Platonov’s Among Animals and Plants

In The New Yorker, a short story by Andrei Platonov (translated by Robert Chandler):


In the gloom of nature, a man with a hunting rifle was walking through sparse forest. The hunter’s face was a little pockmarked, but he was handsome and, for the time being, still young. At this time of year, a whiff of mist hung in the forest—from the warmth and moisture of the air, the breath of developing plants, and the decay of leaves that had perished long ago. It was difficult to see anything, but it was good to walk alone, to think without meaning, or to do the opposite—to stop thinking altogether and just droop. The forest grew on the slope of a low hill; large boulders lay between the small thin birches, and the soil was infertile and poor—clay here, gray earth there—but the trees and grass had got used to these conditions, and they lived in this land as best they could.

Sometimes the hunter would stop for a moment; then he would hear the many-voiced drone of the life of midges, small birds, worms, and ants, and the rustle of the lumps of earth that this population harried and shifted about, so as to feed itself and stay active. The forest was like a crowded city—not that the hunter had ever been to a city, but he had been trying to imagine one for a long time. Once, he had passed through Petrozavodsk, but even that had been only in passing. Screeches, squeaks, and a faint muttering filled the forest, perhaps indicating bliss and satisfaction, perhaps indicating that someone had perished. Moist birch leaves shone in the mist with the green inner light of their lives; invisible insects were rocking them in the steamy damp rising from the earth. Some far-off small animal began to whimper meekly in its hiding place; no one was doing it any harm there, but it was trembling from the fear of its own existence, not daring to surrender to its own heart’s joy in the loveliness of the world, afraid to make use of the rare and brief chance of inadvertent life, because it might be discovered and eaten. But then the animal should not really even have been whimpering: predators might notice and devour it.