The River Will Come Home

The meandering and willow-lined Maksimovka River in Primorye, Russia. Photograph © Jonathan C. Slaght

In autumn 2012, a heavy rainstorm caused the Amgu River in northern Primorye to burst its banks and wash out a small section of road leading into the village of Amgu. This settlement, barely offset from the Sea of Japan by a narrow, sandy beach, was poised to be cleaved in two by the massing waters. Luckily, the escalating pressure caused a second river mouth to burst through the beach and into the bay. The water levels receded and the village was saved.

The residents of Amgu, shaken by this near-catastrophe, raised a tall, earthen dyke between the river and the adjacent road in response. This would prevent such a disaster from threatening again, they reasoned.

Two years came and went. Water levels rose and receded. Villagers, lulled into a sense of safety behind this castle wall of mud and rock, remained unaware that the Amgu River was not yet done with them. In fact, like a dragon resting on the valley’s chain, the river was waiting patiently for the right moment to arch its back, spread its wings, and breathe some serious fire.

The floods returned in September 2014.

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Ceding Ground


The sun peeled itself free of the horizon with a touch of reluctance, first spreading a dull orange stain on the Sea of Japan’s flat surface and then, once a little higher, casting the day’s first pale gaze on the frozen Serebryanka River valley. I was surprised to see the light had been preceded there by an ice fisherman; a heavily-insulated form that crouched on a tackle box and dropped a line down a hole likely bored only moments before.

Spring came early in 2015, forcing the ice fishermen of Ternei to abandon the choice locations at the river mouth and retreat upriver to sections of ice that would still hold their weight. Here, among an almost-surreal landscape of melting river ice, slush, and open water, some were able to prolong their winter vocation if only briefly. Indeed, by dusk this fisherman—who had monitored a network of ice holes there all day—had ceded even more ground to the barrel roll of spring.