It was a beautiful warm and sunny day. I was walking down a rocky road through a birch forest.
From time to time the forest was somehow gaping to lead path to open spaces.
Here and there I could see small shepherds cottages, all abandoned in several stages of ruin.
They seem to me like they were waiting for something… maybe just for the winter to crush them down and be swallowed by the earth.
Time flew and I took a shorter route on my way back to the car. While passing by what seemed like another abandoned cottage,
I heard someone calling out to me: “Hello there!” The person calling out to me was an old man named Ioan.
I never suspected someone lived there, but looking closely I could see small signs of existence here and there.
So, I paused a little, talked to him a bit, but didn’t have the chance to take any photos, since my camera battery was gone
and the backup one was still laying on a table back home. I left with a promise to return soon and visit him again.
But then life happened… and I got caught with other things. It took me almost an year to get back up there at the cottage.
On November 12, 2014, I was finally back on the road again to visit Ioan. I was glad to find him in high spirits, very much alive.
He told me he was 85 years old, a solitary man and that he liked living up in the mountains.
He had 3 sheep, 3 goats , some chickens, 2 dogs and a horse and it seem to me to be quite a handful for a man of his age.
From what I figured out, he had been up there for 15 or 16 years, but he kind of lost track of time after a while.
His most precious possessions were a hatchet and the small cottage he lived in.
Despite his age,he was still full of earthly desires, such as beer and women.
The infield was his primary income source and what sustained him over the year.
But I really don’t know how he was able to keep up with the work, considering that he was using a walking stick and could barely stand straight without it.
He must have been a strong willed man for sure.
On his cottage wall, onions were hanging up so beautifully. He seemed such an organized man!
I knew that the area he was living in was haunted by bears and that was my first question to him, how he was coping with them.
He told me he had one as a neighbour, and that they met when he went out to the springwell for fresh water.
They always looked at each other and somehow said hi before they both got back to their own business.
That seemed to me a wonderful life to have, and I would have changed places with him for a couple of days or even more.
On that day I took many photos of him, including the one that became later popular.
Since that day, I visited Ioan two more times and on my last visit, on May 2015, he seemed to be a bit weak and taciturn.
I found myself thinking on my way back, if he would make it through the winter.
On February 2016, I made my way back up there, to his cottage, to bring him two paper photos of him and mostly to make sure he was okay.
But he wasn’t there any longer…
In the window I could see his glasses and a piece of bread left on the table, just like he had left in a hurry since he was coming back.
I left with an uneasy feeling in my heart.
I tried several times to get in touch with him and go back there, but after I found the same things untouched, resting in the same places,
I started to suspect that something has happened.
And it turned out to be true. Ioan had passed away in late autumn and didn’t make it back to his cottage for the winter.
That was a sad thing to hear and I was left thinking I could have had another chance to visit him,
that I could have talked some more, and find out more about his life.
Maybe I could have cheered him up a bit with the photos.
*special thanks to Aura for refining my words