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Editor’s Diary: Bunin’s legend of the fall

Nobel laureate Ivan Bunin once wrote a brilliant story that is the very definition of “shot.” In it, a nobleman riding alone sometime in autumn is nearly run down by a drunk peasant on his horse. The peasant falls to the ground just a few meters away, and, with tears in his eyes, screams out that “the cranes have flown away!!!” That’s it. The story is contained in just a few paragraphs.

Bunin’s tiny tale is so absurd as to be entirely realistic. It is one of his later works, written in a period when Bunin had become so utterly precise in his writing, that he didn’t need pages and pages of text to bring any particular message home to the reader. The cranes have flown away. What could be more tragic?

The despair of the peasant, brought on by autumn and brought to a climax by drinking, is, of course, comical. Yet it also rings true for anyone who faces the last day of indian summer (called “babye leto”, or “women’s summer” in Russian), and knows that a “real Russian winter” lies ahead.

A “real Russian winter” is exactly what meteorologists recently speculated about to RIA Novosti. Apparently, we’re in for one again – but allegedly not as brutal as the one we had the last time around. The last time around, we had the worst winter in decades. It was then followed up by the roughest summer in around 140 years.

It’s not just cranes that will bugger off under these conditions – even the pigeons, one would expect, would fly away, or at least drop dead from sheer confusion as to where they ought to fly (pigeons are not known for their intellect).

Yet the pigeons remain along with the humans, facing the rains and doldrums that lie ahead. Anticipating, already, the day that the busy streets are hushed just a little with the advent of the year’s first snow.

It will get down to zero next week. We have allegedly seen our last warm weekend of the year here in Moscow.

The cranes have flown away, but they’ll come back again. It’s in their nature to.


Natalia Antonova

Natalia is a writer and journalist. She's the associate editor of openDemocracy Russia and the co-founder of the Anti-Nihilist Institute.