– Kasia, do you want to visit Ms. Ela? – asked me Olek while I was scanning the old photos of our grandparents and great-grandparents he had brought from the attic.

– Ms. Ela? – I asked surprised, lifting up my head from the scanner, which in recent days became my hand luggage.

– Yes, Ms. Ela – he confirmed – the one that gave you a little money in the summer for your bike trip. Remember?

I remembered in one second. It was a sunny summer day in August, I was sitting in a rough and ready office at my parents’ terrace and kept wondering if that all was going to work. I have just started the money collection, I had already a tiny bit collected but nobody knew what was supposed to be there at the end of that road. Only then this message from Olek – my uncle, the brother of my father, equally crazy like me, who supported me since the very beginning – came:

“Kasia, 10 PLN from what I have transfered for your project is from a pensioner we know – Ms Ela, Mateusz’s “concoted” granny. She gave a little but that’s what she was able to give – and I think it’s great.”

Only then I realized that it had to work! That if there are such people like Ms. Ela in this world, who have never ever seen me and my bicycle but are willing to support me and share with me as much as they can, how can I not be able to do it?

The same exact second when I understood that “Ms. Ela” is “THIS Ms. Ela” I answered that of course we are going and that there is no other option. I scanned as much as I could, packed my scanner and we set off towards her house.

Ms. Ela lives in the forest, literally. Now, when there is a winter outside, you can see the Vistula river from between the trees. But during the summer, when the trees are full of leaves, the forest is all around – she says it’s her photomural. She has been waiting for us outside at the entrance – as she could see the car coming already from far away. Next to her was Pago – the biggest and probably the happiest dog of this world. She said that when she moved in here, Pago was constantly running away and she had to keep searching for him and saving him from different diseases he had caught on his way. One time he even visited the Christmas midnight mass in the nearby church – the local people took him to the forester and he brought him back to Ms. Ela. A few days later he has been again on his way. One day, however, out of the blue he decided to stay and since then he is not to budge from here.

Ms. Ela comes from Gdynia, the harbor city in the north of Poland – this is where she was born and spent most of her life before she had found her place in the forest next to the river. In Gdynia she did some work at the shipyard, some at some other places, she also did some studies. Her dream was to study medicine, unfortunately she was lacking some points to get accepted. This is why she chose studying chemistry instead, which turned eventually quite useful, as later on she found a job in the chemical supplies of the shipyard. The time for marriage came, followed by the time for a kid. But you have to be sure about one thing – she felt the happiest only here, in the forest, in the middle of the trees.

Here is where she was showing me the pictures of Jurek’s – her second husband’s – family. Pictures from the times of the Russian annexation of Poland, the oldest one taken in 1895 (sic!). Pictures that she keeps safely hidden in the drawer, but they are so beautiful that I couldn’t stop watching them! Some of them even dated on the back side:

Here is where she was showing me the album with the pictures from the Warsaw Uprising, telling me the story of her husband’s mother, who died during bombarding by covering the body of her then 1,5-years old son, with her own body. And the story of his aunt Lucia – the insurgent, liaison officer and first-aid worker, whose husband died a few years earlier shot in Palmiry. Before he died he managed to leave a “gryps” – a message smuggled out of the prison – for his wife. Ms. Ela also had this message in her collection, but she has lent it to someone and it never came back.

She says it feels good in the forest and that she is not sad at all. Sitting there, watching the falling snow, stroking one cat at the time, then another, cracking the nuts, drinking tea with lemon and honey, while scanning photos and chatting with her, it wasn’t surprising at all.

Duże Wiosło, Poland, 14 January 2016