A Nutritious Meal

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In autumn 2014 I found myself in a pickup truck on an overgrown forest road in northern Primorye with a biologist and a hunter; it was long after dark and we were far from where we needed to be. I knew of a cabin nearby, on the bank of the Maksimovka River, where we could get a few hours of sleep before continuing on. The biologist was behind the wheel and I advised him that we head that way.

It was well past midnight when we opened the cabin door to reveal a cold, single room. The biologist started the wood stove for heat and dinner while the hunter found an empty bucket and headed into the darkness toward the sound of the river for water. The stove resisted an easy light as the firewood was freshly cut and still full of moisture; it hissed in protest and burned grudgingly. Eventually the biologist coaxed a pot of water to boil and began to cook rice. Next, he dripped some oil into a pan and added a sliced onion.

The hunter meanwhile removed an unlabeled tin from his backpack and sunk his knife into its yielding surface. With a ratcheting motion he revealed the can’s contents: cooked meat of some kind, which he said was bear. When the rice was nearly ready, the hunter shook the bear meat into the pan of caramelized onion with a few brisk flicks of his wrist. I asked him where he acquired the meat. He replied that a brown bear had repeatedly raided some apiaries near Ternei, smashing hives and causing a nuisance, and he had been tasked with shooting the offending beast. The biologist then added that he’d examined the bear carcass for trichinosis—the parasitic disease that can cause one’s eyes to bleed—and noted that he’d never seen a more infected animal than that one.

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Ceding Ground

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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.

The Killing Floor

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Tachingoza Bay in the Lazovskii Reserve is only the slightest of indents along the coast; a place where the Sea of Japan tested the land’s resolve and met with firm resistance. Here, gulls cluster raucously on the sandy rises—malleable dunes that shift and reform as the sea sees fit—while shorebirds chase the receding surf to peck at invertebrates disoriented by the waves. Groups of sika deer emerge from the forest to cross a rust-colored carpet of grasses en route to the beach; their sharp hooves leaving deep imprints in the sand as they search for sodium-rich seaweed cast there by the tide. This place is, in many ways, idyllic.

It is also a killing floor. Continue reading