The Silence of Trees

The Three Brothers and their Father's House

Baba often told us stories about three brothers, Bohdan, Stefan, and Ivan. Sometimes they got into trouble. Other times they went on adventures together. There was usually a moral to the story:

One day Bohdan, Stefan, and Ivan's elderly father decided it was time to decide who would get their home when he died.

"Boys," their tato said, "Only one of you can live in this house with your family. The other two must build houses of their own."

He looked at his sons. Bohdan scratched his chin. Stefan bit his lip, and Ivan stared out the window.

"Pay attention," their tato said sternly. "I have decided to give this house to the one who can go out and find something to fill this house completely."

Since Bohdan was the oldest, he was sent first. "Go now and bring back your choice," their father commanded. "Make me proud."

Bohdan ran out to the barn and brought back the largest cow, confident of his choice.

Their father shook his head, "Son, this cow only fills up a quarter of the house." He looked at Stephan. "It's your turn, Stefko, make me proud."

Stefko walked around the farm until he saw hay. Excited he filled the house with all the hay he could find, but the hay only filled up half the house.

After cleaning up his brother's mess, it was the youngest brother, Ivan's turn. Ivan went outside and sat on a stump watching the sun set.

"If only I had more light to see what else was around that I had to choose from," he said aloud.

At that moment, Ivan knew he found his answer. Triumphant, Ivan entered the house with a candle and lit it. The light filled the house, and his tato smiled.

"Ivan," his tato said, "You have made me proud. Light does fill the house completely, and so it will be yours."

We would often talk about what other things Ivan could have chosen to fill the house, and the only things that ever seemed to work were things like love, light, laughter, music. My baba said this was because material things will not fill our homes or our hearts. In life, as in stories, the intangible gifts are the most precious.

More folklore to come including: Chervona Ruta, the Red Rue Flower, the Tree of life, Rusalka, Domovoi, and other Ukrainian traditions that bring richness and history to The Silence of Trees.

Katya’s Pysanka

By Katya Lysenko, Nadya’s oldest daughter

I have been making pysanky since I was nine years old, when I learned to decorate the eggs in third grade at Ukrainian school. From the first time I held a white chicken egg in my hands, I understood that there was something magical about these eggs. I knew that I could transfer my thoughts and dreams onto the surface of that delicate, eggshell canvas.

Pysanky are an ancient Ukrainian art form. When someone designs a pysanka, she is drawing upon a rich history of symbols used for hundreds of years. The colors and images that she chooses have specific meanings, and together they tell a story or illustrate a message. That is why they were often given at times of celebration, like ancient greeting cards.

The pysanka I created in The Silence of Trees was a gift for my friend, Robin, who was going through a difficult time. The egg was decorated in the Trypillian style. White circles and dots represent the universe and eternity, so that our friendship lasts over time. The orange snakes are symbols of feminine power, representing strength and protection. Brown is the color of Mother Earth, who helps us to stay grounded and reminds us of our connections to all of life. The black spirals and meanders are for health and wholeness. Together, the colors and images I chose were meant to convey a gift of healing and friendship.

Katya Lysenko (Ph.D., University of Chicago, 1980) is a Professor of Anthropology at the University of Illinois at Chicago with a specialty in Eastern European folklore and mythology.

***The actual pysanka on this page was created for The Silence of Trees by Adriana Wrzesniewski, pysanka artist and teacher. Please visit her site at