Hi Gary,

The reason why I travel as much as I do is purely because I like it.
I have been on the road since I was 18 and i am 41 now and plan to continue with that a few decades more. I earn my living from doing freelance jobs in tourism. This is both as a tourleader, as a consultant and as a lecturer. I am showing some tourists around the Azores at the moment and when that is done then i take 3 months off for a round the world trip taking me to Turkey, Malaysia, Borneo, Brunei, the Phillipines, Vietnam and California.

The soil was collected on a roadtrip I did with some people I met through the travel site It´s a travel tip sharing website, but it has a very good community spirit too and we were 6 persons from 5 different countries who did this trip very spontaneously after a chat in the travel forum on We visited 7 countries in 7 days (Finland, Estonia, Latvia. Lithuania, Belarus, Poland and England) and in all the countries we met up with people we got in touch with through virtualtourist, so it was a bit of a party trip.

The biggest challenge when collecting the soil was that we did the trip in january and the temperatures were around minus 30 degrees celcius and the ground was frozen solid.
But we got it up with tools we borrowed from locals and the soil in Estonia was collected from just outside the train station in the old university town "Tartu".

In Lithuania I got the soil from a Park in the center of Vilnius and in Belarus we got the soil from a little forest next to the train station.

It was a little tricky in Belarus as we were actually refused entry because we did not apply for visas in advance, but we had to wait 6 hours for a train to deport us so I had time to get the soil in the little forst next to the train station.

That was my 5 cents.
Just write me if you need more info.


The Art of Wishing

By Jheri St. James

More than 90% of the time, people spell the name of Belarus correctly today. This is a big improvement from 1997-1998 when the form “Byelorussia” (promoted by the Russians) was much more popular. Historically, the country was referred to in English as “White Russia”. Although is not exactly correct—the correct translation is “White Ruthenia”—the practice continues to this day in other languages. People unfamiliar with this landlocked country, which lies east of Poland, might not think that Belarus is remarkable, but they would be wrong:

  • Belarus suffered the heaviest casualties during World War II, losing a quarter of its population, more than 2.5 million, a greater tragedy than that of the Jewish Holocaust.

  • The greatest catastrophe in the entire history of nuclear energy use, the explosion at Chernobyl, Ukraine, caused more damage in Belarus than any other place. Twenty-three percent of the country’s area was contaminated with 70% of the radioactive matter. About one fifth of the territory, mostly in the southeastern provinces of Homyel and Mahilyow, continues to be affected by the fallout from the 1986 nuclear power plant disaster. While the amount of radiation has decreased by one percent since the disaster, most of the area is considered uninhabitable. The Chernobyl disaster not only spilled 70% of its radioactive outburst on Belarus, but also contaminated all of Europe. “During these days I’ve learned what is means TO STEP OVER YOUR FEAR, what it means TO LOVE, and what it means TO HATE. This happens when your entire life collapses . . . For the rest of my life these memories will be burning in me. For sure these were the strongest shocks of my life. It was blue; I’ve never seen such intense blue color before. When I’ll be dying, I will try to remember this shocking blue sky over October Square in Minsk that evening . . .” (from the diary of a young girl in the “Freedom Campground” in Minsk).

  • In 1991 in Viskuly, Belarus, the Soviet Union announced its demise as a political entity, a declaration considered more important than the fall of the Berlin Wall, and one of the two most important events of the 20th century.

  • Belarus has a highly skilled and well-educated work force, due to its excellent system of higher and specialized education.

  • Mark Shagal (also spelled Chagall) was born in Vitebsk, Belorussia. The Belarusian Ballet is noted as the third best ballet company, only following the Moscow Bolshoi and St. Petersburg Mariinskiy companies.

  • Minsk, Belarus was the “Silicon Valley” of the former Soviet Union, producing the most powerful computers and PC’s, not to mention Horizon TV sets.

  • Belarusian night vision goggles are just one example of sophisticated Belarusian optics skills.

  • MAZ is the most valued truck from Brest to Vladivostok, and BelAZ dump trucks are affordable substitutes for more expensive brands used by the Russian army. Minsk produces Russian missile carrier trucks as well.

  • If the agricultural sector still survives on the vast lands of the former Soviet Union it is because of the Belarus tractor, used in Canada, Poland, Germany and other countries; a reliable, easy-to-use and maintain machine.

  • Belarusian vodka is the best in the world, awarded the title by international experts.

  • German soldiers wear uniforms manufactured in Belarus, and women wear Belarusian knitwear.

  • Belarus is the only place in the world where one can see the ancient Belarusian Zubr or European Bison in its natural environment.

  • Belarus was one of the co-founders of the United Nations.

Like the poignant Belarusian tree sculptures shown above, the people of this landlocked nation-state in Eastern Europe, bordering Russia, Ukraine, Poland, Lithuania, and Latvia, have carried heavy burdens. The area now known as Belarus was part of various countries, including Lithuania, Poland and the Russian Empire, throughout its history. The republic officially declared its sovereignty on August 27, 1990 and, following the collapse of the Soviet Union, declared independence as the Republic of Belarus on August 25, 1991.

Belarus is relatively flat and contains large tracts of marshy land. Lakes and rivers punctuate the country. The largest marsh territory is Polesia, which is also among the largest marshes in Europe. There are 11,000 lakes in Belarus, the majority small. Three major rivers run through the country, the Neman River, the Pripyat River and the Dnepr River. The climate ranges from harsh winters to cool and moist summers. Forest covers about 34 percent of the total landscape, making it one of the most dominant natural resources, along with peat, oil and natural gas, granite, dolomite limestone, marl, chalk, sand, gravel and clay.

Belarus is like a darkened room. After seven decades as a constituent republic of the USSR, Belarus has retained closer political and economic ties to Russia than any of the other former Soviet republics. Belarus and Russia signed a treaty on a two-state union on December 8, 1999, envisioning greater political and economic integration. Although Belarus agreed to a framework to carry out the accord, serious implementation has yet to take place. Since his election in July 1994 as the country’s first president, Alexander Lukashenko has steadily consolidated his power through authoritarian means. Government restrictions on freedom of speech and the press, peaceful assembly and religion continue. The dark room, though, has a window looking out onto a green life outside. It has a blue art glass bottle on the windowsill.

What is art?

1. Human effort to imitate, supplement, alter, or counteract the work of nature. 2A) The conscious production or arrangement of sounds, colors, forms, or other elements in a manner that affects the sense of beauty, specifically the production of the beautiful in a graphic or plastic medium. B) the study of these activities. C) The product of these activities; human works of beauty considered as a group. 3) High quality of conception or execution; aesthetic value. 4) A field or category of art, such as music. 5. A nonscientific branch of learning; one of the liberal arts. 6A) A system of principles and methods employed in the performance of a set of activities: the art of building. 6B)A trade or craft that applies such a system: the art of the lexicographer. 7A) Skill that is attained by study, practice, or observation: the art of the baker. B) Skill arising from the exercise of intuitive faculties. (American Heritage College Dictionary, 3rd Ed., New York: Houghton Mifflin 1997)

Every one of these definitions applies to Belarus.

1. Human effort to imitate, supplement, alter, or counteract the work of nature. Nature has created much to imitate, supplement, alter and counteract in one of the four World Heritage Sites in Belarus. The Belovezhskaya Pushcha is the last remaining primeval forest in Europe. Belovezhskaya Pushcha is the only forest tract in Europe actually remaining intact. The large variety of flora and mild climate form favorable conditions for the life of forest animals. Here live 55 species of mammals, more than 200 species of birds, 11 species of amphibia, 7 species of reptiles, and the European wild horse known as the tarpan. However, the most remarkable wild animal of the park, and the biggest one in Europe, is European bison called zubr in Belorussian. Polesia is among the largest marshes in Europe.

2A) The conscious production or arrangement of sounds, colors, forms, or other elements in a manner that affects the sense of beauty, specifically the production of the beautiful in a graphic or plastic medium. B) the study of these activities. C) The product of these activities; human works of beauty considered as a group. “World-famous artist Mark Zakharovich Shagal (1887-1985) was born in Vitebsk, Belorussia on July 7, 1887. Chagall’s exposure to Cubism resulted in his attempts to incorporate the Cubist multiple points of view and geometric shapes into his compositions. After years in France and Russia, in 1919 he became a founder, director and most popular teacher at the Vitebsk Academy. However, because he wanted the school to express all points of view on art, he was ousted by the Malevich faction of suprematists and left the country. Among his largest projects were the decoration of the ceiling of the Paris Opera (1964) and the murals for the Metropolitan Opera in New York (1965). He also explored the technique of stained glass for cathedrals, churches and medical centers. Today a Chagall Museum is located in Vitebsk. Chagall occupied a unique place in world art. Throughout his life he was an independent artist, often criticized. His artistic visions can be considered ‘poetry in colors and shapes.’ He populated his pictures with angels, lovers, flying cows, fiddlers, circus performers and roosters, creating lyrical poems, which proclaimed the beauty of all creation, as well as his unwavering belief in the existence of miracles and the infinite wisdom of the Creator. Despite some dark moments in his personal life, he remained an optimist, and with every brushstroke, every green, blue, or purple face of his violinists, every kiss and every embrace of his lovers, every little house or church of Vitebsk, every image, his paintings seem to sing the ‘Ode to Joy’” (

3) High quality of conception or execution; aesthetic value. 4) A field or category of art, such as music. 5) A nonscientific branch of learning; one of the liberal arts. Printed poetry is a sign of high-level development of national culture. The printed poetry culture of Belarus was based on the richest oral folk poetic traditions of the land. After the adoption of Christianity in the 10th century, multiple collections of theological and philosophical works were circulated in Belarus of the Middle Ages. Before the 16th century, all major Christian poets were translated and known in Belarusian literature, the most popular being the spiritual works of both the Orthodox and Catholic religions. The growth of ideas in the Renaissance opened up new directions in Belarusian poetry, including poetic translations of Biblical books, Greek poems, and the Ten Commandments. Latin poetry was read and appreciated by a broad audience in the 16th century. The Russian invasion of 1664 followed by a Swedish war (30-year war) completely destroyed many of the cultural icons of Belarus, cities, libraries and lands. In 1696, the old Belarusian language was replaced by Polish. The first signs of recovery appeared at the beginning of the 19th century.

(Proposed lyrics for a new national anthem)
Janka Kupala (1882-1942)

The free wind has sung free songs to thy name,
Green woods caught them with friendly voices,
The sun called with its flame to a seed-time far-famed,
The stars poured faith into broken forces.

And in time of storms, troubles and mighty desires,
Thou hast budded and bloomed, long-awaited,
In a life-freshet, over the land of thy sires,
Thou hast flooded and poured, unabated.

Thou has flooded and poured, in a bright tale of life,
Through field, woodland, hill and vale streaming...
From thy native flower-copses thy crown is made bright,
Like a swan' plumage, brilliant gleaming.

Thou dost quiver and echo with songs of the bards,
Long-past years thou dost raise up and nurture,
Today's forward leap thou wouldst never retard,
Boldly facing mysterious futures.

In the sun thou goest bold, lovely flower of fire,
Gently sowing forth dreams, gold-adornéd;
Thou fearest no neighbour, though great be his ire,
Thou fearest no path briared and thorny.

From end unto end, frontier mound unto mound,
On the breezes renewal is borne now,
And, embracing the soul, without limit or bound,
Mother-joy for the better day born now.

Now there are no axes among forests green,
Felling young pine-trees in frosty winter,
Now there are no reapers from dawn to dark seen
In summer with scythes ringing, glinting.

Strength is known in the hands, without tears songs are blithe,
Desirous of glory, breasts quiver,
In their books a new law, with pens of sun-scythes,
New people are writing for ever.

Blossom them, and raise, soaring upon eagle's wing,
Souls, hearts and thoughts slumbering dully,
Awaken and forth into great spaces, bring
Strength by the witch-noose unsullied.

Send messengers forth, send unto the world's bound,
As falcon from falcon-nest winging.
Let them fly, fly away unto warriors sound,
Set the thunder of good news far-ringing.

Enough, dearest country, in field, wood and brake,
Hapless orphan, thou spendst night's long glowering,
Enough of thy heart's-blood wrong drank as a snake,
And cold winds blew, through thy bare bones scouring.

Arise from the depths, thou of falcon-born race,
O'er sires crosses, their woes, degradation,
O young Bielarus, come thou forth, take thy place
Of honour and fame among nations.

6A) A system of principles and methods employed in the performance of a set of activities: the art of building. 6B) A trade or craft that applies such a system: the art of the lexicographer. Belarus’ architecture includes more World Heritage treasures: the Mir Castle complex and the Niasvizh Castle, among other lovely examples of the art of the architect.

The Mir Castle Complex and Sapega Castle Ruins in Ruzhany (17th c.)


The State Circus Building

7A) Skill that is attained by study, practice, or observation. B) Skill arising from the exercise of intuitive faculties. Belaursians have studied, practiced, and observed many changes in their history. Survival has involved great use of all these skills, as well as the art of intuition. Some say that intuition is inborn in mankind; others would deny it. All have experienced the phone call from someone just in mind, or the sense of déjà vu upon finding oneself in a particular circumstance.

As recently as March 2006, our local L.A. Times published an article about political tensions in Belarus. A prison camp was erected in Oktyabrskaya Square in the center of the capital, Minsk, shortly after a disputed presidential election returned Lukashenko to another five-year term with a reported 82.6% of the vote. Ten thousand citizens flooded the streets to protest the vote. Hundreds were beaten and/or arrested. “It is bad that none of us grown-ups, none of us leaders of the opposition, was there with the children we called upon to come out and defend freedom when it happened. The children are real heroes. They are the martyrs of Belarus today. And the authorities have demonstrated that they can’t imagine any other way to run this country but by force,” said one speaker in a telephone interview. “They announced to the world that the Belarus people are all united in their love for Lukashenko. And they didn’t want us to sit there and show the rest of the country that there is another Belarus, which is not afraid, which is not prepared to live in lies. Our conversation is coming to an end. Listen to whatever is about to happen. Farewell.” A harsh male voice could be heard soon thereafter. “Listen here, all of you!” it said. “Switch off your phones and get out, one by one.” And then the phone went dead.

* * *

As Nature and her myriad forms was the basis for the first definition of art, and the template for this discussion, let us visualize a great political and artistic rebirth of Belarus through the processes of nature—in the minds of its people and on the soil within its borders. The first photo in this journal entry is of an arch at the Sapega castle, framing a view of Mother Nature’s loveliness, active while the arch crumbles. The window in the dark room looks out at a burgeoning nature, working on the room, the window, and on the transparent artwork on the sill.

Her work is largely invisible and immeasurable, like intuition, like emotion. Never doubt that Mother Nature is at work in Belarus. Slowly, slowly the work is being done in the fallout areas—even one percent every 20 years indicates a movement of healing. Let us hold Belarus in our minds as a place of destiny, be grateful for this profoundly important soil in our Common Ground 191 art project. As Albert Einstein said, “I don’t know what World War III will be fought with, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and rocks [artifacts of nature].” We wish Belarus all the blessings of nature, peace and art.

Dudutki Folk Museum Wishing Tree in Belarus

(Thanks to Oleg Babinets for photos and the mysterious Biking Viking for his soil collections in Belarus, Estonia and Lithuania.)

 *     *     *

Top | Back



All images and text © Copyright 2018 Common Ground 191 - All rights reserved