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Chronicals of Lake Narocz by Mieczyslaw Lisiewicz

This long out of print autobiographical work by this Polish author is reproduced here in full. I have transcribed the work and present it here for all to read. Copyright remains the property of the owners whoever and wherever they are. If anyone who is reading this has any historical facts, documents, maps or photographs about Narocz I would be very grateful if you would contact me, Alan at Landschaft I hope readers enjoy, as I have, the tales from this forgotten corner of the world.

Chapter VI: Spring on the Lake


Narocz, Nieslucz, Nanosy, Simony, Czerewki, Podrezy, Pasynki, Ostrow , Budrysowka, Mikolce, Kupa, Kalucha, Mniszyn, Krzyz mountains, Lamanik, lake Gradshie, lake Kozie, lake Wydernik, Naroczanka, Hacia, Miadziol, Kobylnik, Graet Szwakszta, Northern Ruthenia, Ruthenia, Kiev, Dnieper, Pripet, Berezyna, Bay of Riga, Vistula, Novgorod, Moscow, Kaluga, Tula, Ryzan, Wilno, Poland, Lithuania, Uzla, Mikolec, lake Miadziol, Pale Lake, Miastro, Skiema, Wolok, Rudakowo, Bojarski forest, lake Rufakowa,


The author telss of how cultivation and fishing on the lake and it's environs developed - characteristically in wordy high tones. Of pitchburners and peasants superstitions. At Lake Narocz, Ruthenian prisoners, Mulims, Tartars, were forced to settle and till the land by order of the local Duke. They survived and formed the settlement of free Tartars, Miadziol, accepting the role as leather tanners from the Duke.

Further reading

Miadziol when Lisiewicz wrote is now Myadel in Belarus.

In Lisiewicz's time, Miadziol still had leather tanneries, as this document shows: 1923 Busines Directory Miadziol

This fascinating documentary website written in 1926 by descendents of inhabitants of: The Myadel Region

Chapter VI: The Text

THE lake murmurs, the forest murmurs. The day is gloomy and sunless. The duet ripped out by the wind blowing under the clouds is unceasing. The grey waters make an enormous circle, scarcely visible to the eye, broad and open for the waves, which plunge on it in foam, rising and falling; empty and ominous, and the shore desolate. In the sky some seagulls cry plaintively, seeking the shoals of fish. In vain! The fish have fled to the deeps before the wind. Near at hand are heard the wails of a hawk. He sails in a sharp circle, beautifully drawn, perfectly aerodynamic. The voice of the forest, the murmur of the water and the animal cries appal by their desolation and emptiness. Mankind! Oh, mankind!

But there are no people to be seen. The huts of the settlements are set back, out of sight of eyes sweeping the shores. Behind the dunes, in the spruce woods they hide the poverty of their shrunken shingles. Besides in all this io-rnile area they are so few. Only here and there a score of huts collects in a hardly perceptible group. They are intimidated by the immensity of the united force of the watery elements. They shake from age, and cower close to rhe earth like grey partridges. On the eastern shore-lonely Hatowicze, on the western-Nieslucz and Nanosy. Only on the northern shore are the settlements thicker: Simony, Czerewki, Podrezy, Pasynki, Ostrow with Budrysowka, Mikolce. There, too, they are building new houses around Kupa, and there come in the summer most of the visiting folk. The main road and the railway have been brought there.

It was always thus: the shore on which the first fire was lighted in this region-was the northern shore. Though the torest murmured in the same way here and there on the Hatowiczean shores, or among the oaks and ashes ot Ostrow, nevertheless access to the northern shore was simpler, life easier, the soil more fertile. In the south and east only the wild things howled summer and winter in the forest, and the welkin rang with the chases of imps and devils in the marshes. In parts only the descendants of the first people of the woods have endured. Completely sunk in the primaeval forest, they lived quite wild between the beauties of Kalucha and Mniszyn Krzyz mountains or Lamanik. They gathered wild bees' nests from the hollow trees, and sable and otter skins from secret lairs known only to themselves, between the lakes of Gradskie, Kozie, and Wydernik. In the spring they made expeditions for ducks' eggs to the floods of the Naroczanka, and in autumn chased heath-hens around Hacia. Rarely, only in bitter November weather, would they- return to their huts. These were built of unstripped tree trunks, the gaps stuffed with moss, half-sunk in the earth. Inside they were dark, without windows, lighted by feeble torches, heated by a great fire. Under the rafters smoked great flitches of venison and elk meat, there were hung fish strung on lines twisted from wild hemp and, pegged by the leg, a great toad rotted. The liquid of decay dripping from her body was carefully collected in a stone dish, later to be used in the healing of wounds and in casting spells.

In the depths of winter they went down to the water, to catch, in the holes in the ice, fish, which were salted and taken, together with valuable skins, to the market for exchange. They got in return salt, iron for darts, lines, fish hooks and later (considerably later) in Miadziol, 'from the Tartars and Jews, flints and powder for muskets. Till this very day their descendants do the same. Just as with their ancestors, only absolute necessity brings them near the noisy haunts of people. They like best to stay in the woods, and are not eager for the lively northern shore.

It was on the northern shore, somewhere near Kobyinik, that the first plough shares disturbed the earth, of the forest cleared by fire; there that the first corn was sown, the first bread baked, the first net woven of flax. Kohyinik lies on a hilly neck of land between three lakes: Great Szwakszta, Narocz, and Miadziol. Somewhere in this neighbourhood ran a great trail from the east to the west, along which every merchant going into Northern Ruthenia or coming from Ruthenia was obliged to pass, however much he feared it.

It is somewhat strange that in all the chronicles there is so little of Narocz. True that the lake country lay alongside the incidents recorded in old Slav with Cyrillic lettering by the monastic annalists. It lay close to the places of these incidents as a land fragrant of amber and myrrh, a land untouched by hail. None of the roads cut through the very heart of the lakes and forests. They avoided it, both the road from sunny Kiev leading along the Dnieper, Pripet, and Berezyna north to the Bay of Riga (the second "Amber Trail" after that along 'the Vistula), or that which ran from Novgorod, of the hundred churches and many gates, or from gloomy Moscow, from Kaluga, Tula, Ryazan, led along the dry rivers of sand-to Wilno, first market-town in Western Europe, joined in the great "knot" of trade routes which is Poland and Lithuania.

However, it was thus: though outside the forest the world was human, and its history that of man, yet in the solemn, primeval forest, on the lakes sunk in the silence of the woods-it was a world belonging to God alone. History poured itself out in the sap of generations of pines, yews, and oaks) and sang its hymns mostly in the baying of a rutting stag or the gloomy ballad of the wolf. Besides the animals, there fought together only the birches and pines, two deadly enemies. Mankind played an insignificant part in this country. Moreover, they changed so quickly! More quickly than the trees, more quickly than the packs of grey wolves living on the Uzla.

The tribes which fate drove hither indeed died out quickly, either from extreme winters or from unconquerable flood. The frosts were sharper here than in other places farther to the north, and the spring floods spread every year over wide areas of the land. Such a flood would last for many weeks, till the ardent July suns sucked the water up into the heavens. They died too from wild animals and from hunger. Nevertheless for centuries they must have burnt offerings to their gods on a certain hill near Mikolec. That hill lies on the road from Mikolec to Lake Miadziol. The earth, when touched bv a spade, is black and friable for many spits deep.

Centuries passed. The forest murmured, the lake murmured and became more and more overgrown in the east. Soon the Pale Lake separated for ever from its parent, and Miastro was divided by sandy dikes from the high waves of the Narocz. Only Skiema was then somewhat wider than it is now.

There came a new age. Merchants returning from the east brought news of fires and the murder of many people, murders so terrific that the rivers which they were obliged to cross ran down in floods not of water, but of blood. It was the earth's festive season, April. The trees' bark burst with the warm breezes; and the maples and birches ran with the sweet sap of their budding. The brown twigs of the woods on the eastern horizon changed colour, and through the tips of the pines, blackened by winter, the first rush of new green began to show. The meadow grasses pushed upward their new growth. On the shores of the lake, beside the withered stems of reeds and rushes appeared the first shoots. They were the colour of human skin.

All this while, from the clouds, with the chill wind, came the many voices of the cranes, mixed with the screech of white and black swans hurrying north,, Over the lake these cries mingled throughout day and night, for even in the night .the sky was filled with the chatter of the migrating birds. The moon buried itself in veils of mist, vapour and damp haze, taking a ceremonial bath to prepare for the meeting with the coming May and honey-scented June.

The waters of the Narocz were already clear, and seethed with the slightest breeze. The Miastro, on the other hand, was not yet completely free from ice. In the middle of its depths floes still floated, joining themselves far from the shores into great flakes of dirty, uneven fur.

In such weather, on the road leading to the Miastro through Wolok and Rudakowo, went a strange procession. An army or not an army, anyway a great many people. Some pitchburners, hurrying through the broad glades of the Bojarski forest, disappeared into the thickets. Each of them climbed some tree and, poking his head out of its needled crown, watched anxiously what would happen.

But nothing happened. In the van were several riders on small horses with their bows over their shoulders and short pikes in their hands. On their heads they had iron helms shaped like pointed cylinders. Obviously, from the shape, they were made at home, not the work of an' experienced armourer. As they went they kept a careful watch on all sides, for though the woods belonged to Duke Witold one could never be sure what one might meet in such wild places.

At a distance behind the foremost riders walked a crowd of men surrounded by others armed and on horseback. Those walking were joined together by ropes round their necks. These were tied by straps to planks in such a way that if one of the men wanted to free his neck from the yoke he would. first be compelled to strangle the man walking in front of him. A little behind this group, not bound but under a separate guard, trudged some women. They were no better looking than their companions in misfortune. Like them they had square faces with outstanding cheekbones and small slanting eyes, short legs and squat sturdy figures. They walked with difficulty, stumbling over the tree roots.

The whole group came down the hill and entered the ravine bv the oak wood in which glittered the turbid waters of Lake Rufakowa. At the sight of the water the prisoners began to whine and ask in broken Ruthenian for drink. Their armed escort did not wish to stop, however.

"Wait! There''ll soon be water! Plenty of water!" informed one of the guards, urging them on with his spear. The procession moved on sullenly, for the prisoners were tired out.

Suddenly the forest ended in a cliff at the bottom of which, beneath their very feet, opened a second sky, over which, as over the one above, moved billowing clouds. The prisoners gave a shriek of terror, tangled their fetters and, trying to escape back into the woods, fell.

"They think it is the end of the world," remarked one of the armed men, raising the half-strangled creatures from the ground and restoring order to the crowd.

Accordingly the leader of the guards began to explain as well as he could by gestures and odd words that that which they saw below them was not the sky but a lake. A smooth lake which reflected in its surface the picture of what lay around it. He even gave an order to drag some of the prisoners to the very edge of the cliff so that they might see in the water the reflections of their own grotesque figures in sheep-skin wraps. But even the boldest Tartars gazed in amazement at the unusual sight, to them, of the immeasurable waters, stilled and spellbound by the silence. Only the women would not be convinced, and whimpered, huddled in a group round the trunk of a mighty pine at least three centuries old.

The leader, seeing that everything was in order again, caused the prisoners to form a close circle. He stood in the centre and proclaimed: "Listen well! Here, by the wish of the Duke, you have to stay, build a settlement, and live."

"How, sir?" cried one of the Tartars in Ruthenian, evidently one of the elders of the group, "How can we live without bows or arrows, without tools, without fire, without protection from the wild beasts?"

"You must do as well as you can! There are flints, and there is no lack of tinder. You can make bows and arrows, for we will leave you axes and knives. The Duke has promised that when the floods abate he will send waggons with iron."

"They will die of hunger and cold before the Duke deigns to send the waggons," grunted another old, wrinkled Tartar, pointing to the women under the tree.

"Shelter them, it's your job! After all they're your wives."

"The wolves will eat us, or ravens pick our bones."

"Oh, don't croak, you're a raven yourself. There are many of you, and you have fire."

"It is fate."

"Better thank your God that the Duke didn't order all your throats to be cut, as he has done with others, but out of good will wishes to keep you. Serve him well. Remember this, Chasiey! "

The riders waited no longer. They freed Chasiey from his bonds, poured a heap of knives and other tools at his feet, and left in haste. They were less in number than the Tartars.

The prisoners, freed from their bonds, sat down on the spot.

Mirza Ulan Murydyn Hassan, called Chasiey, the oldest of the group, sat down and closed his eyes for a moment. His thin face wrinkled, the sparse hair ot his moustache drooped even more. He nodded his head in thought. He was brooding.

Maybe in his imagination shone the dry sunshine of the Black Sea steppes. Maybe he recalled that moment a year ago, when in its spring rays he set off to the east at the head of his tchamboul, along the centuries-old road which is marked by a chain of cairns. Perhaps there rang in his ears the squeals of the horses ol his herd, as they bit each other not far from the camp, while he sat by the campfire and dreamed of the rivers he would cross, of the stockades he would choke in fire and smoke, of the booty he would win.

Much had changed since that time. Now he had around him not steppe, but immeasurable forest. He well knew how great they are for he had walked through them in his fetters tor a long time. And these infinite waters, not the rushing rivers of the steppe, nor the shores of the Black Sea, but waters strange, chill, awful, black and motionless, such as he had never seen before. And deep. In them sank the whole world of Astrakhan, and of Bielgorod, of the Crimea and of Kazan. Sank and drowned. There is no way of return to these lands, for how can one see the sun, oh great Leader,. through the twilight of the forest and the clouds which hang .above the trees? Flee back to them? How? Without horses or provisions? The journey would take more years than you, Hassan, have left on this earth.

So fate will have it thus, God will have it thus, God, who said once to the Prophet these holy words of the Koran:

"Look, blind one! It is Allah who causes the clouds to move across the sky, chasing them before Him like sheep and gathering them behind Him in thick flat billows. Look, stupid one! Water flows troni the fissures in the clouds. Look, oh Dust! Dark mountains come down in masses from Allah and hail comes beating down. The Lord beats with the hailstones him whom He wishes, and with His charitable hand shelters him whom He is pleased to protect from ill fortune."

A touch on his shoulder roused him from his contemplation. One of the younger ones crouched near him and whispered in his ear :

"Mirza! Those fools have left us alone, they have given us knives and axes. Strings- for our bows we can make from our women's hair. Arrows-on the trees. We shall feed well, for there is plenty of game, and when our hunger is satisfied, and our strength returns, let us go back to the east!"

"No!" answered Hassan after a moment's silence. "We must stay here."

"How is that?"

"Here shall you beget your children."

At this instant the sun, till now hidden behind the clouds, tore apart its linen veils. The lake awoke and was suddenly sprinkled with little twinkling fires. The greatest concentration of rays came from the masses of ice lying stiffly on the distant depths.

The remains of shattered power absorbed the glare and broke it into a rainbow, bending it into fiery arrows and throwing it back into the clouds. The wind .blew, and dark shivers passed across the mirror of the lake. The forest sang a long drawn-out, plaintive song. In the brightness of the heavens above rang out, joined in harmony, the cry of the cranes. It was a challenge thrown to the spring, the pale clouds and the budding earth.

Then-even Mirza Chasiey himself could not say how it happened nor why it happened, the air, cold with the chill of spring, instead of freezing him to the bone, making his wounds ache and depriving him of what little strength he had left, woke only a lust for this new life. His blood began to course in his veins as it had when for the first time he mounted his father's horse or enslaved his first enemy.

"There is strength in this land," he muttered as he rose.

Then, not even glancing at his young companion, who had not yet recovered from his bewilderment, he went toward his people, Some he sent to build huts, others to cut logs for a stockade, yet others to go hunting, and some to watch over the women. He himself sat down by the great fire which had been lit on the very edge of the lake, and listened to the sounds which came unceasingly from the water and the air.

When, four months later, there arrived carts with tools and workmen, smiths, carpenters, and builders, they found on the lake a neatly entrenched camp, and the Tartars in their huts by the fire. Two or three were-missing, they had gone into the woods and never returned, being either beaten up by the half-wild pitchburners or eaten by wild animals. Wolk, the Duke's plenipotentiary, praised the Tartars and instructed them that from now on they were to tan the skins which would be brought to them by the Duke's hunters from the other shore of the lake.

Thus it befell. People began to call the settlement of free Tartars, for no apparent reason: Miadziol.