On a mid-May evening, my family and I crammed into a 4-door Renault sedan to drive out of the city and towards isolation. We were going to my grandparents’ dacha, their weekend home. I knew we were far from Bryansk when the highway narrowed into a two-lane road with dashed-lines cutting through the middle. Paper birches lined the road, flashing in and out of my focus, creating a blur of white and green. Yellow acres of sunflower fields interrupted the trees as my mom, smiling, rolled a sheet of paper into a cone for sunflower seed shell disposal.
Smells of cooking corn wafted into the car, tempting us to pull over as roadside vendors cooked and sold their homegrown kukuruza. But we kept going. Once we arrived, we went down the terrible dirt road with our first stop at the neighborhood’s “local dairy farmer”. It was really just one lady with a cow. We filled an enormous glass jar with fresh milk, jumped back into the car, and lurched forward down the road.
We parked in front of our rusted iron fence, and walked through the backyard garden to the edge of our land where the meadow grass was as high as our bellybuttons. Burs collected on our sleeves as we gently pushed aside the tall grass. Once the dacha was out of sight and the grass tapered down to ankle height, we laid down our blankets and picnic basket. My grandfather opened a bottle of wine, and then sliced bread, cheese, and kalbasa. We feasted. As I chewed, I looked around from our perch on the hill, and could see for miles. A few abandoned shacks stood upright with all their might as overgrown gardens threatened to consume them. My family was reminiscing and laughing, hanging onto every word. And out there, across the valley, another hillside. I could have sworn I saw a family drinking, eating kalbasa, and staring back at us.