Is there another way to live?  

Misha Maslennikov

Is there another way to live? Well, running the farm there, gardening, the chickens, the cows, the little horse. Gotta feed them. The family too. Everything seems pretty clear. He came to visit early in the morning. Dressed in Cossack uniform, a neat tunic, white gloves. Not for a parade (not in the steppe!), just to look smart. We say hello, he take great-grandpa’s ancient service insignia from his breast pocket, boast about his pedigree. Ah, memory. We have a smoke together.  

Smoke break. Senshin khutor, Oblivsky district, Rostov-on-Don region, Russia. 2010

Morning was a bit foggy that day. A herd of cows streams by, their mouths billowing steam; at least they’re breathing. There are no flies, but one cow or other occasionally winces so that I shiver involuntarily too. “What brought you here? — Nothing, just looking around.” I take his picture with a cigarette. On the second try he mounts his horse; the animal bucks and gallops away. I go the opposite way. Where can you go here in the steppe? The bushes, the ravines, river are all the same all around… It’s not my first day here. But what day is it? I don’t know, I’ve lost my way, lost my sense of time. I walk around the gardens, wander to the border of the farm. The edge of the cossack village, the steppe out to the horizon. I’ve already taken many pictures of it, hundreds of them.

The Centaur. Near Senshin khutor, Oblivsky district, Rostov-on-Don region, Russia. 2010

I stand there… Look, there’s Valerka, who’d just left, rushing back at full speed from the other direction. Look at that. On the hill he stops his horse, pats its neck fondly, tousles the mane. He sits and stares into the distance, and all around. He doesn’t see me. Then he starts to rise up on the horse. To stand on its back.

What a fool, I think. What does he think he’s doing? Why the circus trick? Got nothing better to do? He grunts, and then he’s straight up, balancing on the horse’s back, his arms waving about. He glances down at the horse, to see if it’s flattened its ears. The rest of the scene I watch through the viewfinder.

Cossack Valerka. Standing in all growth in a saddle. Near Senshin khutor, Oblivsky district, Rostov-on-Don region, Russia. 2010

I look at him and ponder. Is there any other way to live? Soon there’ll be the Cossack council. His wife will berate him, won’t let him go to the meeting, saying there’s more than enough to do around the farm. And suddenly the Cossack wants to rise even higher, to grab his cap from the ground at a gallop, whooping and whistling. Or at least like this, climbing up on his horse’s back, to check how it’s going, this life of his. Still at full boil?