Notes from the Field

A Day of Rest

August 19th, 2010 by Joanne Howl

Stepanova, Siberia   58.67 N 86.76 E

10:35 pm Siberia local; 11:35 pm next day EST

High: 58 F     Low: 47 F   Scattered rain

This has been a hard day for me.   I have been a little sick with a cold for several days, but today I am just exhausted, with no energy at all.  I had to make the very difficult decision to stay in camp.  

I want to be in the field, working.  But if I get in the field and have to quit, or can’t walk fast enough, then we may get less data than we should.  It is standard protocol that we don’t take people in the field that can’t keep up.  And today, that is me.  It has never happened to me before, and I am taking it pretty hard – but it’s necessary for the expedition.  

The others, except for Slava, went out as usual to make measurements.  They did a great job, too.  They returned to camp very late, with measurements from 14 plots.  I understand that the forest is mostly upland, with moderately dry soils.  Scots Pines are the predominant tree, with some other species mixed in.  They reported that there were some really outstanding old Aspen trees – some they estimated to be as old as 100 years old. 

The camp is right on the bank of the river here – the Ket River.  The ground is sandy and soft, and the weather is cool.  We have some rain today, but just scattered rain and clouds, then some sunshine.

There is a hayfield behind our camp and the grass is ready for cutting.  This morning we looked up and there were people there, working just behind the tents.  They just sort of appeared from nowhere, very quietly, cutting the hay by hand.  They had these big scythes – just like the grim reaper is supposed to carry.  They are continuing the traditional harvest, just as it has been done here for many centuries.

They waved to us, and Slava went out to talk to them.  Pretty soon I saw him with a scythe, helping them harvest.  He did a pretty good job, too.  When he returned, he was smiling.  He said it reminded him of when he was a boy. He used to go harvest like that with his Grandfather. 

Slava made a run into town today, and came back with milk and newly made bread, some onions and cottage cheese.   The people at the market gave him some smoked fish to try.  It’s a type of carp and it comes from local rivers.   The dried fish still has the bones in it, but you can pull the flesh away and it tastes pretty good.   Slava also tried his luck at fishing today, but said he caught nothing in the river.   And he set up a new tent.  This one is tall, so we can stand up in it.  For the rest of our time here, it will be our “office”, where we can work together if it rains, and maybe we’ll be able to zip it up to keep the mosquitoes out. 

The biggest chore for the day was fixing the grey UAZ.  There was something wrong with the electrical system. Slava said he couldn’t turn the headlights off anymore. Even when the car is turned off and he takes the keys away, the lights still burn.  That’s not very good, and it drains the battery, so it had to be fixed.  Slava had the car all apart and wires in his hands for most of the afternoon.   And, of course, he succeeded.

After he fixed the electrical system, he took every bit of everything out of the car and scrubbed it well.  Then he applied sealant to the seams in the floorboards.   They let dust in yesterday, and he thinks that made my cold a lot worse, so he wants to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

I don’t think I described the dust-storm in the car very well yesterday.   We were driving on a good, paved road, with Ross and I sitting in the back seat.  I was very tired, so I fell asleep.  We hit a bump, and I woke up with a start.  My head was down and all I could see was this white cloud billowing up between my feet.  I thought the car was on fire.

I got all excited and yelled at Slava, “pull over, pull over!”  Slav asked “Jon, what do you mean by ‘pull over’?”   “I mean stop the car!” I yelled.  He said no, he didn’t think we should.  Then Ross informed me that it wasn’t fire, just dust.  The tires were tossing road dust up against the wheel well, and it was billowing in through holes in the seams of the floorboards.

For awhile I tried to cover the holes to stop the dust.  I grabbed maps and papers and all sorts of stuff.  Then finally I gave up – and found a dust mask in my backpack.  I put that one, and tried to go back to sleep.  That’s why Slava is fixing it.  Oh – I found out this is NOT Slava’s personal car – it belongs to the Sukachev Institute.  Obviously, it must always need a lot of repairs, because Slava appears to be a very practiced mechanic. 

So Slava’s day was very busy.  As for me, I took some pictures for the blog and thought about making dinner for the homecoming of today’s “Heroes of the Expedition”  But our heroes had taken all the supplies for dinner with them, so they had to help cook when they got back.   I hate to say it, but what I did, mostly, was lie in my tent and sleep.  It’s no way to spend an expedition, but it’s the only way to get myself well again. 

I did help fix the car – okay, well let’s be more accurate and say I made a contribution.  Looking at the cracked windshield gave me an idea.  I dug around in my backpack and found the adhesive that I like to carry along.  It’s called Gorilla Glue, and it’s great for sticking just about anything together.  I offered it to Slava, thinking it might stabilize the windshield.  He liked the idea, and now the UAZ has Gorilla Glue on both the outside and inside of the windshield.  Maybe it will hold together until we get back to Krasnoyarsk. 

While I lay in my tent today, I started thinking about animals.  When I drive around near my home in Maryland, I always see lots of mammals and birds.  There are lots of animals that live in Siberia, but we don’t ever seem to see many when we are on expedition. Maybe they stay away from people, because they aren’t used to seeing many of us.  Or maybe we just make too much noise – that’s certainly true when we are working a plot.  We’re cracking through brush and yelling out numbers. No self-respecting animal would hang around when fools like us are in the woods.   Whatever the reason, the only four-legged wild things I’ve seen so far have been a couple of squirrels and a few skinks. 

There are birds here, though.  Southern Siberia seems to have a lot more birds than the far north, where we traveled the last two expeditions.  So far I’ve seen hawks, pigeons and magpies.  There are two types of crows – a black one and a gray one – and I’ve seen both.  There were some swallows feeding their young and a flock of heron-like birds that flew overhead.  The best bird I’ve seen was the Siberian nutcracker, a Nutifraga species, which is called a “cedarbird” here.  This bird eats the seed of the Siberian pine, and through this habit, helps the tree reproduce.  Since I like Siberian pine, I have a soft spot in my heart for this little bird. 

Today has been a quiet day for me – a day of healing and meditation.  For the rest, it was a long day of hard work, as usual.  The night has come, with cool air that makes the prospect of snuggling into a warm sleeping bag very attractive.  It’s great sleeping weather.  Hopefully a good night’s sleep will bring me a healthier tomorrow, so I can go back to the forests with the team.  They are already asleep – the morning comes soon in Siberia.

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