Four years as a Czarist soldier. Still wearing
my re-soled army boots with my re-souled heart.
Everything changes slowly; then everything is gone.
In the Ukraine, they arrested Mennonite ministers.
In Sagradovka, they murdered Tienche's brother's family.
Must we leave again, when there is enough for everyone?
Why does mankind emaciate the ampleness of God's creation?
The Crimean Saribasch farm was the best: grapes
and watermelon; the Black Sea coast. The brothers and I
swam naked like Russian men. The resorts paid
good money for fresh vegetables, fruit, and milk.
In last week's letter, brother Johann in Manitoba said,
"Take the train to Moscow. Get exit permits for Canadian
Immigration in Riga." He has a farm in Gnadentahl
and even an automobile, near Tienche's Hutterite relatives.
I love looking at the mountains. Late into summer
the snow on Mt. Elbrus reflects the evening sunlight
and the waxing moonlight. Mt. Camel has a double hump,
and Mt Jelesenaja has hot and cold healing springs.
A young Mennonite couple from the Ural Mountains
want to buy our farm. Should we move again?
Roots and Branches, Vol. 22:1 (2016)
Blumenhof, Saskatchewan, 1936
The black foal canters easily in the pasture next to Tienche's
kitchen garden, unaware of his destiny as a workhorse.
In Russia, the sick riding stallion left by the Red captain when
he took my best draft horse danced once nursed to health.
After we left Russia, the Reds took everything, even the Lavarov farm.
Collectivization: forced labour, food rations, no money.
On a Hutterite colony, people work at what they do best
willingly, eat communally, saving money collectively for the future.
As a forest warden in Siberia during the war under the Czar,
I shot at peasants pilfering firewood to stay alive in the frigid Russian winter.
Still, Mennonites practiced their beliefs freely, starting new colonies
on the Steppes; some brethren became rich owning stores and factories.
We sold our three hundred acre wheat farm. Tomorrow we have
our auction. Saturday, we board the CPR train for Swift Current
and the Fraser Valley. After ten years we have enough money —
a profit — to buy a farm among the mountains in Yarrow.
I miss looking at the mountains. After 1929 when wheat prices collapsed,
Johann and three brothers moved there from the prairies to start again.
With enough food from our garden, livestock, and chickens, the children,
Tienche and I survived debt free — I never owned a car.
Last year, Tienche and I celebrated our twenty-fifth wedding anniversary.
We met in Sagradovka, Ukraine, where I was stationed in the forest service.
She sang solo soprano in the MB church choir. Here in Saskatchewan,
we attended the Blumenort MB church several miles south of Blumenhof.
In winter, our two high-spirited English draft horses pulled the sleigh,
ready to go from inactivity. Other times, we hitched the buggy to our
trustworthy Clydesdale, steady as she goes. What is life without horses?
My sons, Jake and Julius, talk about getting a car, like their Yarrow cousins.
In Terek Colony after a day in the blacksmith shop, the brothers and I floated
like logs on the Caspian Sea, and raced the Baku trains on strong, swift horses.
Yarrow, British Columbia, 1946
I sold my team of horses with the Vedder River farm.
My bicycle with its basket is enough for shopping at the stores.
Living in town next to the MB church, we are less self-sufficient,
even with our berry patch, fruit trees, garden, and chickens.
Brother Johann, Yarrow pioneer merchant, opened a general store.
He bought in bulk, repackaged, and extended credit to poor
Mennonites wiped out on the prairies during the depression.
At the start, a community without money needs such entrepreneurship.
In our blacksmith shop in Russia, we fixed and built farm equipment, keeping
customers' accounts until the harvest. Then, I rode from village to village
collecting payments. Some people paid with fruit and vegetables, which
the brothers hauled with our own produce to buyers at the Baku railroad.
Our farm on Ford Road lay along the south bank of the Vedder River.
After they married, my daughters and their husbands farmed nearby.
After church at Christmas, they all came home for dinner; the men
fished for steelhead where the long pool slips by the chicken barn.
We lost our eldest son to influenza two years after we arrived from the prairies.
Our youngest son joined the army during the war. Summer evenings,
Tienche and I loved to sit on the porch, playing guitar and singing hymns we sang
in our Sagradovka choir, looking at the sunlight shimmering on Mt. Cheam.
During the late spring floods, the cedars' deep roots protected us, holding
the boulders and gravel, as the surging, turbulent waters tore at the river's bank.
Life is like that, tearing at one's body and soul, the deep roots of faith protect.
Time's gravity pulls us along our destinies, gathering us to eternity's sea.
After the long pilgrimage of our lives, Tienche and I are
content, living next to the Mennonite church. We are even
learning how to speak English for Julius Junior's wife. If God is
willing, we will remain here, until we are carried to our rest.
Der Herr hat alles wohl gemacht.
© Elmer Wiens