It was a particularly strange gift for a rather slow boy. The beautiful sad young woman who wore lilac satin dresses in the communist New Era book shop in Auckland’s Darby Lane seemed to read my soul’s needs..
When I was six or seven she sold me for 1/9d a set of illustrated Russian folk tales by Ivan Bilibin. But for my 9th birthday she gave me two wonderful gifts. She kindly hugged me to her cleavage (enveloping me in exotic perfume and tobacco smells), and she presented me with a grown up’s book, ‘The Land in Bloom’ by V. Safonov. Both gifts have influenced my life. I carried it as I pedalled to and from Te Aroha School on the rattrap tray behind my bike seat. To be honest, even then I suspected that enthusiasts weren’t totally to be trusted. Inspite of the sycophantic attitude to Stalin the book was full of wonder, and the plant illustrations by M. Getmansky were clearly more than botanical studies. The whole thesis of the book before the discovery of DNA is a bit suss but since then I have in my pockets little note books full of cross-pollination combinations and records of my usually inept experimental grafts.
The translated language had astute observations of nature: ‘What is a crop, what is a good crop? It is the acknowledgement of living harmony in the fields within the particular variety of plant that is being cultivated, and its harmony with other varieties, its field neighbours, and its predecessors, and the plants that will be planted after it. The science of crop raising is precisely the science of this living harmony.’
Those who dig the soil in the Dmitrov village of Active People probably know intuitively that the mitochondria of simple amoebas carry an infinitude of future evolutionary mutative possibilities. All we do is look for manifestations in plants to emphasise.
I still have a battered copy of the book – but it is not my original. What happened to that?
I now respect concepts I once scoffed at and do believe that objects can have a numinous. I would like to hold my ninth birthday present again and read my naive margin jottings and sense the soft comfort of the exiled woman. I hope that Gayewskaya is right in her poem about finding in paradise “those books left in trains and planes,” because that book stimulated the ribonucleic acid that determined so much in my life.
Safonov planted seeds.