Tula and Tolstoy

Stepping into Leo Tolstoy’s world.

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Whenever a bemused Russian has asked me “why Russia?”, my eyes light up and I respond eagerly: “I have dreamed of visiting Russia in the Winter since I was a little girl because of the art, the history, the literature and the movements which intertwine them: Tolstoy, Chekhov, Dostoevsky, Pushkin, Catherine the Great, the Trans-Siberian, Repin, Fabergé, Blok, the Winter Palace… you name it”. If I was to ever be exact with my response and narrow it down to one thing, it would be due to my great love for realism and the philosophies of my most beloved teacher, Leo Tolstoy. He, himself, beautifully encapsulates the intricacies of this nation’s identity.

Because of the actual beauty Tolstoy infused in his writing and teachings, I knew there was a deep beauty within Russia I was very curious about. A beauty hardly any Westerner bothers to explore. While living in Moscow the first time, I befriended a quiet, inquisitive man named Dmitriy. We shared similar values and a common intellect, so a bond easily formed. Dmitry’s family lives in Tula, the province where Tolstoy’s Yasnaya Polyana estate is situated. Tolstoy called this place his “inaccessible literary stronghold” where he produced his most notable works from and his family lived there for generations. I was invited to stay at Dmitry’s family home and thus, this allowed me to visit Yasnaya Polyana. I, of course, happily accepted. For Dmitry’s generosity and the opportunity he provided me with, I am deeply humbled. This is something I will never forget.

Retreating to the grand estate of where Tolstoy was raised, I greatly respected and appreciated the magic and intimacy it possessed. With the snow laden ponds, the expanse of symbolic white-trunk birch trees, the authentic wooden huts, little children giggling as they pass you on horse and sleigh, the naked apple orchards and the serenity of nature. Being there felt sacred as well as completely and utterly surreal. Yasnaya Polyana has a soul and an energy you feel with every fibre of your being. To have immersed myself in the energy and awe of this place, of Tolstoy and the atmosphere, takes my breath away and fills me with adulation.


In the last few years of his life, Tolstoy dictated to his secretary, N.N. Gusev, he wanted to be buried at Yasnaya Polyana: “there should be no ceremonies while burying my body; a wooden coffin, and let anybody who will be willing to take it to the Old Zakaz forest, to the place of the little green stick, by the ravine. At least, there’s a reason for selecting that and no other place”. As Tolstoy said this, Gusev observed there were tears in his eyes. The mythology of the little green stick seems very fitting for a place like this. Deep in a soft, snow-filled forest at the end of winter, the enchanted tomb lies silently before a cascading, snow-capped ravine enclosed by an interstitial network of trees. Both romantically idyllic and elegiac, it resonates with the mesmeric poignancy of a nostalgic reminiscence or a lucid dream.


It was Tolstoy’s most beloved eldest brother, Nikolai, who narrated the story of the little green stick to him and his siblings as a child. When Nikolai was 12 years old, he once told his family he held a great secret that could make all men everlastingly happy. If it could be revealed, nobody would die any more, there would be no wars or illnesses and nothing untoward in the world. Everyone would love one another and become “Ant Brothers”. The catch was one needed to find a little green stick, buried on the edge of the ravine in Old Zakaz, as the secret to cure ills of man was inscribed.

Playing the game of the “Ant Brotherhood”, the five Tolstoy children settled under armchairs covered with shawls, sitting there and snuggling up together, tenderly discussing the necessities for happiness and how they would love others if they were to find the magic stick. When he was over seventy years of age, Tolstoy reminisced about the world which they created: “it was so very good, and I am grateful to God that I could play like that. We called it a game, though anything in the world is a game except that”. “The ideal of Ant Brothers clinging lovingly to one another, only not under two armchairs curtained by shawls, but of all the people of the world under the wide dome of heaven, has remained unaltered for me. As I then believed that there was a little green stick whereon was written something which would destroy all evil in men and give them great blessings, so I now believe that such truth exists among people and will be revealed to them and will give them what it promises.”


Leo Tolstoy’s grave seems simple: a mound on the edge of the ravine, neither tombstone nor cross. But this grave, as well as the peace and quiet of the old forest and the tranquility of the entire estate, can tell us a lot about Tolstoy and his understanding of life and death. His undying loyalty to the little green stick is a tribute to his entire character.

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The pathway leading towards Tolstoy’s grave and the little green stick.

Coral Yvonne Bright

See all women as mothers, serve them as your mother. When you see the entire world as the mother, the ego falls away.
– Neem Karoli Baba.

Dearest Mum,

I need to talk to you. I was listening to India Arie’s Talk To Her and her lyrics touched me, deeply. You know I do not have many girl friends and I find it hard to communicate with them. Growing up with brothers, being more of a Daddy’s girl and feeling like women are black and white toward me- with many of them intimidated– I have not developed the necessary skills to deal with female relationships as easily and properly as I do with the other gender. We have gone through this ourselves, together and separately. I even had this issue last night when conversing with a Romanian girl. I know she is bright and open-minded. I just did not know what to say. Listening to this song today made me confront some hard truths: I am missing out on the power and beauty that makes women, women; I subconsciously value men more than women which needs to stop; and I have undermined your precious womanly value, therefore undermining my own.

There have been many times I have treated you so disrespectfully and allowed others to treat you without respect and gratitude. For that I am truly sorry… I am crying as I type and reflect. You are there for me, even through this. I wish you slapped me. I wish I snapped “watch your mouth!” to others when they disregarded you. Through the years, I have tried to teach you to demand respect because I have wanted so much for you to be the woman I see in you. So much I have been disappointed when I have not seen the changes and improvements I wished to see in you.

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I ignored your accomplishments and resented your perceived failures, feeling like you were deserving of the ill treatment from others who were and are undeserving of your love and your light. Because I wanted you to stand up for yourself and be better. I did not accept you; I have not accepted you for a long time. You have been so honest with us about your baggage and your flaws, and I abused it. I have been so frustrated in my own life when I was home- not being honest with myself– that everything around me seemed to discourage and disable me from living how I wanted to and loving myself the way I needed to. I am so sorry Mum. It has never been your fault. You have never been a burden in my life. When I think of how strong and open I am, I owe it all to you and Dad.

The truth is, you are a strong, beautiful woman. You are whole and your imperfections have shown me so much beauty that I look for such depth in others. I have loved you, but in the wrong way, limited by my own agenda. I have defined you by the things you are not; and by roles because you have never defined yourself as otherwise. I have preached to you because I did not want to lose you and I wished for you to dump your baggage. But in doing so, I have neglected you as a person while we are here, together.

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When I think of all the times I have seen you seeing less of yourself, I realise I have supported it. I was a bystander and I let you feel less than you are. I let you pity yourself, talk down to yourself, beat yourself up. Making a habit of talking about your health, your environment, your pursuit of purpose when people asked you how you were. Depending so much on relationships to feel any self-worth. One of the reasons why I left was because I wanted you to learn to depend on yourself. I am discovering though, I have not equipped you with the necessary tools. Embracing and loving you has become conditional and circumstantial.

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I adore you. I really do not need you to change because you are already perfect. You are not me, I understand. Beyond your role as my Mother and as a Wife; beyond what I wish for you, I shine because I carry your light: a light only which you embody. Your laughter, your emotions, your stubborn nature, your compassion, your passion, your fire, your flaws. The times you get enthusiastic and optimistic once someone provides you an opportunity or changes your mindset. Your hugs and your Dr Phil moments. There is only one of you in this world, Coral Yvonne Bright. I want everyone to know your name. You are outstanding and remarkable. You do not need an education, a purpose or positive outcomes and opportunities to be outstanding. You just are and you give me something unique, as a woman. You have made me praise the subtle, beautiful qualities in women I tend to overlook.

Right now as I sit here, you are my sole inspiration. I will do what I can to change my role as a daughter, not trying to teach YOU to value yourself. But instead, to teach MYSELF to apply your value to everything I do and to make damn sure the world acknowledges. I will do my best to see you in every woman I meet and admire their qualities, their fragility and their teachings. I will etch you in my heart and show your beauty and my loving ode to you, through my sincere actions. You will travel with me and be my legacy, my muse, my archetype. You will no longer be behind me in the background; a precursor and after thought. I promise to talk about you with the love and admiration I feel wholeheartedly. You are and will always be my pride and my virtue.

Love your daughter, your vessel, Laura.

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P.S. I am sorry this is in formal writing, not to your face and out for everyone to read. But I want to be honest and I want everyone to know you and what you give to me.