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Romantic Canada
Chapter XXX Doukhobors: a Community RaceóContinued


EARLY in the morning of a Sunday when daylight still leaves the shadows deep under the fruit-trees in the orchard, and the grass is wet and the air full of the dewy freshness that only melts with the sun, the Doukhobors may be seen ó a figure or two at a time ó stepping lightly under the apple-trees, clad in their homespun suits of bleached linen, the men in their Russian blouses and bareheaded, the women in full skirts, and tight "bodies" with snowy plotoks on their heads, all barefooted, all converging upon the church. Inside, gravely bowing, the men range down one side of the empty room and the women line up on the other. In the centre of the aisle between, stands a table always supplied with a little dish of salt, a loaf of bread, and a jug of water, the three elements that are the Trinity of life. In season, these three simple elements are supplemented by offerings of a plate of the most perfect specimens of tomatoes, a plate of the finest peaches, another of the largest plums, a fullgrown watermelon, and a bunch of asters. This dash of colour against the simple purity of the white linen suits of the congregation is indeed effective.

The Doukhobors are very fond of singing, and this carries one back to the daily life in the "villages". For at almost every meal the Doukhobors, in addition to saying a solemn "grace", end the meal with the singing of old religious chants. At the evening meal in particular the singing is never omitted. It is worth while going among these people just to listen to this sweet community part-singing gathering in volume as it goes rolling through the miles of the "Valley of Consolation" caught up from village to village, and borne away on the romantic wings of the dusk enfolding the mountains, the rushing river and the orchards.

The garments of linen worn as the ceremonial dress at these early Sunday morning services, are the offering upon the altar, as it were, of the epic of flax. The Doukhobor women though "Doukhobor" in religion are Russians in their knowledge of flax. This knowledge is their own special contribution to Canada. Other wheat-wizards there are, other masters of mixed-farming, other specialists in stock, others who would find them children at the fishing. Perhaps no Doukhobor has ever been a sailor, (because this is a strictly earth-loving people) but nowhere else in Canada is the complete story of flax, from the seed to wearing of the woven linen, to be come upon, without moving outside a settlement! Flax knowledge is the Doukhobors' gift to Canada but up to this time, apparently, there has been no attempt to employ these people as Flax-teachers.

In the fields at Verigen one comes upon the figure of a woman stooping over and seizing in her strong hands a full handful of the tall plants. These she pulls and ties with a twist of green into a sheaf. "Flax must be pulled", she tells you. In response to inquiry as to the quality and length of the fibre in this Canadian flax, she raises herself to rest awhile, and drawing a wisp through her fingers says half-reminiscently "Oh, good, vera good. Vera long fibre."

The British Columbia woman "rets" her flax in the river. And she keeps the swift current from running away with her precious plants, by weighing them down with the rounded river-stones, the smoothed product of the ice-age. These smooth stones serve the Indian-woman as pestles for the stump-mortar wherein she grinds her corn, and this Russian woman turns them to service for anchoring her flax, as though they were made to order. A week or ten days and the flax, now clear of all wood-fibre, is given the final washing and then carried up the steep bank of the river to sway in the wind, the while it dries on some "village" clothes-line. After this it comes into the hands of the heckler and the spinner, in every odd moment between drying fruit, picking beans, winnowing seeds, gathering aprons full of ripened millet and the thousand and one tasks the hand finds to do on these almost self-supporting farms.

The spinning-wheel is as common in every household here as in Quebec. Indeed, in the big yards, one often happens on several women at their wheels, while indoors, other women are sitting at the big handmade loom that their husbands have concocted of the B. C. cedar log. The Russian flax-wheel appears smaller than the wheel of de laine in Quebec. But its whirr and blurr of action is no less musical and rapid, and its measure of spun thread as long. The only difference between the spinners of the East and West is that the Russian woman spins flax and her habitant sisterówool.

The Doukhobor woman is also a spinner of wool but as yet the keeping of sheep on the Doukheries is in its infancy.

The Russian woman's flax-wheel is light so that she can easily take it under her arm, spinning here or there, as she wishes, indoor or out. In the heat of the midsummer day, when work in the fields is only pursued early in the morning or in the late afternoon, you find her spinning in her bedroom or on the porch. Or she sits out of doors among the flowers abloom in her dooryard enjoying the blossoms and the shade thrown by peach-treesóladen boughs bending, a symphony in fruit, to lay themselves across the heart of their Earth-mother. Indoors, the blur of the flying shuttle hums a minor accompaniment to the song of the bees busily planing from flower to flower, gathering up the nectar, that, as honey, is later to come to home tables. Then some morning the bolt of linen is finished, the linen that will, with ordinary care, long outlive the women whose industry has brought it into being.


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