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Wintertime Adventure

Anu Aun

  • Illustrator: Sirly Oder
  • Language: Estonian
  • Postimees Grupp
  • 2019, 240 pp
  • ISBN: 9789949669486
  • fiction, storybook
  • Age: 8+
Drawing – especially nature and animals – is ten-year-old Eia’s favorite activity. When the girl’s mother, a ballet dancer, has to substitute for an injured colleague on a tour abroad and her father has no way of getting out of work, she is sent to spend winter break in the snowy countryside. There, deep in the woods, lives a warm-hearted man named Ott who is tasked with looking after Eia. The girl’s days are filled with fun activities, particularly when she makes friends with the neighbors. Soon, however, Eia and the villagers face the fight of their lives: saving the wild environment around them from clearcutting. In the process, Eia also discovers a closely guarded family secret.

Reading sample

pp. 79–96

Eia awoke to the sound of Jete rummaging around the closet. Keeping her head on the pillow, she watched as the girl sat down on her bed and dressed in long underwear and a thick sweater. Eia then lifted her head.

“Where are you going?” she asked curiously.

Jete pulled on a pair of wool socks.

“The woods. To take pictures,” she whispered in reply.

Eia quickly sat up.

“Take me with you!”

Jete looked at her dubiously.

“Are you sure you won’t get bored? Or that you won’t get tired and want to turn around halfway there? It’s a long hike.”

“I won’t! I’ll be fine!” Eia gleefully promised and started to get dressed.

“And sometimes, you might not see a single bird or animal. At least not close-up. You won’t be disappointed if that happens, will you?” Jete interrogated further.

“Maybe we will, though! Just imagine if we really do see something!” Eia said in awe.

Jete eyed Eia’s city clothes and frowned.

“You’re going to get cold going out like that.”

She crouched down in front of the dresser and poked through its depts for a while. Soon, she stood up with a satisfied smile on her face and a pile of her old kid’s clothes in her arms.

Jete stared fondly at one green woolen coat as she shook it out.

“A moth’s chewed on one sleeve a little, but I guess it’ll do,” she remarked. “Here, this should fit!” Jete tossed Eia the coat.

A heavy multicolored sweater, brown sweatpants, and wool socks that went halfway up Eia’s shins also emerged from the dresser.

“Well, wrap yourself up tight!” Jete said encouragingly.

Eia obediently pulled on one item of clothing after another. The coat sleeves were a little long, but Jete rolled them up a couple times and said it was actually more stylish that way.

That made Eia giggle. There was certainly nothing fashionable about the outfit. But it was warm, in any case!

Outside, the weather was clear and still. Snow glittered and sparkled in the early morning sunlight. Eia squinted. She’d never seen anything so beautiful in her life.

The girls waded through the snow along the frozen river. Stretching from either bank was a thick forest of firs and tall pines crowned in caps of snow.

A woodpecker’s pecking echoed from somewhere nearby. Jete stopped and looked around attentively, listening. Eia did the same. The bird’s talons were dug into the trunk of a towering pine as it tapped away. Jete took a few measured steps closer and lifted the camera to her face. Click! Eia watched the woodpecker deftly twirl around the treetop.

Suddenly, a gorgeous striped feather drifted down and landed right before Eia’s feet. She picked it up, spun it between her fingertips, and held it up against the light. Now I wonder what bird this might have belonged to, she thought to herself . . . A clever smile spread across her face as she carefully placed the feather in her pocket.

Jete had gotten quite far ahead of her meanwhile. Eia was a little out of breath by the time she finally caught up.

“The river’s not frozen up ahead by the springs,” Jete informed her. “We’ll have to walk along the shoreline from there.”

However, the riverbank turned out to be steep, leaving them no choice but to scale the bluff.

Once they reached the top, both of the girls were stunned. The scene before them was absolutely dreadful. Right where Jete remembered a tall, picturesque forest having stood just a short time ago, there was now a gaping clearing.

The devastation had apparently taken place just recently, as gouging tractor tracks could still be seen clearly beneath the snowfall. Some trees had been chopped down so sloppily that a few stumps stood chest-high to Jete. Some of the firs had even been ripped out of the ground entirely, their root clumps simply dropped wherever they happened to fall.

“What happened here?” Eia gasped.

“Clearcutting,” Jete sighed.

Eia scanned the area. Lone, ragged pines jutted out at points throughout of the clearing.

“Why didn’t they cut those down, too?” she asked in confusion.

“Those trees were left as seeders. Whenever a forest is cut down, they have to make sure a new one will grow in its place. The wind will spread their seeds and at some point, tiny new trees will sprout,” Jete explained. “But it’s going to take a very long time for those to grow.”

“How long do you think?” Eia asked.

“About 70 to 80 years,” Jete guessed. “By the time a proper new forest grows, you’ll already be older than Ott. You might even be a great-grandma by then,” she added thoughtfully.

Eia’s mouth hung open.

The girls clambered their way down the steep slope at the opposite end of the clearing. Eia slipped and fell halfway down, sliding straight towards the river a ways along the bank. Luckily, she got caught behind a sapling, bravely clambered to her feet again, and carried on following Jete. Under no circumstances did she want the girl to think she was some kind of a sissy.

“Now, try to stay real quiet behind me,” Jete whispered when they came to the river.

Without a sound, Eia crept at Jete’s heels as they walked down the shoreline towards the springs. All of a sudden, there was a splash ahead. Jete froze, dropped to her belly on the snow, and crawled closer to the river. She readied her camera and waited. Eia softly slid down next to her.

Silence. Nothing happened. Both of them waited with bated breath.

Finally, Eia couldn’t take the tension any longer and whispered: “What are we waiting for?”

“Shh!” Jete whispered as softly as a mouse.

Eia shut her mouth tight, listened, and looked out towards the river.

She had no clue how long they stayed waiting like that, but finally there was another splash close to the riverbank and a darling little creature with long whiskers and black button eyes poked its head out of the water. Eia clapped her hand over her mouth to hold back a squeal of excitement. The animal crawled out of the river and shook itself, spraying water droplets through the air.

Her eyes wide, Eia asked as softly as she could: “What’s that?!”

“An otter,” Jete replied, also at a whisper.

Soon, another head surfaced from the water, dove back down for a moment, and then scurried onto the bank with a frog held between its teeth.

Eia gingerly pushed herself up onto her elbows to get a better look. A twig snapped under her arm. She froze. One otter rose onto its hind legs, listening, looking around, and sniffing the air. Eia ducked her head down even further and held her breath. Not sensing any danger, the little creature relaxed and started nibbling on its prey while the second otter gleefully rolled around in the snow. Jete continued silently snapping pictures.

Eia couldn’t get her mind off the otters as she and Jete waded home through the snow drifts piled on the icy riverbank.

“I’ve never seen anything so amazing in all my life! I totally forgot to draw them!”

Eia was carrying a notebook in her pocket as always, but the thought of sketching the otters hadn’t even crossed her mind as she admired them.

“Though they didn’t stay still, of course,” she chattered on. “It’s easier at the zoo. We went there on a field trip with my art club one time. The animals were lounging around in corners of their pens and nice enough to pose for us, for the most part. But I don’t want to go back anymore. I felt so bad for them having to live in a cage like that . . .”

Jete smiled.

“If you’d like, then you can use my photos to draw them later,” she kindly offered.

This got Eia even more excited, and she started gushing:

“Of course I’d like to! I usually draw off of pictures anyway. Sometimes I look them up online, but I like it better when I know something about the animals. I’ve got a calendar where next to one of the pictures, there’s a story about a seal that climbed up on the photographer’s lap like a puppy, wanting to be pet. It’s so amazing that I bet I’ve drawn that seal a thousand times.”

“Really?” Jete asked, raising an eyebrow and looking pleased. “That was sure one wonderful seal. I called him Greedyhead. He ate up all my sandwiches, but at least he kept me warm while I was photographing the others,” she said.

Eia was so astonished to hear this that she stepped one foot straight through the thin ice along the shore, getting her boot wet. Jete spun around.

You photographed them?!” Eia gasped.

“Sure did! That’s my calendar, you know,” Jete explained.

Instead of pulling her boot out of the water, Eia stood frozen in place, staring at Jete as if she was a ghost.

Your calendar?!”

Jete quickly waded back through the snow to Eia and lifted her onto dry land.

“You don’t have to go jumping into the river just because of that,” she laughed brightly.

The rest of the way home, Eia felt as if she’d been struck by lightning. She just couldn’t seem to wrap her mind around the fact that Jete was the one who had photographed all those birds and wild animals in her calendar. And now, here she was strolling through the snowy woods with a real nature photographer as if it were the most natural thing in the world. She felt proud that maybe, just minutes ago, she might have been witness to a picture that would hang on the walls of who knows how many homes next year.

Evening fell, and the new-and-improved version of the secret clan was sitting right out in the open around the big kitchen table at Veskimöldre, playing Chutes and Ladders. August was reading the newspaper in his armchair while Juuli bustled around the kitchen island. Eia reckoned there was nothing nicer than throwing dice with your new friends in the flickering light of a fireplace while munching on Moorits’s freshly baked croissants.

“Moorits, you’re the best baker in the whole world!” Eia announced before taking another big delicious bite. “Could you share the recipe with my mom, please?”

Moorits grinned.

“Don’t count on it! It’s extra-secret,” Laurits said, teasing his brother. “He’ll have it patented before long.”

“Laugh all you want,” Moorits calmly replied. “But one day, you’ll be the first in line scratching at my bakery door and hollering for pastries.”

Jete smirked at Laurits.

“What on earth would you do if one day, I wasn’t here baking for you anymore?” Moorits asked his brother.

“Lose at least 20 pounds,” Laurits joked. Everyone laughed heartily.

Lapi rested his snout on Eia’s knee, waiting for a crumb of croissant to fall. Ats rolled the die.

“One, again! That’s not fair,” he grumbled.

“Next time, we’ll play mushroom-hunting. Or birdwatching,” said Ats, who was used to winning games that required more knowledge than luck.

“Don’t worry, Ats! As they say: whoever is unlucky in gambling is lucky in love!” said Laurits reassuringly.

“Oh, go put that love of yours on ice!” Ats growled.

“Hold on a second,” Moorits interrupted, taking a mental leap ahead of everyone else. “Do you mean to say that whoever is lucky in gambling is unlucky in love?” he asked Laurits demandingly.

The others laughed.

“Look out, Ats!” Moorits declared. “It’s a race for last place now!”

But at that very moment, Jete landed on a chute that sent her twenty spaces back and landed her squarely in last place.

“Just look at how lucky some of us will be in love!” Laurits teased.

Jete giggled loudly; Moorits just scratched the back of his neck.

Eia took her turn and then peeked over her shoulder at what Juuli was doing. She had laid a vinyl tablecloth over the kitchen island and was rolling something with a rolling pin.

“What are you baking?” Eia asked.

Juuli laughed.

“The only things I bake in this house are mugs and plates.”

Eia stood up and went to take a closer look. Juuli was rolling clay. On the table was a mug containing all kinds of sculpting knives and an array of curious cutters. Eia poked at one of the balls of clay. It was tantalizingly soft, just like dough.

A few mugs were already shaped and resting on the edge of the stove, ready for firing in the kiln. Eia suddenly realized where all the wonderful dishes with cranberry-bumps on their sides—everything they used for eating and drinking at Veskimöldre—had come from.

She traced her finger over a reddish clay mug.

“May I try sometime, too?” she asked shyly.

“Of course you may!” Juuli cheerfully replied.

“Eia! Your turn!” Ats called from the table. She hurried back to her place at the board.

Right then, there was a knock at the door and Ott walked in. Eia drew her knees beneath her on the chair as soon as she saw him.

“I don’t want to go home yet,” she said.

Ott’s troubled expression softened for a moment.

“We’re in no hurry. I actually came to have a little chat with the Veskimöldre folks,” he said.

August folded his newspaper, dropped his glasses into his shirt pocket, and stood up.

“Come take a seat,” he offered hospitably.

Ott sat down at the table. August served him sliced goat cheese on a cutting board. “You can try out this new recipe . . .”

But Ott didn’t appear to have much of an appetite. He got right down to business.

“I don’t really know where to begin . . .” he sighed. “Thing is, a judge just ruled that Tractor Pete has to give Raivo his entire forest to cover his debts. All he’ll be left with is half a hayfield and a little vegetable patch circling his house.”

Utter silence fell over the room.

“Gosh darn it!” August finally exclaimed.

“That’s not all,” Ott continued grimly. “Raivo is planning to level the whole thing this winter.”

“Won’t be the first time we’ve seen that man’s idea of clearcutting,” August growled. “It’s not pretty, I’ll tell you that.”

Suddenly, looked as gloomy as a funeral director. Only Eia couldn’t understand what was going on.

“What’s happening?” she asked anxiously.

“Tractor Pete had a huge tract of woodland he inherited from his ancestors,” Jete explained. “Its property line runs right behind Tondikaku and Veskimöldre and passes by a few more, all the way up to Raivo’s Clearing Farmstead. But now, it all belongs to him, and he’s planning to chop down whole thing.”

“Which means there’s won’t be woods across the river anymore,” Laurits explained.

“And not by our yard, either,” Ott added.

Eia now grasped how serious the situation was.

“But what’ll happen to all the birds and wild animals?” she asked in horror.

“We here look at the woods, and we think—elk and falcon . . . But all Raivo thinks is—timber and cubic meter!” August groaned.

“He’s apparently already submitted the clearcutting permit,” Ott continued ominously. “And he’ll likely get it, too. They’ve got no compelling reason to reject it.”

“How did Raivo get Pete’s woods in the first place?” Jete asked, confused.

“Just like that!” Juuli grunted. “Pete’s got a bit of a drinking problem. He lost his job because of it. After he had no more income for buying booze, it came as no surprise that he went door to door around the village, borrowing. But no one wanted to give him any cash. There was no chance of getting it back. But then, Raivo started lending to him . . .”

“Are you saying he got into a whole forest’s worth of debt because of alcohol?” Moorits asked.

“There was something in it for Raivo from the get-go,” Ott explained. “That heap of manure is as sly as the devil. You see, he signed a contract with Pete where the past-due fines just kept on growing, and like fool he is, Pete put up all his land and woods as collateral.”

“I bet Pete hadn’t even a clue what he was signing,” Laurits reckoned.

“In any case, if we don’t come up with some kind of an idea, we’ll all be living in the middle of a big ole clearing soon,” Ott concluded.

The kitchen was as silent as the grave.

All of a sudden, Moorits cautiously opened his mouth to speak.

“What if we were to buy the woods from Raivo?”

Everyone looked at him questioningly.

“I’ve got a little cash that I put aside for the bakery . . .” he continued.

Laurits cut him off before he could finish: “Moorits! You’ve been saving up for that for half of your life. What’ll become of your dreams then?”

Moorits didn’t reply.

“There’s got to be some other way to save the forest,” Laurits said.

Their game of Chutes and Ladders didn’t progress much farther that evening. No one was any mood to keep playing.


Translated by Adam Cullen
2020 Nukits Competition, 2nd place for text and illustrations