The Storks of Poland
When I was a kid, we had a copy of a book called ‘Where Did I Come From’ in the TV room bookcase. From memory it was square in format, and had fun cartoon illustrations. I don’t remember Mum or Dad ever having the ‘birds and the bees’ conversation with me, nor my sister Vicki bursting through the door of my bedroom to tell me that Mum or Dad just had that discussion with her. Maybe they bought a copy of ‘Where Did I Come From’ and just stashed it on the lowest shelf of the book case, hoping we would discover it and learn the rudiments of human reproductive biology ourselves thereby avoiding the need for that excrutiating conversation.
Anyway, near the start of the book there was a list of answers to the title, taken, if I remember rightly, from popular and mythic culture. One of them was that I was brought by a stork, and was accompanied by a cartoon of a stork flying along with a bub hanging from its beak wrapped in fabric. Ok, so why am I bringing all this up?
Eastern Poland is cropping country, and spring sees the undulating paddocks become a patchwork of vivid green wheat and blazing yellow canola.
Traveling through the region you come across neat, pretty towns, with tethered dairy cows grazing the road verge, chooks roaming about and tractors swaying along the streets towing all manner of car-accident-inducing machinery. You also cannot fail to notice the big stick nests on top of the telegraph poles.
‘Yeah mate turn right at the nest, you can’t miss it’
These impressive structures are put together by white storks Ciconia ciconia. It’s common to see one, and sometimes two, of these magestic birds sitting inside their nests, their heads visible above the densely packed sticks, or standing proud surveying their domain.
Driving between Poland and Ukraine, I would pass through a town which had a healthy quantity of stork nests. One particular nest was atop a pole that was set in a roadside culvert, allowing a better view into the avian abode. Each time I would pass, I would slow down to see who was home. Apparently males and females look the same, although the blokes are larger. Having not had much to do with storks, I can’t pick them apart. I would cruise by for a…ahem…sticky beak, and watch the male/female moving sticks about, standing there looking regal, or sitting down taking a breather on his/her eggs (it’s breeding season here in the Polish springtime). Being a forward-thinking species, both mum and dad incubate the eggs.
Luckily for the storks, their diet doesn’t crossover with ours, so farmers are happy to have them around. In fact, the Poles love ’em.
So much so that they install steel baskets on top of power poles to provide them with nesting sites. LovePoland website reckons that 25% of the world’s white storks nest in Poland, and therefore ‘every fourth white stork is a Pole’.
The nest site outside ‘Lucky’ Aleksander’s house was always the last to be taken up
I was talking to the owner of a flat I rented in Warsaw, and I mentioned the storks that I had seen on the drive to the city. He started telling me about the ‘storks bring the babies’ legend, and bam! I was transported back to the TV room bookcase and ‘Where Did I Come From’.
Tracing the myth back into the mythsts of time, the stork and baby tale may have begun in ancient Greece. Apparently back in the mythic times there was a beautiful queen called Gerana. Gerana knew she was hot, so got a bit full of herself and was disrespectful to the gods. The goddess Hera didn’t like her attitude and promptly turned her into a crane (which in my opinion was in turn disrespectful to the crane, as they were considered an ugly bird). Unsuprisingly, Gerana was displeased, and tried to steal Hera’s son. Ok so a crane isn’t a stork, and a stork swooping down and pinching some godesses kid isn’t exactly the same as a benevolent bird bringing swaddled infants to your doorstep, but some people who don’t mind drawing a long bow (like I don’t mind writing a long sentence) reckon there might be a link.
More likely, the Polish myth of storks and babes was linked to the ancient pagan calendar. Back when Paganism was the biggest game in town, Midsummer’s Eve was a time to celebrate marriage and fertility. For those who didn’t waste any time in consumating their summer solstice marriage (if you need any more details on consumation please refer to ‘Where Did I Come From’), their babies would appear right about the time the storks would arrive back in Poland after overwintering in Africa. Storks turn up, babies turn up. Makes sense, doesn’t it?
Not only do the Poles love the storks because of the baby myth, apparently a stork nesting on or near your house will also bring you good luck. Further, the presence of a nest will protect your house from fire, perhaps due to the storks need to collect every stick and branch in the neighbourhood to build their bastard-big nests. Poles reckon that nesting storks will also protect your house from lightening strikes. As lightening looks to channel itself to the ground via the highest point, I suppose a stork may inadvertently sacrifice itself by building a nest above the roofline. (Interestingly, whilst at footy training one night during a thunderstorm, none of my team-mates would go near me for a similar reason.)
Not only do myths and a general affection for the storks ensure they can return each year to nest in Poland unmolested, they are also protected under Polish law. Considering there is not much space left for nature in Europe, I reckon it’s great the way the Poles look after them.
Apparently ‘Where Did I Come From’ remains in print to this day, perhaps also engendering interest and respect for the majestic stork. Not to mention still getting parents off the hook.
Check out this amazing Polish stork-cam
For more on the Polish storks check out lovePoland
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