• Alina Cebula

Chapter 2: Poland

We had arrived in summer, to a glorious sight of beautifully green fruitful trees in the garden. The fresh air smelled different, it was dry but pleasant. I had spent the evenings wondering around the neighbourhood woodlands in search of animal tracks. Nights were always chilly, even when the day temperatures were too hot to bare. I’d hang bird feeders on an apple tree right outside the bedroom, and soon, I was greeted with cheerful sound of many small birds. Seeing them chip away of the sunflower seeds made me happy. I had spent countless of hours observing them. When the apple trees in the garden were mature enough to bare fruit, it was a daily job to pick them off the ground. For a few weeks, I’d pick a crateful of fruit daily. By the end of the summer, we had given apples, plums, grapes, pears, gooseberry and black currants to every neighbour and every member of the family. We were drowning in fruit, I had spent days marinating them into every jar I had found in the big house. The house was old, it was three floors tall and the walls of the bedrooms were dark near the ceiling from the countless times the rooms were filled with smoke from the fireplace. The doors squeaked and the old-fashioned carpets were worn out. There was an old, shedding Boar skin hanging in the hall. Long, tangled branches were dropping shadows on the bedroom windows. The house gave me chills. It was silent and full of empty, dusty glasses and plates behind the glass cabinet.

The garden was opposite - it was full of life; a big pond was stretching across most of the land with a few hundred small fish calmly swirling back and forth. The water was always green and the grasses around it were unkept. A very tall fruitless cherry tree was growing in the corner, casting shadows onto the whole garden at sunset. The garden was as wild as the birds hectically flying around the bird feeders. It was my favourite place to spend warm golden evenings. Every now and then I would make a trip into the local mountains to photograph them. When I first saw the rocky mountains growing from the deep green pine forests rising to meet the skylines I knew there was no more beautiful sight. Low clouds were often drifting through the mountain tops, forcing me to only imagine how tall above them the mountains reached. After spending early sunrises in the mountains, I was happy to return home, crawl into a bed with my cat and fall asleep listening to birds chattering outside.

It wasn’t long till the mountains were snow-capped and the days became colder and shorter. We knew the winter was coming, and we were well prepared for it, or so we thought. The chopped wood was pilled up in the shed, two stacks of coal were ready in the basement. We had the chimney swept and changed car tyres for the winter type. An emergency set of winter chains was always in the boot of the car. When the first snow fell, it was exciting. Photographically, this offered a lot of new opportunities. I always wanted to photograph landscapes in winter conditions, but while living in the mild climate of Great Britain, I never had the opportunity. Working outside in winter was challenging but it had brought me great calmness. There was something mesmerising about sitting on top of a mountain, watching the clouds move in complete silence. The chatter of my brain dealt into a whisper, my pulse slowed, I took deep breaths and drank hot tea I carried up the mountain.

Winter lasted for fifteen long weeks. Freed from picking fruit daily from the garden, my time was now invested into shovelling the snow to clear the drive. Making fire a few times a day to keep the house warm and avoid the pipes from freezing. I remembered those long warm summer evenings and decided I’d prefer to pick the fruit rather than carry heavy shovels of coal and snow. The fire was unpredictable; on some days it would grow up the chimney wildly, making crackling sounds and heating up the house too much, on other days it would smoke forever and had to be restarted multiple times during the day. Sometimes, I would walk down to a room full of thick white smoke. The stairs weren’t visible, and the air wasn’t breathable, after opening all the windows and spending hours in freezing cold trying to make it stop I couldn’t sleep, knowing this might happen again. Later, we had installed alarms that would wake us up if the smoke filled the room again.

​ I loved winter, and I hated it at the same time. I adored the sculpture-like trees covered in snow, and the rocky mountains that now seemed somehow soft and fluffy. I could even bare the outdoor cold weather conditions. What I hated the most was the constant worry for the fire in the house. Returning to a warm house after a day long hike in -18 was amazing, but on windy sleepless nights, I just wanted to give up and move out. The time I have spent in Polish mountains is priceless, I have experienced the most amazing things and learned a little bit more about myself. I will miss this climate and the way mountains made me feel, but there is a need to end this chapter and start a new one, back in the UK.

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