Head for the Woods
Published: August 15, 2014 (Issue # 1824)
Ronald Saunders / Flickr
Пуща: dense, virgin forest
Ah, August. August is the usually the scary month in Russia, the month when Bad Things Happen, the month of mourning, the month when political history is remade by tanks or peat fires. But this year, things have been so scary and so awful for so long, what difference could one month make?
Тьфу-тьфу-тьфу (sound of spitting over my shoulder three times to ward off bad luck).
Since scary things will happen no matter what, it is much better to spend the month out of the city heat, taking long walks in the woods.
The Russian language is rich on the subject of forests. The generic word for a forest is лес, but there are plenty of more specific terms. For example, you might choose the word пуща to describe a dense, virgin forest — if you know what a virgin forest looks like, that is. The most famous one is Беловежская пуща, where the U.S.S.R. was officially dissolved, usually simply transliterated as Belovezhskaya Pushcha.
A few trees are called роща (grove, copse), and the most famous kind in Russia is берёзовая роща (birch grove). A stand of pine trees is called бор (pine grove).
An impenetrable part of the forest is called чаща (thicket), or чаща леса (deep in the forest): В бинокль я видел, как он выходил из чащи (Through my binoculars I saw him come out of the thicket).
And if it's a really old forest that has miraculously been untouched by civilization, it is дремучий лес (primeval or old-growth forest). This is also a description of someone's unknowable soul, as expressed in saying чужая душа — лес дремучий (literally, a person's soul is a deep forest).
Folks who know their forests might refer to either краснолесье (coniferous forest) or чернолесье (deciduous forest). For example: Я не хочу сказать, что краснолесье хуже, но красив и осиновый лес, как бы освещённый бледно-зелёным светом (I don't mean that coniferous forests are worse, but aspen forests are lovely, too, when they seem to be lit by pale green light). Чернолесье is black (чёрный) for a reason — all those leafy trees block the light: Когда заехали в чернолесье, потемнело в вагоне (When we went into the broad-leafed forest, the train car went dark.)
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