Friday, January 11, 2013

Tent Life in Siberia, and Adventures among the Koraks and Other Tribes in Kamtchatka and Northern Asia

Like that title?  That is the title of a book I've been reading on Kindle.  It was originally written in 1864-65 and it's about a group of Americans who travel to Kamchatka to see if telegraph wires can be installed through Siberia and down through Russia and then into Europe.  The stringing of telegraph wire under the Atlantic Ocean shortly after that made the trip to Siberia a moot point.  However, the adventures of the young men in Siberia at that time in history is fascinating.
One of my favorite activities when I'm trying to fall asleep is to imagine the safest or coziest or most beautiful place in the world in which to go to sleep.  I have imagined small snug cabins built into the tops of huge strong trees - or - being wrapped in layers and layers of furs and warm blankets out under the Arctic sky, surrounded by sled dogs and a fire circle inside of which no wolves will come (I hope).  I have pictured the velvet ice cold sky and me lying warm in the middle of the frozen waste and the painting of the Aurora Borealis across the heavens. 
This book is like that second imagining of mine - the Arctic one, except it really happened back in the time when men loved to adventure in obscure or untrodden places.  Kamchatka at that time, and maybe even some of it today, was wild and untrodden. 
The writer, George Kennan,  was an American explorer, noted for his travels in Kamchatka region and in Russia.  He was a cousin, twice removed, of diplomat and historian George F. Kennan (2/16/1904 - 3/17/2005). 
Here is his picture from Wikipedia:
In his book "Tent Life......." (I don't want to repeat that loooong title) he describes the native peoples and the Yurts they live in.  It doesn't sound very comfortable.  The Yurts are round and fur covered.  In the middle is a fire over which, in the roof, is a round hole.  The smoke doesn't go up through the hole completely, but spreads around inside, and the hole in the roof is also the door into the Yurt.  You must climb up on top and drop feet first into the Yurt.  How you avoid the fire, I don't know.  Little fir compartments are created around the wall of the Yurt by hanging fur robes as walls.  Inside those are the various wives and children of the natives.  The little fur rooms are stuffy, smokey, smelly, dark and cold. The whole inside is cold - just not freezing and windy like being outside.  I did NOT fantasize about sleeping in one of these. 
There are also Russian people in villages that the author travels to.  Invariably, because he and his comrades are important Americans, they stay in the nicest house in the village, maybe of the priest or the mayor.  This turns out to be a snug wooden house with fur and animal skin rugs soft on the floor that your feet sink into.  There is a roaring fire in front of which one can warm up and drink hot cups of tea.  Slipping into clean sheets and blankets (after themselves bathing, of course) just sounds so delicious considering they have been slogging around freezing Siberia getting frostbite and staying in the same layers of clothes for weeks at a time.  It's the coziest reading ever when I come to one of those chapters.  The other delightful reading was when a group of Russian Siberians led the group through an area with trees.  At night, the dog sleds were arranged in a "U" shape and the Russians proceeded to dig a large round hole in the snow inside of the U.  Then many furs and skins were laid down around the outside of the shoveled area and a roaring fire was built in the middle.  The men said they were truly warm in this setup and enjoyed sleeping under the stars.  Later that night the skies erupted with some of the most dramatic auroras ever seen, even by the natives, who were almost frightened by the display.  I have to look up if there was a volcanic eruption in the world - or a giant sunspot eruption at that time to cause such a display.
This has been my go-to-sleep reading on my Ipad as I lay under my own cozy sheets and feather blankets.  It fires up my imagination and I can't wait to read more about this man's travels (he later went to the Caususus region) in Russia back in the Good Old Days.

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