Fragrance of the Steppes

In the evening the whole steppe changed its aspect. All its varied expanse was bathed in the last bright glow of the sun; and it grew dark gradually, so that it could be seen how the shadow flitted across it,and it became dark-green. The mist rose more densely; each flower, each blade of grass, emitted a fragrance as of amber, and the whole steppe distilled perfume. Wide bands of rosy gold were dashed across the dark-blue heaven, as with a gigantic brush; here and there gleamed, in white tufts, light and transparent clouds; and the freshest, most bewitching of little breezes barely rocked the tops of the grass-blades, as on the sea-waves, and almost stroked the cheek. All the music which had resounded through the day had died away, and given place to another. The striped marmots crept out of their holes, stood erect on their hind legs, and filled the steppe with their whistle. The whirr of the grasshoppers had become more distinctly audible. Sometimes the cry of the swan was heard from some distant lake, and rang through the air like silver. The travelers halted in the midst of the plain, selected a spot for their night encampment, made a fire and hung their kettle over it, in which they cooked their oatmeal; the steam arose and floated aslant in the air. Having supped, the Cossacks lay down to sleep, after hobbling their horses, and turning them out to graze. They lay down in their svitkas. The stars of night gazed directly down upon them. They heard the countless myriads of insects which filled the grass; all their rasping, whistling, and chirping resounded clearly through the night, softened by the fresh air, and lulled the drowsy ear. If one of them rose and stood for a time, the steppe presented itself to him strewn with the sparks of the glow-worms. At times the night sky was illumined in spots by the glare of burning dry reeds, along pools or river bank; and dark flights of swans flying to the north were suddenly lighted up by the silvery, rose-colored gleam, and then it seemed as though red kerchiefs were floating in the dark heavens.
From Taras Bulba by Nikolai Gogol


"It is with a feeling of intense pleasure and relief that one leaves such a village, and rides out upon the wide, clean, breezy steppe, where the air is filled with the fragrance of clover and the singing of birds, and where the eye is constantly delighted with great sweeps of smooth, velvety turf, or vast undulating expanses of high steppe grass sprinkled in the foreground with millions of wild roses, white marguerites, delicate fiveangled harebells, and dark red tiger-lilies. Between the villages of Krutaya and Kalmakova, on Friday, we rode across a steppe which was literally a great ocean of flowers. One could pick twenty different species and a hundred specimens within the area of a single square yard. Here and there we deserted the miry road, and drove for miles across the smooth, grassy plain, crushing flowers by the score at every revolution of our carriage wheels. In the middle of the steppe I had our driver stop and wait for me while I alighted and walked away into the flowery solitude to enjoy the stillness, the perfumed air, and the sea of verdure through which ran the long, sinuous black line of the muddy highway. On my left, beyond the road, was a wide, shallow depression six or eight miles across, rising on the opposite side in a long, gradual sweep to a dark blue line of birch forest which formed the horizon. This depression was one smooth expanse of close green turf, dotted with grazing cattle and sheep, and broken here and there by a silvery pool or lake. Around me, upon the higher ground, the steppe was carpeted with flowers, among which I noticed splendid orange asters two inches in diameter, spotted tiger-lilies with strongly reflexed petals, white clover, daisies, harebells, spirea, astragalus, melliotus, and a peculiar flower growing in long, slender, curved spikes which suggested flights of miniature carmine skyrockets sent up by the fairies of the steppe. The air was still and warm, and had a strange, sweet fragrance which I can liken only to the taste of wild honey. There were no sounds to break the stillness of the great plain, except the drowsy hum of bees, the regular measured "Kate-did-Kate-did" of a few katydids in the grass near me, and the wailing cry of a steppe hawk hovering over the nest of some field-mice. It was a delight simply to lie on the grass amidst the flowers, and see, hear, and breathe."
Steppes of the Irtish by George Kennan


A STRANGE fable has currency amongst the Russian people; it is rather Oriental than Slav in its colour, and was probably brought by the Mongols from the highland desert to the lowland Steppes. Among these Steppes, runs the fable, a magic plant raises somewhere—who knows where ?—its tender blossom, everlastingly green, deathless, and freed from all the laws of growth and decay. So long as it grows and blossoms on the earth it cannot be perceived, for the reed-grass and the flowers of the Steppes lift their heads higher and hide this tender plant from view. But the eternally green flower becomes visible to any one who travels over the bald Steppes in the sad autumn, and even from a distance its fragrance assures him that it is the magic flower which he has seen. For this fragrance is peculiar to itself, and ineffably rich and sweet; it has not its like upon earth, to say nothing of its equal. And if any one breathes it the whole world is changed for him. He understands everything; what is dumb speaks to him, and what has speech cannot lie. Beneath the sound of a hypocritical phrase he penetrates to the most profoundly secret thoughts; animal, tree, and rock talk to him with tones that have a meaning; he overhears nature, and learns how she breathes and works and creates; he hears the song of the stars in their nightly courses. Yet every one becomes sad who has drunk in this fragrance; every one becomes sad, for—say the poor folk in the great plain —it is not a joyous song which vibrates through the universe.
RUSSIA
(in Collaboratton Wtth Alexander Benots, St. Petersburg)

The travellers went for a delightful excursion from the steppes to the
beautiful lake of Dschasil-Kul, in Ala-Tau. A splendid vegetation, both as regards trees and flowers, rejoiced the heart of the botanist, and filled even the uninitiated with a consciousness of singular beauty and variety. In the valley were found tall, well-grown poplars, aspens, and willows; on the heights, conifercn, especially the Pinus schrenkeana. The wild apple trees were in full bloom, covered with a glory of rose and pale-pink blossom, affording a proof that the milder sky of a lower latitude was shining overhead (lat. 460 N.). The fruit of the wild apple is small, but pleasant tasted, with an acid-sweet flavour, much liked by the Kirghis. Among the apple trees, whose fruit ripens in July, grow a number of flowering shrubs, mingling their rich odours with the aromatic scent of the pine wood, until the air was laden with fragrance. From this point the steppes are broken by reed forests, in which succulent herbs and coppices of tamarisk abound. The reeds near the Lentek are very thick and tall. Among their green stems one catches gleams of the brilliant golden yellow-hammer {Emberiza luteola), and the deep red of the cherry finch {Carpodacus erythrinus), which flashes like fiery sparks to and fro. The graceful crane was as great a novelty to the eye as was the welcome song 0! the nightingale (Liiscicla pliilomela) to the ear, as it sounded from the reedy shores of the river. There was no lack of aquatic birds near every lake.
Land, sea and sky; or, Wonders of life and nature, tr. from the Germ.
By Hermann Joseph Klein, Otto Wilhelm Thomé


"Go forth," the semi-illiterate wanderer says, " into the highways, the fields, on the steppes, through the valleys and over the hills ... go forth and look upon the world from the point of view of freedom, from afar: virgin forests will rustle around you whispering in soothing tones of the wisdom of the Lord ; the birds of God will warble to you of His blessed glory, and the steppe-grasses will send forth fragrance as of incense to the Most Holy Virgin Mother of the Almighty. . . . Resting somewhere in the shadow of a bush, you will gaze up at the heavens above and they will descend by degrees as if to fold you in their embraces. ... A sense of warmth will come over your soul, a feeling of calm and of bliss, no desires will cling to your heart, no envy. . . . And it will seem as if throughout the wide earth there dwells none but you and God." *
Maxim Gorky: his life and writings
By Emile Joseph Dillon

Our train had left Winnipeg, 'the capital of the prairies,' in the afternoon. We had dashed for an hour, full speed, in electrical tramcars, along the streets of the big and decidedly nice-looking prairie city, which had grown up with American rapidity in less than twenty-five years. Then we parted with our friends; the engine-bell began to ring as the train rolled heavily in the limits of the city, and all of a sudden we had entered the prairies. A straight line on the horizon, another straight line behind us, marked by the railway metals, which run over a ground so level that the last elevator of Winnipeg could be seen miles behind. A 'fat black-earth,' as our peasants would say, and no trees or shrubs for miles round. Only a glorious sunset to admire, such as I had not seen since I was last in a South Russian steppe. 'How monotonous!' was soon remarked by my West European friends, while I thought to myself: 'What an infinite variety of life in these Steppes!' The poetry of the Steppe is an unknown chapter to the West European, even to the middle Russian. It would be vainly sought for in most geographical works; one finds it only in the poetry of Koltsoff, in the novels of Oertel, in the soul of the man who was born in the Steppes. One must have lived in the Steppes, rambled over them on horseback about and after sunset, inhaled the perfume of the mowed grasses, spent the night in the open air, crossed the boundless spaces in sledges with galloping horses, to realise and to feel the beauty of the Steppes. He who was born in such surroundings feels homesick elsewhere; mountain valleys oppress him, make him feel as a bird in a cage.
The Twentieth century, Volume 43

In the far distance the green tone of the steppe blackened as evening closed in, and each grass blade became a perfume-cup of aromatic sweetness; the great plateau came suddenly to life, and where solitude had brooded all day now resounded the cheep of the crickets, or echoed the swan's silvery cry. The thousand voices of nocturnal life began to speak, and a delicious breeze sprung up, under whose soit caresses the steppe rose and fell like a weary dreamer's breast, while the fire of sunset transfigured the meadows and hollows in a blaze of color as they drank in the glory of the heavens. Across the dark-blue sky, as if painted by some giant artist, spread bands of gold with red lights in them, which gradually faded away into cold grays as the shadows lengthened and the air commenced to chill. A hedge of white mist palisaded the Don, and the vast Russian steppe was swallowed up in darkness, until the great stars began to peep forth and blossom in the " infinite meadows of heaven."
Dimitri of the Don by Annetta Josefa Halliday