Beautiful Description from a Horrifying Book

On the White Sea, where the nights are white for half a year at a time, Bolshoi Solovetsky Island lifts its white churches from the water within the ring of its bouldered kremlin walls, rusty-red from the lichens which have struck root there — and the grayish-white Solovetsky seagulls hover continuously over the kremlin and screech.

“In all this brightness it is as if there were so sin present … It is as if nature here had not yet matured to the point of sin” is how the writer Prishvin perceived the Solovetsky Islands.

Without us these isles rose from the sea; without us they acquired a couple of hundred lakes replete with fish; without our help they were settled by capercaillies, hares, and deer, while foxes, wolves, and other beasts of prey never ever appeared there.

The glaciers came and went, the granite boulders littered the shores of the lakes; the lakes froze during the Solovetsky winter nights, the sea howled under the wind and was covered with an icy sludge and in places froze; the northern lights blazed across half the sky; and it grew bright once again and warm once again, and the fir trees grew and thickened, and the birds cackled and called, and the young deer trumpeted — and the planet circled through all world history, and kingdoms fell and rose, and here there were still no beasts of prey and no human being.

Half a hundred years after the Battle of Kulikovo Field and half a thousand years before the GPU, the monks Savvaty and German crossed the mother-of-pearl sea in a tiny boat and came to look on this island without a beast of prey as sacred. The Solovetsky Monastery began with them …

The Gulag Archipelago, by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, abridged version, pp. 181 – 182

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