The Magic Blue Box


Unfortunately, this is the only photo I could find showing the blue cooler (hidden at back right). From the spring 2006 fish owl expedition. Photograph courtesy S.V. Avdeyuk.

When Vladimirovich and I reached the Losevka River, we drove along a narrow logging road contouring the waterway and found a flat, clear spot to set camp on the riverbank. It was late May 2006, and we were toward the end of a multi-week excursion looking for Blakiston’s fish owls in the remote corners of northern Primorye.

I went to the river for some water to boil tea while Vladimirovich began preparing lunch. The first thing he removed from the pickup truck was a cooler: an average sized, light blue model with aluminum trimming that he seemed convinced had magical properties. Earlier that spring it had performed admirably by keeping perishable items like meat and cheese cool.  But now, in the heat and humidity of early summer, it could do little to prevent mold from forming on the items we stored within. Regardless, Vladimirovich was stubborn in his belief that this supernatural box would preserve food for long periods of time without refrigeration.

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An Avalanche of Misfortune


A Russian hunter on a Buran snowmobile. Photograph © Wildlife Conservation Society Russia Program

Somewhere around Day Fifteen of the winter 2014 field season a hunter named Strogov happened past our camp in his pickup truck. Strogov, a prematurely-grey, stocky forty-year-old with eyes of cold-blue steel, occasionally provided us with meat and gave us news of the outside world. He was surprised to see us still working in the area. I asked why.

“Because of the bear that killed that guy about ten kilometers from here,” he replied.

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