I was sitting in the kitchen with my grandmother, my babusia, the other day drinking black tea flavoured with fresh lemon and honey from the neighbouring village. She began to tell me about her father.
Her father, my great grandfather, owned a loom made of wood. This loom would transform the sheep in the paddock into wool, then yarn and then cloth for the village people to turn into clothing or cloth to embroider.
This process would follow the seasons. First would come the shearing. Then the wool would be cleaned in fresh water from the stream. The wool would then dry in the sunshine, which would give it its bleached white colour. As the air became cooler and the rain turned into snow, the work would shift inside and the children would be involved in the teasing of the wool and then spinning it into yarn.
There was no television then and my great grandfather would occupy himself and his entire family with this process. My grandmother said that at times the house was a web of yarn and that she would watch her father carefully turn it into cloth with his loom.
I asked my grandmother whether the family still had the loom hiding somewhere. She said it was probably rotting away somewhere in the forest, left behind by a family fleeing from war.
My family clothed many people, dressed many brides, covered tables and church icons with embroidered cloth and there is nothing to show for it. The trees continue to grow, the sheep continue to munch on the grass and the streams continue to flow. This may sound sad but perhaps there is another way of looking at it.
The Lemko people have lived in the Carpathian mountains for at least 600 years and they continue to do so. Their way of life is truly an example of environmental sustainability and how to maintain a balance with nature. As the global economy begins to cast its consumerist shadow on this hidden part of the world, the Lemko region continues on with its traditional approach to life.
My grandmother’s story is not only about her father’s loom but also about sustainability and the importance of community. Perhaps we can learn from the Lemkos and leave the environment, the trees and streams, exactly as we found them.