Autumn in the Oak Woods Summary

Summary (Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

A young man living in a hut above the Oka River in northern Russia goes down to a makeshift dock, at which he is expecting a woman to arrive. He is apprehensive because he is not sure she will come. After he has waited anxiously for a few moments, the river boat finally docks, and she steps gingerly ashore. They are shy with each other at first as they climb the hill back to the hut, but the initial discomfort goes away as he shows her the beauties of the area even in the darkness, relying mostly on the sounds and smells. Using his lantern, he points out to her the white feathers of the chicken eaten by a fox and the mountain ash berries he uses to make his own vodka. Her reserved reactions reveal that she comes from a different region—that of the White Sea and the frozen tundra.

Back in the hut, the cozy stillness and the crackling fire enable them to deepen the friendship they fleetingly established when they first met in her native town on the North Sea. They are still awkward, however, as shown when she asks him to turn around while she is undressing and not to keep the light on all night. They listen to a jazz melody in English that comes over the radio from an unknown source. He interprets the various instruments as acting out an unknown drama, in a way resembling the quiet drama of their meeting in the oak forest. They talk and reminisce, finally falling asleep at dawn, while the first real snow of the autumn sprinkles the windows.

The day breaks sunny and cheerful, and they go out to explore the surrounding area. He proudly shows her the heifers grazing on the gray winter grain shoots, the hardly faded dandelions, frozen mushrooms, and various kinds of trees. Despite this bravado, it becomes apparent that he is anxious to impress her so she will not be disappointed and leave him. She allays his insecurity by agreeing that it is good there. When a tug appears on the Oka River and goes away—a potential harbinger of her departure—they look at it from above, “quietly, silently, as in a white dream.” They are together at long last, and the rustic beauty around them mirrors their happiness.