Guernica Magazine

Nugrybauti

In Lithuania, going astray while picking mushrooms is a common experience, with its own word. The same word is used to describe veering from the plot of a story—like my father did when he talked about his time in Vietnam. The post Nugrybauti appeared first on Guernica.
Photo collage: Ansellia Kulikku. Image source: Wellcome Library.

Our disintegrating 19th century homestead in the Lithuanian forest is situated at the head of a village made up of five homesteads, a yellow wooden church, and a cemetery. We are thirty kilometers from the nearest town, Anyksciai, where my wife, Simona, grew up before roaming the world when the Iron Curtain fell. I met her in New York, we married, and eventually we came back to her home country to raise our child close to nature. Most early autumn weekdays are quiet; we are the only full-time residents, and potential day-trippers are at work, far away from us. So the urgent banging on the door one September afternoon was especially startling.

My family and I were sitting down to a lunch of beet soup and boiled potatoes when we heard it. I imagined an impatient forest ranger had come to inquire about where I had collected the wood to build my haystack frame. Taking wood or otherwise disturbing the trees is prohibited, but I’d only gathered a few dead pines that hadn’t rotted yet. I’m neither a vandal nor a thief, but a scavenger—that was my justification. I planned to play dumb, pretend I didn’t know the law.

Simona answered the door. There stood an old man, breathless,

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