Poka village and lake Janukjärv
In the summer of 1973 we rented in Poka village an empty crumbling farmhouse called Sildu. Together with my husband and friends I spent all my free summer days there for four years. The place is wonderfully quiet, not one inhabited house within several kilometres. The closest was Poka mill and on the other side, Lake Janukjärv.
A married couple lived in Poka mill who made superb pickles, which were incredibly tasty even in spring when we arrived. The reason was soon revealed – they kept the barrels with pickles in the cold Leevi river in winter!
In our second summer we chanced upon an old farmhouse in the forest, with a charming orchard. The house was among hills, we saw it from above and immediately thought that this would be an even better place to spend the summer. The house was large and seemingly habitable. We walked up to it and saw a sign on the door: I am in the forest, planting. We returned to our observation post. Soon a man emerged from the house, did something in the garden and went back in. We were quite surprised, but decided not to bother him.
Much later it turned out that the man was no other but the legendary forest guerrilla (known as forest brothers in Estonia) Kalev Arro, who lost his life as late as in 1974. The farm where he was hiding was called Kirjase, owned by Hugo Russak.
In 40 years, everything here has changed beyond recognition: not a single house stands, only two remnants of the foundations remain from the farm. We tried to find some traces of the wonderful apple trees, but found nothing at all. We finally realised that the fir trees growing in a straight row used to be a hedge.
When now, 40 years later, we began to establish a pilgrimage route from Pirita to Vastseliina, it turned out that this place suited perfectly. A pretty location and interesting too. Every time we examine a bit of our route we discover fascinating associations and stories.
Walking from Vaeste farm about 2 km southward, we come to Kure-Vaeste farm and a smaller path, and then move on to the right and there is the Poka mill dam. We cross the Leevi river. The two-storey mill house has stone walls and a shingle roof. The former flour mill had two pairs of stones and ground flour, meal and groats. It was powered by a turbine and by a naphtha engine and operated until 1970. Today, the mill has a new owner who is renovating it.
Continuing along the forest path southwards, we pass the two-forked Poka pine, which has allegedly been standing here since the Swedish era (17th c.). On our way we can see the abandoned farmhouse at Sildulaane and then Janukjärv lake.
Today, Janukjärv is not exactly a well-known place, as it is not close to big roads, nor does it have a nice sandy beach. However, a long time ago fierce fighting took place on the shores of this lake. During the Great Northern War (1700–1721) the Swedes stood in the north and the Russians on the south side – for seven months! The legends tell the tale a bit differently. According to one, the drought lasted, the lake was beginning to dry up, and as there were many soldiers, they drank all the water from the lake. The Russians then raced after the Swedes across the empty lake. Afterwards, it became as it had been before.
Another tale claims that a large number of wounded Swedish soldiers once stopped in the valley near the lake; they were thirsty and wished to drink from the lake. But on their way to the lake they died of thirst – hence the name Janukjärv (thirst lake).
In 1899, a pretty barn house was built on the high bank of the lake, Tiksi farm. The site was chosen very cleverly: the houses are protected from the northern winds by the forest and much lower, in the south, is a beautiful lake. Another farm stands nearby, called Mäe Jaani farm.
Remarkable memorials are hidden all around the lake, indicating the cultural interests of local people. Not far from Tiksi farm stands a log pillar with a roof, bearing a metal plate with the text:
ANNA HAAVA / HAAVAKIVI / ESPENSTEIN
WROTE THE POEM
„THE LAKE ABLAZE AT SUNSET”
AT THE TIME WHEN SHE
STAYED AT TSÄHKNA
— · —
...THE SPIRITS OF OUR ANCESTORS
HOVERING AROUND ME
I UNDERSTAND WHAT THEY SAY...
From Tiksi village, a picturesque horse road leads to Tsähkna mill, which was unfortunately destroyed in fire in 1940. The road is about 850 m long and goes through a stream without a bridge.
An ancient barrow cemetery is by the road. On the basis of size and shape, the barrows probably date from the second half of the 1st millennium. There were 20 barrows in 1895, today there are 17 left. They are popularly known as „war barrows” and the forest where they are located, is called „Grave forest”.
The second prayer bench of our pilgrimage route (the first is in Ihasalu) is on the high bank of Janukjärv on the Tiksi farm land. The bench was consecrated on 16 December 2015 by Revd Toomas Nigola from the Church of Blessed Virgin Mary in Põlva. People attending the ceremony included friends of Pirita Convent, Põlva Peasant Museum, ministers of several congregations and the county governor.
The prayer bench is dedicated to Estonian farms and hard-working farmers. The traveller can rest here and reflect on eternity, the temporal and the timeless, distant past and the coming future.