Elena and Tomek lived in the forest, in harmony with nature [ZDJĘCIA]

Elena and Tomek have found their piece of heaven on earth. It is a special place, because it is located deep in the forest, without neighbors, with its own energy source, well and water treatment plant. What they managed to create during their lives in the lap of nature in the foothills of Izerskie in the Karkonosze Mountains, delights, amazes and evokes respect.

Walking my Labrador Retriever Fidy is one of the regular rituals at the end of the working day. One of the favorite routes is the road through the meadows of our farm, with a deep forest on the horizon. The forest, which echoes with birdsong in the spring, offers sweet raspberries in the summer and mushrooms and … apples in the fall with a taste that you will not experience today. It was in this forest, 15 years ago, that I first saw old flowering apple trees. An orchard in the woods? But how is that possible? – I wondered every time, and the answer would come later.

In the spring of the previous year I saw in an orchard new tracks: piles of wood, a tent and a car. At first I thought it was about felling trees by foresters, but soon a wooden house with characteristic round roofs was built there. In the summer one of them was equipped with photovoltaic cells and in the autumn … we were invited by the hosts for afternoon tea.

It was a cold, rainy day, there was a strong wind and the desire to leave the house was almost nil. I didn’t want to say it out loud, but I thought a Sunday afternoon in a cold, uncomfortable shed in the woods had so many better alternatives. How wrong was I! I will never forget the moment we entered the house Elena and Tomek Freda: in a cozy room with a ceiling of 3 (?) meters, the warmth of the fireplace was waiting for us, tea and ginger steaming on the table, and the hosts welcomed us with their two dogs, Ivo and Aro, as warmly as if we had not met for the first time in our lives, but again after long years of not seeing. After three hours as we stood there looking at their bypass with a flashlight, I knew I had to come back here. And so it happened recently.

Elena and Tomek lived in the forest. A year for some, half a life for others

Elena and Tomek have known each other for 5 years and they came from the other part of Poland to the foothills of Izerskie in the Karkonosze Mountains, more precisely – from Gdańsk. What they’ve managed to create and build in just over a year is respectable, all the more so because, apart from the digger that was hired for hours, they had no help whatsoever. The whole is not only functional and stable, but also aesthetically pleasing. What they made in 14 months would take others several years, and probably even half my life for me.

It is certainly not without significance that Tomek worked in construction for yearsand their shared dream of a new life is still their greatest motivation to work. Elena is 37 years old and trained as an artist and painter. Her roots come from Siberia, she has lived in Poland for 6 years and is currently doing her PhD at the Academy of Fine Arts in Gdańsk. The biography of 53-year-old Tomek is more complicated: he is a veterinarian by profession, he worked for many years in the construction industry mentioned above, then obtained the addiction therapist diploma and graduated from the Sopot School of Photography in 2020. It was Elena’s painting and Tomek’s photography that allowed them to plan and act together, which they implement as part of lighting installation projects, such as In North Africa at the Interference and SeeDjerba festival.

People live in the forest

When my partner said there were people living in the woods last fall last year, I couldn’t believe it. Today, early June, when we sit with their coffee in the morning, the birds are singing so loud that even our dogs seem to enjoy this moment.

Where did the idea for such a life come from? † I am from Siberia and I spent my childhood with my grandmother in a small village with a river running through it. I have always missed nature – says Elena and Tom meets her word:- And my father had one in the biggest farms in Kashubia, so I grew up in a natural environment. They met in Gdansk, but they were always attracted to the countryside. The turning point was the pandemic, when they agreed they didn’t want to live like this. They decided to return to nature. † We were fascinated by this idea, and at the same time we were afraid of it. We had to leave everything and everyone behind – Elena recalls. Her dream was to live in a place where you can see the forest on one side. At first they looked at the coast, but when they found nothing there, they came to the south of Poland. Again, it was not easy, especially since they wanted to build their houses with the aforementioned round roofs, which were welcomed neither by restorers nor by city planners. There was one last option left: a plot in the woods without electricity, water and a paved road. After hearing about this offer, they got into the car in the evening, in the morning they were in Jizera and stayed here. † It was April last year. When we saw these ancient trees and the nearly centenary rhododendron, we knew we wanted to stay here. Two months later, on June 22 to be precise, we moved here permanently – says Tomek.

For myself, for guests, for art

Where do these apple trees and rhododendron come from? I ask and I feel like I will finally hear the answer to the question that has been bugging me for 15 years. We will this is exactly where the kaolin mine was – sedimentary rock, also known as porcelain clay, which is used in construction, medicine and pharmacy. Hence the forest called Kaolin forest. In the place where Elena and Tomek lived, there was an impressive villa with an orchard belonging to the owners of the mine. To this day, the remains of the walls have survived in nature, and photos from that time have been preserved in the archives.

First they built a house for themselves, then a sauna and then a guest house. Now a studio is being built, where Tomek will have his darkroom, and Elena – a studio. Further lighting installations have to be realized here, for which they have countless ideas. When I ask if they are not afraid to live alone they look and answer almost in unison:- There must be more to be afraid of in the city!

Water, electricity, heat, waste

At a time when we are concerned about coal, gas and energy, my interlocutors do not have those concerns. They are self-sufficient in all areas: they have their own water, electricity, wood and even a water treatment plant. It started with the search for drinking water. They suspected that since people lived here, they probably also had a well. † We searched for her for 3 months in vainuntil it was found by an excavator operator who was accidentally leveling the ground, which had collapsed at one point in an old orchard near the machine. And that was our source! It’s not deep, because it might be 4 meters, but it’s full all the time, the water tastes great and is healthy, because we had it examined by SANEPiD – explains Tomek, and I suddenly realize that I was in their bathroom, which has a sink and sink, in the kitchen a sink with a tap, in the sauna I saw a shower, and in the guest house also a bathroom and kitchen . Water from the well is pumped to one of the houses, filtered and further distributed, and the used water is purified in its own three-room purification plant and returned to nature.

What about electricity? They achieve this by means of panels mounted on one of the roofs. Tomek had to address the topic of creating a garden system that does not require a connection to the network. He calculated how many panels, which inverter, how many batteries they needed and two of them went to assembly. † Yesterday was a sunny day, so we collected energy for about 3 days – explains Tomek.

What about heat? When we met for our first tea in the fall, wood was burning in the fireplace. It turns out that the wood obtained from their plot and the nearby forest is the only source of heat. They get a permit from the local forest inspectorate and make their own firewood, both in fireplaces and in the sauna.

What about waste?I remember in Gdańsk every day I had their net. Here we’re learning to go to zero, but we’re still a little short (both laugh) You know, if you take out the trash, it generally doesn’t go away. They just disappear from your house and we are concerned about avoiding them altogether. So we bring the containers to the stores to avoid packaging or at most to wrap everything in paper – says Elena, and Tomek adds: – We came across a small plastic bag for 3 weeks, which we put in a landfill.

Our neighbors don’t have a fridgeSo to keep fresh products up to date, Elena started her first vegetable garden. What requires longer maintenance is cooked in pots.

A gentle fascination with nature

Elena’s dissertation deals with Fr. “A gentle fascination with nature”† It is about the effect of natural light on humans, and in particular the impact of this light on interpersonal relationships and the possibility of regeneration of the human body thanks to it. † When I wake up in the morning, I open my eyes and I see a forest, I prick up my ears and hear birds. What else do you want? – Elena dreams, and I ask: – Have you ever woken up and felt like you were in Siberia? Elena bursts out laughing endlessly and also infects us:- Nooooo… even though the climate is similar, mosquitoes are missing here – he replies with tears of laughter.

When I ask if they feel like this is their place on earth, they both think for a moment. † You know, it’s too early to say that. We only experienced this once every season?and it takes a few more cycles to take root – says Elena, and I know that if I need regeneration of my soul, I will certainly ask my interlocutors for a few days of hospitality.

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