võrumaa blues

Morning in Obinitsa, Estonia

VÕRUMAA HAS IN RECENT YEARS become a major destination for people, mostly Estonians, who want to live more off-the-grid and delve into their collective heritage of closeness to nature and an agricultural lifestyle. Social media is full of images of freshly bottled pickles and jams, typically on an old-fashioned wooden table, hopefully surrounded by hectares of unspoiled wilderness. There are some reasons for this. One is that Võrumaa is one of the few places in Estonia where people still speak a dialect in everyday discourse, which has some stronger similarities to Finnish than standard Estonian, and the second is that it’s one of the cheaper places to live in Estonia, and trying to go off-the-grid on the north coast is often an impossibility for bohemian-minded families. This is the nook of the country where the country life is “more real” and you can buy that old farm house and fix it up. I suppose it’s how New Yorkers see Vermont, if Vermont is still affordable. “I’ll just go buy myself some acreage up there and live off the land.” Aye, that’s the dream. But in Võrumaa, as in Vermont, you run into, well, the locals, the truck-driving neighbors (not these neighbors here, other neighbors, elsewhere) the typical country problems of old grudges, eh, er, alcoholism, and stuff like that, though to be fair, that is everywhere in Estonia, from the pinnacle top to muddy bottom. Some people have told me that the “forest is strong” in Võrumaa. This is a really interesting idea that even my child has related to me on nature hikes. “Let’s go back to that forest, that one was more powerful, or interesting.” I must admit, I have never heard someone from New York tell me that the forest was particularly strong in any part of Long Island, though it makes sense, no? The vibration, the energy of those woods, speaks in louder volumes, or is more profound. I think Estonians intuitively grasp these things better because this is their land. As such, it’s a bit harder for me to hear what the Võrumaa forest is saying. I keep feeling like I have driven a bit too far north, and somewhere between Maine and the Atikamekw Reserves, there is this little pine-lined neck of the woods. This is lumberjack country, for sure. That is another thing my sojourns down here have proved, you can’t really do anything without a car, or better yet a truck. God knows how they got around in the old days. I can’t imagine taking some horse-drawn carriage down one of these country roads. Maybe they just stayed on the farm and married the neighbor. Seems an easier prospect.

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