The exiled Polish government succeeded in negotiating training and recruitment efforts in North America. In Canada, over 200 men were recruited and here’s the local connection: they received basic and mechanized infantry training at a camp that ran in Owen Sound from May 1941 to May 1942. This wood, or rather the one that existed before it but was logged after the war, formed part of their training ground. And this beech, part of that earlier forest, bears an inscription carved over 70 years ago by one of those soldiers. Though distorted by weathering and the expansion of the tree’s trunk, the words, “Polska” and the year “1942″ can be seen clearly. The rest of the wording is less clear, but has been deciphered and translated to reveal the soldier’s name and the words, “Poland shall not perish” (the first words of the Polish national anthem).
I was delighted to discover that one of my favorite travel bloggers, Maciej Cegłowski of Idle Words blog, has just written about the famed Białowieża forest on the border of Poland and Belarus — famed because it is the largest remnant of primeval forest in all of Europe.
Instead my first impression is of extreme clutter. It looks exactly like any other Polish forest, except no one has cleared all the dead branches and trees that lean in every direction or just lie rotting on the ground. Some trees have died in place and their bare trunks rise out of the undergrowth like ghostly masts. I fully expect to see the rusted skeleton of an Ursus tractor in between the brambles. The place looks like it could use some pruning and a judicious series of fires. I shoot Romek a wounded glance, but he has already disappeared into the trees.
As we walk deeper into the woods I begin to notice that the trees are very tall. In fact, I’ve never seen broadleaf trees this big before. If they were growing anywhere else there would be a chain around them, a little brass plaque, and a place to park the tour bus, but here they are just average. If you’ve ever been in a redwood forest you will know the feeling. The immensity isn’t immediately obvious because everything is on the same huge scale, but all you have to do is walk up to a trunk to realize that you are now a smurf. What looked like saplings from a distance are perfectly respectable beech or ash or linden that are just completely out of their class here.
Do read the rest.