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Feeling breathless

Zdeněk Jiřička, born in 1937. A native of the Krkonoše Mountains (Giant Mountains), who spent almost his entire life in his ancestral cottage in Vojtěšice and its immediate surroundings. He is a true expert of his subregion and, without exaggeration, lives in symbiosis with the landscape in all its aspects. A contemporary witness, who says: “I am already the third generation here. Well, and I will end it here.”

The photographs capture the four seasons that make up the annual cycle of farmer Jiřička, who, despite his advanced age, does not lose his energy and vitality for tending to the fields and caring for not only domestic animals. Mr. Jiřička has devoted his entire life to agriculture, although not willingly, but out of necessity and, above all, out of love for his parents, “whom the former regime would have obliged to work themself to death.” His father told him when he was young that he was his right hand, and as a result, he never left his native place, never had a partner and reconciled himself to a solitary life in harmony with the surrounding nature.

Farming in the mountains was physically very demanding, and as Mr. Jiřička tells: “Many people, they might be willing to die of hunger rather than do this.” Spring and summer were dedicated to digging the soil, dragging, sowing, cultivating, mowing, drying hay… With a laugh, he adds: “Well, I didn’t have any holidays, and vacations!? Jesus, the most work was done outdoors. Mowing started at four in the morning before it got hot. Everything was mowed by hand.” In the autumn, it was time for: cultivation, rye, potatoes, cutting firewood, plowing the garden, picking up apples, plums… In winter, despite the snow, he had to take care of the livestock, thresh the grain, transport manure, do repair work, blacksmithing, clear the roads … Besides work, he fondly remembers his childhood joy: “Sledding was great. We used to go sledding during full moon nights. The snow, it just squeaked under your feet, the moon was shining. It was wonderful.”

Despite a lifetime of hard work, Mr. Jiřička is a highly knowledgeable person with critical thinking, who likes to form his own opinions about everything. “I don’t even have a mobile phone or television. This box here (tapping on the radio) tells me so much about things. There are so many news from various fields! They invite all sorts of experts there; that’s enough for me to listen to. Anyway, in a while, I have to feed the deer; four of them come here regularly. I feed them and watch the birds. Titmice, blackbirds, jays, woodpeckers, buntings, a few sparrows, and, of course, wren or so called Jiřičky.” His life’s optimism and perspective are the reasons, according to his doctor, why he’s aging slowly.

The life experiences of this energetic farmer, who continues his demanding work with a sense of perspective, balance, and infectious humor, have served as a reminder of the fates of the last traditional farmers in the Czech part of the Krkonoše Mountains. Mr. Jiřička has been living the same way of life for over eighty years, embodying the enduring spirit of these individuals.