Dreams have always intrigued mankind. For some they are a window into the deepest recesses of the human soul, to others they are a source of obscure portents and signs, and for some they are just noise – the sleeping mind seeking to make sense of stray synapses firing at random.
Often dreams have been associated with mystical or religious experiences, so closely linked with visions are they.
During Tsarist times Siberia was first used as a place of internal exile. The surviving Decembrists and many others were sent east into the eternal taiga.
Over time communities of the exiles mixed with the native inhabitants of Siberia and through a process of syncretism Christianity and the shamanism of the natives at times blurred and odd new heresies and beliefs were born.
Someway north of Irkutsk one such community, isolated by distance and winter, became lost in dream.
An innocent question started it; “Did Adam and Eve dream?” The people of the community had little to do while winter gripped their world other than to sleep and talk. So they considered this issue while doing the slow things that occupied the winter such as stoking the fire or making cups of birch bark tea.
In Genesis, Adam did not sleep until the Lord put him into a deep sleep to remove his rib to create Eve. So Adam neither slept or dreamt.
But we sleep, we dream. Then sleep is something that must have come with the Fall, and so dreams too must be a result of that Original Sin.
One group proposed that dreams were sent by God to remind us of what we had lost. Others, quoting nightmares and dreams of lust, said that dreams must be sent by the Devil to tempt and taunt us.
The debate might have remained a winter fancy had not a child dreamed of gold.
In the dream, the child had been deep in the taiga. There, under a white sky in a white landscape it had met a white fox and the fox had told the child that there was gold buried near the village.
The adults smiled and ignored the child. Until the next morning when another child spoke of the fox and its message about the buried gold. People shook their heads, laughing softly but in their eyes a question was forming.
No one spoke of the dreams but adults started to seem to seek out sleep. Gradually more and more of the villagers spent their time asleep, seeking the fox.
To speak of such a thing would seem ludicrous, so people kept their own counsel. Even within families no one would admit to the dream hunt so over time the word “fox” began to disappear from conversation.
Then one night, a dreamer found themselves out in the taiga, and there about them were other villagers. Were they just figures in a dream or were they too after the fox?
Sheepishly at first, people began to sleep with tools. Perhaps with some distant part of the mind they rationalised that to hold a shovel in your sleep might mean that you held a shovel in your dreams.
Slowly, imperceptibly the balance of life began to shift. Dream became the priority, the waking hours were an imposition. The winter had always been a quiet time and so no one remarked on the gradual transition.
Some years back, I found myself deep in Siberia in the deep winter. I had left Irkutsk and was heading to Khabarovsk. Having time to spare and being awestruck by the deep silence and beauty of the taiga I broke my journey to explore the landscape.
One day I found myself in a long abandoned village. The houses were derelict, quite literally frozen in time. Possessions were still on shelves, wood neatly piled by doors. The village was here but the people were gone.
As I walked away, a flicker of movement caught my eye. I stopped and looked across the village to the edge of the trees.
It was a fox.