When winter’s grasp is released in bedlam streams, and sap enlivens naked trees, a breath of warmth tames feral winds, and birdsong includes new notes that quicken the pulse of the wide-eyed girl with muddy shoes. Silvia runs to the wildest parts of the park behind her house, searching beneath the trees for the first hepatica, their tiny heads bobbing in an expanse of tender green.
Green, how I want you green. Green wind. Green branches. — Frederico Garcia Lorca
…big unruly bunches of branches. Women carrying armfuls of birch and pussy willow, to brighten the rooms of newly cleaned homes. They stop at the market selecting their eggs from the rows of vendors; their fingers curling ’round smooth cool, fragility. Each egg handpicked from the rows of wooden boxes; others saved from the coop in the dawn of morning; the warmth of the hen still felt in the hand.
On Easter morning, Silvia sits at the table with her older brother Hanjo; both heads bent, intently wrapping eggs in the onion skins saved by the cook, and the birch leaves gathered from the park. Silvia picks up a tiny green leaf, pressing it against the mottled white shell in her palm, binding it tight with a bit of yarn.
The cook will help the children boil their eggs: chopping beets and shredding red cabbage; the sharp scent of vinegar filling the air. Silvia and Hanjo give their colorful eggs as gifts to friends and godparents or visiting aunts and uncles. Each color signifying an attribute: rosy pink eggs for gentlenss, a Lorca green for hope, and Silvia’s hepatica blue for fidelity. Later they will test their luck with “egg cracking”.
Years later, Silvia will gather eggs from her coop on her farm in Braintree, Vermont, and on Gould Hill and later still from the coop she sets up in the back bedroom of the house here in Cabot, where her hens will be fed at a little table with chairs set neatly around. Each hen pecks from a little china plate, like an illustration from a book by Tasha Tudor or Beatrix Potter.
A few days ago, I went to gather pussy willows from the edge of the village, tromping across a field of crusted snow toward the bank of the rushing stream where the ground is warmest and the furry white catkins have recently emerged. Each year I gather branches to form our Easter tree for our freeform pysanky eggs, a tradition introduced to me many years ago by my husband’s family. (My mother-in-law’s eggs are the finest.) Tomorrow, on Easter morning, we will add to our collection of eggs, but this year I have also bought a few beets from a local farmer, and have saved some onion skins to begin a new tradition, memorializing Silvia on our Easter tree for years to come.
Silvia does not write about her Easter traditions in the collection of papers currently held, but she does write about the thrill of searching for hepatica in the park behind her house on the edge of Tallinn in the early spring with wet muddy shoes.
The line of poetry is from Frederico Garcia Lorca’s, Romance Sonambulo, found at Poets.org.
To learn more about the folk traditions of Estonian Easter, including the sport of egg cracking, see the article Easter in Estonia, and for spring traditions, including Munadepühad (egg holiday), see the blog, Katie and David’s Adventures, Easter in Estonia.
For a step-by-step tutorial for dying eggs in the Estonian tradition, I consulted the blog, the Adventures of Eiki Martinson, Color Eggs Like an Estonian.
Image of eggs at market, “Tallinn Market Before the Spring Holidays”, A. Kask, 1934. From the Estonian National Archives.
Image of “Silvia’s Rooster in Braintree, Vermont”, ca. 1955, from Silvia Narma’s photo collection.
All other images my own.