Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Kalyna - High Bush Cranberry

Highbush cranberries - Lamont
Lamont Travelogue by Darby 2
Our home has been graced with the company of special friends lately, forever friends really.  Travelling to Calgary from their homes far away, these are true friends, and we have deep abiding love and understanding for each other. Like the best friendships, between the laughter and tears, are layers and layers of common understandings.  Stuff we do, food we eat, art we display, our celebrations, our sorrows, songs we sing....
Metaphors and similes are encased in almost all Ukrainian songs.  One of the special botanical symbols is the kalyna – Viburnum-Caprifoliaceae L. (the high bush cranberry).  Kalyna is part of Ukraine’s wealth of life sustaining, rural, agricultural riches.  It has been known and used over millennia as part of ancient rites, rituals, magic and medicine.
In Ukrainian, nouns have gender, so the word “kalyna” is a feminine noun.  Kalyna grows in wet woods, along streams and wooded hillsides, and requires moist but well drained sites for best development. Kalyna blossoms are snow white, lace-cap flowers that form a ball-shape.  Ancestral Ukrainian folk songs of courtship, engagement and marriage anticipate the ripening of the kalyna berries, referring in hopeful terms to the whole concept of maidenhood, virginity, the nuptial bed, happy, fruitful wedded life.  The cycle of ritual songs and ritual embroideries celebrate the blood-red, the love, and life ahead.  Medicinally, the bark yields a powerful antispasmodic, a water soluble preparation containing a bitter compound called viburnine, which is used for the relief of menstrual and stomach cramps.  At the same time, however it is interesting that in the fall, the ripened berries weigh down the kalyna and the branches bend gracefully to support the tree - clearly imagery to do with birth, and the future, with all its complexity and sorrows. The fruit is best gathered when slightly under-ripe and sour.  If it is gathered after a heavy frost, the fruit is sweeter, and has a musty odor during cooking.  Wildlife waits until there have been several frost/thaw cycles before indulging in the dried fruit.   
In his amazing collection and analysis of Ukrainian traditional folk songs, Filiaret Kolessa refers to “parallelism”, where nature comes to represent all of life. Decoding becomes even more complex, the deeper one gets into literary symbolism. The Great Kobzar Taras Shevchenko was one, from among Ukraine's literary giants to have employed this imagery, and now ancestral images stand beside contemporary art works and seem to reflect not only individual love, but love for one’s people, for one’s country.  Many symbols are universally loved in Ukraine, probably none more than the kalyna.
Here are some favorite Kalyna songs to enjoy – consider the symbolism in the lyrics and think “to life!”

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