Pysanky

Pictured are pysanky, Ukrainian Easter eggs decorated with traditional Ukrainian folk designs using bees wax and a kistka (a metal stylus).

The sky is blanketed with gray, and the heavy clouds have sprinkled snow over the bare fields. The stubs of last year’s cornstalks make stripes all the way back to the fence row. The sky has muted the color from the fields and woods, and the world looks like a black-and-white photo.

I have counted at least 20 deer in the herd that marches to the west. The deer are not in a line, but they are all going the same direction across the barren field. They remind me of photos I’ve seen in the last days of people fleeing the bombardments of the Russian forces in Ukraine.

This terrible news has me thinking of my dear childhood friend, Liuda. Even in childhood, Liuda was proud of her heritage. I remember feeling awed and a little bit jealous when she and her mother would break into a Ukrainian conversation when we were out together. Liuda brought little bits of her culture to us, especially the beautifully detailed Easter eggs, painstakingly dyed in stages, like a batik.

She had a group of us over to her house teaching us how to heat the kistka (a metal stylus used for drawing patterns on the eggs) in the flame of a candle. You then melt the block of beeswax with the hot kistka, pulling a bit of liquefied wax into the bowl, and then draw a pattern on the egg with the wax. Not the whole pattern, of course, just the lines you want to be white at the end of the process.

Ukrainian egg dyes are intense, not the pastel food coloring we used at home to create Robin’s-egg blue or a rosy pink (although I love dyeing eggs that way, too). When you have fixed your white lines, drop the egg into the lightest color, say yellow. Then you reheat your stylus and draw all the lines and shapes you want to remain yellow. Let the wax cool, and drop the egg into the next darker color.

Over and over, you draw your patterns and dip your eggs in darker and darker colors until the picture is complete. When it is finished, use a candle to melt the wax from the egg, revealing your design.

Picture four girls around the kitchen table, Liuda’s mother supervising. The beauty of the eggs delighted us, but we discovered their fragility when one of the eggs, maybe too close to the candle’s flame, exploded! Raw egg on the ceiling and on the walls! How we shrieked, and then laughed.

Unlike the eggs we dyed at home, hard-boiled and eaten soon after the Easter egg hunt — deviled or in salads or even just peeled and salted — Ukrainian Easter eggs are permanent pieces of art, often passed down through the generations.

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Although raw eggs are used, and they can explode, more commonly, they simply dry out on the inside, the gases escaping gently. (I’ve seen this happen when I pocket an egg from the henhouse in the last parts of winter and forget it until I don my winter coat again the next fall. I put my hand in my pocket and pull out an egg. It is as light as an empty shell, because that is what it has become.)

I see images of people with suitcases and bundles and even plastic bags, trying to get to safety, and I wonder if they’ve had time or space to pack these delicate heirlooms.

Liuda told us that she is worried for her cousins in Ukraine and their sons. I heard that President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has asked all men between ages 18-60 to fight. That would include all three of our sons. My husband would only barely escape the call. I can only imagine what Liuda or her cousins must be feeling.

How can we help? Although we should be careful of upstart charities that may be scams, we can vet organizations to find reputable ones with some easy-to-use online tools, such as charitynavigator.org.

I just typed “Ukraine” into the search. They have rated these charities, and scrolling down a little, I found one with an 85 percent rating: “Give with confidence.” Digging deeper, we can find specifics, like how much they spend on administration, fundraising and the actual program. We can even see what percentage of their money goes to a particular mission.

The sun has risen again over clear skies, and in our back field, the deer have gone. The people continue their slow progress to refuge and relative safety. The crisis continues, and I meditate on the beauty and fragility of those eggs.

Create beauty; defend peace; blessed be.

Mary Lucille Hays lives in Birdland near White Heath. She is serious about answering mail from readers, email too! Consider subscribing to support your small-town newspaper. You can follow Birdland on Instagram and Twitter (@BirdlandLetters) or at letterfrombirdland.blogspot.com. Mary can be reached at letterfrombirdland@gmail.com or via snail mail care of this newspaper.

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