This is my 40th post in the last 12 months; a year’s-end offering of 2015’s most- and least-read stories.
1. Least Read: A Graveyard of Rust. This was my first post ever, in January 2015, which garnered a mere 26 views! These 100 words about Ust-Sobolevka, one of the most remote villages I’ve ever visited in Russia, are worth a second look.
2. Most Read: A Nutritious Meal. This story, about a long drive and a very questionable can of meat, was a lot of fun to write. And I am happy to report I did not contract trichinosis as a result.
Thanks for a good year and here’s hoping for more of the same in 2016.
When I conduct fish owl and tiger research along the Maksimovka River in northern Primorye, I’m typically with a small crew of researchers living in an encampment a hundred kilometers from the closest town. The hunters that spend the season along the Maksimovka River are our neighbors; a half-dozen men sparsely scattered throughout the river valley. They act as a critical lifeline by disclosing news about impeding storms as they pass by our camp, by sharing meat, and by adding extra muscle should a truck slide off the road.
At the same time, I’m often hesitant to engage these hunters too much. Over-familiarity can lead to foggy bouts of vodka and arm wrestling; distractions that crowd the already-tight field season schedule.
Last winter was similar to past field seasons; we’d heave ourselves up and down the steep slopes of the Sikhote-Alin Mountains counting tiger prey numbers during the day, then patrol the river bottoms for fish owls at night. Overnight temperatures flirted with the minus thirties, and the only real option for bathing was a shallow, open stretch of the Maksimovka River. Needless to say, everybody stank after a few weeks.
The Old Guard at the Sikhote-Alin Reserve in Primorye—the Soviet biologists now dead or retired—were seriously tough individuals. They lived in Ternei before that village could be reached by car; a human enclave besieged by mountain, forest, and sea. Their workplace was true wilderness where, over the years, they endured harrowing experiences as a matter of routine. One biologist recounted how he once killed a charging bear with a hatchet.
So, when one of the Old Guard began recalling his encounter with a Eurasian wolf decades prior, I sat forward. This was going to be good.