Dacha Idylls: Living Organically in Russia's Countryside

Dacha Idylls: Living Organically in Russia's Countryside

Dacha Idylls: Living Organically in Russia's Countryside

Dacha Idylls: Living Organically in Russia's Countryside


Dacha Idylls is a lively account of dacha life and how Russians experience this deeply rooted tradition of the summer cottage amid the changing cultural, economic, and political landscape of postsocialist Russia. Simultaneously beloved and reviled, dachas wield a power that makes owning and caring for them an essential part of life. In this book, Melissa L. Caldwell captures the dacha's abiding traditions and demonstrates why Russians insist that these dwellings are key to understanding Russian life. She draws on literary texts as well as observations from dacha dwellers to highlight this enduring fact of Russian culture at a time when so much has changed. Caldwell presents the dacha world in all its richness and complexity--a "good life" that draws inspiration from the natural environment in which it is situated.


Finally we tired [of walking along the river], and we decided to
depart from the river along the path to the right. Near to the
right on a rounded hillock, thicketed with oaks, led a little path.
We walked along it and in half an hour we were surrounded by
an old-growth pine forest. It was silent and quiet in the forest.
There, so very high, where the bright green of the pine crowns
were stretching out to the bright whiteness of the clouds, per
haps, and where the breezes roamed, it was absolutely quiet.

—Vladimir Soloukhin, “Vladimirovskii By-Ways” (Soloukhin 2006:15)

In fall 1998, as I was concluding a year of fieldwork in Moscow, my parents came for a visit. My apartment was located in a small Khrushchev-era apartment block in Fili, a leafy and quiet residential district on the western edge of the city center. Just a few minutes’ walk from my apartment was Filevskii Park, one of the largest forested parks in Moscow. During my parents’ visit we often spent our afternoons and evenings walking through the peaceful park, joined by many other residents from the neighborhood. Despite its location near the center of a sprawling postindustrial megalopolis of approximately twelve million residents, Filevskii Park is a surprisingly quiet and cool oasis. Like many of the forested parks and nature reserves in the Moscow area, Filevskii Park is heavily wooded with thick vegetation covering the ground. Visibility is so limited on the narrow paths that twist and turn through the trees that it is frequently impossible to see more than twenty feet ahead. Even on the sunniest and hottest days, the forest is dark and cool.

There is a peculiar Brigadoon-like quality to Filevskii Park, as people, dogs, sounds, and smells suddenly appear and disappear out of the leafy thickets, even in winter. Pedestrians stroll through the serpentine maze of the forest, confronted at random turns by the emergence out of noth-

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