Контент 18+ (описывается алкоголь и его употребление)
Last night, as I was winding down on the patio with a mug of Zagorka — very tasty Bulgarian beer, — an enormous toad hopped up onto the stones. The dogs were quite taken aback. Agog, in fact. There is not a cat they aren't geared up to chase, and there are plenty of those prowling around the village and the fields — but the toad, whose pliable back displayed an intricate silver design, seemed not the slightest bit upset by having two enormous canines sniffing away at him. Poppy and Cass, to their credit as environmentalists, did not attack the toad. Maybe it was like a first-ever-in-history meeting between two Eskimos and an African. Mere curiosity superseded the inevitable onset of a lust for murder.
This was just one more encounter with fellows-in-life that surely were proliferated across the world long ago but which, especially in urban centers where too many people poison the air, have just evaporated. Bees the size of airborne walnuts, long lizards bright green or indigo, and the odd raven who sails above the fields, then closes his wings and plunges suddenly downward, before opening them again to their full span so to resume his heavenward ascent..in the summer we will most certainly run into a snake from time to time. There is apparently one poisonous species here, but I am sure my wife — who will be alone then when I return to Moscow — will stick to the main paths. The dogs have never seen a snake, and who knows how they will react? Sensible and cautiously, I hope. But this is not Australia or Thailand or Viet Nam. No tigers snakes or cobras. Anyway, we didn't purchase a home here in order to shrink from the fields and stand at the window of a reptile display at the zoo. Macho people, we take our chances, men, women, and dogs. No mere garden serpent is going to send US in hiding !!
And of course, deep summer will bring on the multitudinous assortment of ticks, ants, fleas, spiders, and mosquitoes. Probably May is the most innocent month. The bud before the blossom in all things passive and aggressive.
Two doors down on the left of our house lives an Englishman called Dave, who is a bit of a mountain man. As we share a common tongue I made it a point to get to know him, and a jovial lad he is. He is 45 years old, limbs burnished from the sun, face open, intelligent, and friendly, and a compact fat-free physique that knocks the years away. Equally as fit is his pit bull whose name is Bobby. Bobby is white with a black border around his mouth and, as pits go is astonishingly non-aggressive. The two of them often go for jaunts among the forests and mountains. Bobby is also unusual for a pit bull inasmuch as Dave refused to clip his ears and tail when he was a pup — the result being that Bobby still looks like a dog instead of the war machine. Pit bulls are a serious breed and even when nice with people can become instant killers when they meet up with other dogs. Not so with Bobby. He and Casper and Poppy hit it off right away, and so when Dave invited me on one of his 'nature treks' I heartily agreed, and off we went: two guys and three dogs.
I should have known that it was not going to be as simple as a stroll in the park when I met Dave in the street and saw that he was dressed for the long haul: full backpack, sturdy walking stick to grip the earth in dodgy places (such as when traversing crooked paths at steep angles near the edge of a cliff), and a rubber tube connected to his water supply so that he could cop a sip from time to time as needed without stopping. The only thing lacking in this arsenal was a tent.
Right away I thought of someone out of an old English novel — Henry Fielding's "Tom Jones"' for instance — at a time when it was commonplace for people to tramp on foot all the way, for example, from Bristol to London. (A journey of many days). I, on the other hand, was fitted out in normal "clobber" — jeans and T-shirt, trainers, the same clothes I would wear to the supermarket.
As we descended toward the valley, I saw on the side of the sloping hill, a most splendid sight. It was an old shepherd tending a flock of goats. He was sitting with his staff and took no notice of us, even as we approached with our dogs. Luckily I had brought leashes for Cass and Pop and so we just veered off into the grass around him. He talked to the goats in goat-language. They all moved as one, slowly, slowly, toward us like some sort of celestial choir of beasts, watching us intently but always following the orders of their timeless master. Alas, I had no camera, and so was unable to record this amazing sight. Maybe I will see them again. The man and his goats were from another century, another millennium, proving to me yet again that Time is only a trick. There IS no time. Here in Bliznatsi Time is a floating butterfly, and this was the ancient world come back to me again, transported in the blink of an eye, in a single vision. Time is a mystic, a hypnotist, a guru sitting in a black hole.with an expanded universe in his mind..
Dave pointed out to me a vast cavern that had been dug years ago and explained that once it had been used for the buffalo to drink from and soak themselves in. The water itself came (then as now) from a natural spring and a stone-forged trough. Some locals had dug a huge ditch and fortified it with earth and stone. There are few fences in Bulgaria and therefore animals are free to roam..So a shepherd would lead a herd of buffalo to the water. Dave told of a time when you could walk by and see only the heads of the great beasts as they frolicked in the pool, surrounded by the earthen but stone-bolstered embankment. Apparently, however, the playful buffs had been their own worst enemy and the artificial walls collapsed against their mass and weight, sending the water gushing out into the fields. The buffaloes are still in the neighborhood, but I haven't run into any yet, and, anyway, there is now no tub of water to entertain and refresh them.
Dave and Bobby (very seasoned in these travels) led us up the mountain into the forest until we came to the edge of a cliff. Below, the Black Sea awaited us."Ït's going to be a bit of a scramble getting down there," opined Dave, adding optimistically, "But I think we can make it." Understatement is one of more charming characteristics of an Englishman. Not much of a problem for Dave and Bobby was the path to the sea, but for the rest of us greenhorns it was quite a struggle not to go sliding right down the mountain on our faces or asses (both would have looked about the same when we hit bottom). Talk about a bonding experience: Pop, Cass, and I shared a character-building ordeal that my wife will never know. (Shame the dogs don't drink beer.) So, finally, holding onto the branches for dear life, I made it down to the beach, Cass and Pop in tow.
The sea was our reward. Scintillating blue under a peerless sky, the sea led me to feel like one of those beachcombers who makes his home along the ocean shore. The glorious chestnut hide of Casper glowed like fire in the sunlight as he raced in the surf, and Bobby put on a gala performance retrieving whatever Dave pitched into the churning surf for him to swim out and fetch. Pit bulls are great dogs. Never doubt it. Sometimes they will kill you, but, if you can get past that possible inconvenience, you will never find a better soldier. And Poppy, lady that she is, mostly watched and admired the athletic males.
All was well until we started back. It turned out that the last part of our descent from the ''cliffy'' forest, while endurable when slip-sliding down, was impossible to go back up directly the same way, especially for the dogs. No chance. We would have needed a forklift to hoist them up to where their paws could catch the turf. Bobby could have done it, but a pit's body is like a coiled spring. Cass and Poppy just looked at me and shook their heads. So we embarked on a journey along the shore around the bobbed head of the, mountain, only to realize that recent rock and tree-fall had blocked the passage on both sides, and there was no way around on dry land. We tried first one side and then the other. risking our limbs to scrabble over the slippery seaweed and slime-slick boulders polished into roundness like the shells of great turtles. Finally Dave and Bobby took a deep breath and hurled themselves up into a briar-patch patch of forest above our heads and went around that way, but my dogs couldn't — they are too big and were somewhat intimidated by the task — so finally, I just said "WTF" and the three of us made a swim for it. Pop and Cass didn't argue, and so, amphibiously, we waded around to the sand on the other side. No harm, no foul, although my shoes are still drying out two days later.
So we had to go the long way home returning to the gates of our houses six hours after the start of our journey. My heart and soul were bleeding ZAGORKA when we got back, but this is farm country and neighbors are neighbors. It so happened that the stout old Evo, the Bulgarian guy living on my right, emerged with a bottle of homemade raki which he had been storing as a get-to-know-you gift for me. Raki is Bulgarian moonshine, and everybody swears by it. It is a bit like grappa in power, so one is advised to go slow. Evo himself is a heavy-jowled man with a beard as deep as the forest who at one point owned most of the village, only to lose about everything during the Soviet period. What he has left is a house, family, two cars, and the hugest shepherd dog (Hazhik) that you will ever see. Hazhik is friendly and sometimes I carry him over a bit of breakfast. (Poppy and Cass don't appreciate this.)
But I sure as hell appreciated Evo and the raki (just the thought of it), even though it still sits, untouched, in our fridge. I will go there perhaps on my birthday, which comes on 8 May..For now, the milder Zagorka will do.
Tired Me and tired Dogs Cheerio Dave and Bobby, cheerio to a day of strife and soul and the sun. Cheers to a great occasion. I was sitting back reliving it all when Kermit the Toad paid us a visit. Unworried by the dogs, he simply sat there as if he meant to stay. Another good neighbor. "Kermit, how about a splash of zagorka? Or do you prefer the stronger stuff? " I asked him. He was still thinking it over when I went inside. Maybe he'will tell me tonight.
===Eric Richard Le Roy===