How beautiful it is! That seems to be the remark I hear most whenever I show someone a Lithuanian Sodas (Garden). They’re so simple and yet perfect. Mysterious and enchanting.
Although for a long time I was convinced the Sodas was Lithuanian, it is not true. The Finnish also have a similar tradition, only they call them Himmel – the heavens. The Byelorussians also used to make them. An old Ukrainian woman I know recalls making them as a child, though she can’t remember exactly how or why.
The Sodas came to my life along with the independence of Lithuania. At the time, everything ethnic – the flag, the national dress, songs, dances, customs and crafts – became a symbol and expression of freedom. And although the national dress ended up stuffed somewhere deep in the closet and the songs are only sung from time to time, the Sodas remained.
There came a time when I wanted to change my life and so decided to escape to the distant island of Mauritius. Once I was there, the Sodas was my first “work”. Even before I left, I knew I’d start with that.
I made it from sugar cane, which is much larger and stronger than rye. I gave it to my friend, and we soon found it had attracted grass snakes. I’ve been living here for many years,- she said, slightly worried, but I’ve never seen a grass snake before. Do you think that’s a good sign?
Of course it is, I reassured her. We, Lithuanians, know that – in Lithuania, the grass snake has long been a symbol of health, wealth, and fertility, and was thought to be the guardian of the home, often kept as a pet.
Why do you make them? – you might ask.
Just imagine: you go out for a walk. You look for suitable plants. You collect them, remove the husk, clean them, cut them. You begin stringing them together.
As you work, you cannot be tense – the straw is fragile, subtle, delicate. You have to relax and at the same time remain focused.
The more you work, the more your anxious thoughts begin to drift away, leaving nothing but a pure presence in the here and now.
As you try to maintain proportion, structure, and harmony, you feel that same order enter your very being.
There’s a hot cup of tea beside you. A dog sleeping by your feet. Silent music in the air. Could it be more magical?
The Lithuanian Sodas is made from rye straw. I have also tried using simple grass, when there was no other option, and have since discovered that reeds are also fine. What matters is that it should have a hollow inside.
For some, making a Sodas is a lesson in patience. For others, it is a way to concentrate, experience peace and quiet, fight anxiety and control their thoughts. Some people see it as art.
Others believe in its mysticism and symbolism, and recognize the deeper meaning of the universe in it. To me, it is a way to clean the soul. When the time comes, I just feel it. And I do it.
Would you like to try it, learn to do it, find out more about it? Then let me know!