Note: This series is archived here.
I think I mentioned before that Siberian villages in the valley south of the Sayan mountains and Lake Baikal are usually small (200 people?), with tiny wooden houses and colorful shutters. J.K.:
These villages are all fenced in. Old wood with bright blue shutters. Like in the fairy tales. I think of Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf, Grandfather and Sonia the Duck and Sascha the bird, and what was the cat’s name?
It seems to me that from one of these villages you can almost see another one in the far distance. I think back to the day, decades ago, when I realized that the similar distance between small towns in the U.S. — remember them? This was before they emptied out, due to small nearby farmers selling out to Big Ag with its endless miles of GMO soybean and corn, Monsanto territory — was set by how many miles horse and rider or horse and buggy could travel in one day.
Already, during the few short months of long summer days, Russian villagers have made enormous piles of logs awaiting winter’s fires.
Our journey was winding down. During the final days we were in the foothills of the Sayan mountains, visiting another Buddhist monastery — (notice the prayer flags here, in common with Mongolian shamanic altars and other special places)
A corner detail from their restaurant.
—and then up another long gravel road into the mountains to visit an area with many springs. Walked up a long road past an outdoor market,
to bathe in the negative ions of a waterfall . . .
The night after our “methane springs” experience, on our way out to the main road . . .
We saw Lama again and he came out and waved goodbye, come back, Americans. There’s rain this morning. The sky is dense with clouds, the mountains shrouded.
This was our final day in Siberia. A day when we were to visit Lake Baikal again, this time on the western side, within easy distance of Irkutsk, at its southern end. We would fly back to Ulan Bator from there in the morning.
We had tried to get to the Lake via the Mercedes [van] and reached a fork in the road. As the immortal Yogi Berra says, when you reach a fork, take it. We deliberate; this is new territory. Some kid says something and then the guides ask a woman and so we turn right. The vehicle carrying a casket turns left.
Yes, when we stopped there for our deliberations, an ramshackle old truck rumbled up, turned left, carrying a casket!
Narrow road thru a deep fairy forest. I think of Yeats’ “Come away, human child, to the waters.” It’s very steep, and to our right the trees and to our left, again, trees but they go all the way down.
When we finally arrived at the tiny parking lot where we would begin our trek down after the lurching ride down a narrow, pot-holed dirt lane, branches switching both sides of the van, I asked Erjen, “What about lunch? Shouldn’t we have brought food?” Ever the first child of a large family, thinking ahead to what the group would need, I was concerned that without food some wouldn’t have energy to tackle the long walk UP later. Can’t remember what she said, but whatever it was I remembered that I was to trust; trust, Ann!
Then a very long walk through these enchanted woods, over rocks and crossings made of logs and planks, Elizabeth holding on to Rinchin.
Erjen holding on to daughter Mascha too! As Erjen told me later, “I had on the wrong shoes.” Hmmm. Didn’t she know what we were doing either? It was quite a long trail, down, with lots of rocks and roots, about one enchanted hour from the van to the final clearing in front of the lake. I relished every minute of it. And yet, all the while, I, and I imagine, everybody else was dreading the hike UP later . . .
Finally here’s the Irkut River, and it doesn’t flow to Irkutsk.
Oh wow! We break into the clearing and look what’s ahead. A picnic feast put on by a tiny restaurant — out in the middle of nowhere?
What a meal! Tomatoes, cheese, red pepper, bread [and much more!] at a long board of a table outside on this splendid day.
Not sure when we were told that we would not have to walk back up, but instead take a pontoon boat to Irkutsk. Rinchin and one of the other guides would run back up and drive the bus back to meet us at the landing spot. YES!
And then into the little Roerich museum. There are framed images and photos of his life, two rows of 11 each. I want to live in one of his paintings, the one with the sky bear sailing open-armed toward the sky woman.
The museum was a stunning surprise. (BTW: notice the clear, dark blue sky. No chemtrails in either Siberia or Mongolia.)
As were the gardens nestled below it that the nearby restaurant drew upon for our beautiful meal.
His paintings held me spellbound. In them I feel the mysterious communion that links earth to human to sky. I sense in his paintings a silent stillness of this vast being, studded with light and shadow, that draws draws me in and holds me close.
Afterwards, we . . .
circle up the river a bit, [close to the railroad tracks said to have been laid by political prisoners during the gulag — A.K.] as the sun sets behind the mountains. It is one of 350 rivers that flow into Baikal; only one flows out and it leads to the Arctic Ocean.
Here’s my diet: meat, sugar, cabbage, potatoes, green tea, Mongolian salted/buttered/milk tea, sometimes beets. My kidneys cannot handle this meat.
And the sweetest strawberries I have ever had, the absolute essence of the fruit bursting in my mouth.
Speaking of food, I was surprised at how few home gardens we saw in Siberia, or in Mongolia for that matter.
Aha! But here’s one . . .
I had heard that people in Moscow lived through the difficult ’90s by growing their own food in their dachas outside the city — and thought that was probably true throughout Siberia. I didn’t grok just how enormous and scarcely populated is the Russian heartland. Just the other day, I read where Putin, who in 2016 invited any American of Russian ancestry to move to Siberia, where they will receive a hectare of land, free, has now proposed that only organic food be grown in Russia, that Russia become the world’s source of organic food.
Here is another very intentional garden on the southern shore of Lake Baikal, used to supply a restaurant along the road. This little village farm is also the source of the strawberries J.K. ate. (Somewhere I heard that when the dirty industrial sawmill site in Irkutsk finally closed, that the economy then switched to growing strawberries. True?)
These garden photos, like the forest trail above, like much of the wildlife, is still to be found both here and there and everywhere — at least in certain, sacrosanct places — throughout the northern hemisphere.
Eagles, ravens, cows, horses, pied wagtails – cute little gray/black/blue/white twittery birds.
Would that we could all fly above to view with our own eyes and heart our Earth from space, to see and feel the profundity of this living, breathing, conscious Being and her immersion in the divine cosmos that we all share; would that we re-learn to pay close, conscious attention, and re-member our common roots.
May each of us open the floodgates; may each of us sense her immense vitality coursing through our veins.