September 01, 2011

In Tolstoy's Footsteps

In Tolstoy's Footsteps

"I wouldn't pet her if I were you," the driver’s companion advised us as we slid into the backseat of the dusty Niva. The sleepy spaniel greeted Tom Newlin and me with a low, menacing growl, but then lay impassively wedged between us and our packs as we bounced along the lane.

I began explaining to the driver and his friend how we had ended up lost on some back-country road, a few miles from the tiny village of Rusyatino, in a sparsely populated northern part of the Tula Oblast. By now, I had performed the spiel a few dozen times, so my delivery was so quick and polished that I could recite it in a single long breath: We were two American professors, scholars and admirers of Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy, walking from Moscow to Tula, following the historical path of Tolstoy, who during the 1880s liked to walk the 200 kilometers from his Moscow home in Moscow’s Khamovniki district to Yasnaya Polyana, his ancestral home ten miles south of Tula.

We had taken a detour of a few kilometers from Tolstoy’s route to spend the night in a shalash, a grass-covered hut made by leaning sticks together teepee-like, in an apple orchard on a hill, on the grounds of the museum-estate of Andrey Timofeyevich Bolotov, Russia’s “first agronomist and pomologist.” (Tom, in one of those lucky turns of fate, had written a book on Bolotov a few years ago, so the staff there was eager to host us.) After a breakfast of boiled potatoes, pickled peppers, and “Bolotov tea” — a tincture, the director explained, made according to the exacting recipe of Andrey Timofeyevich from grasses and herbs collected on the estate — we set off again on our hike. Within minutes, we were lost.

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