No electricity, only stars... Living like frontiersmen for the past two weeks.
When we arrived in Terney, we were greeted by a scruffy, dark-eyed man, who invited us in, to our temporary home. Dmitry Gorshkov, the Director of Sikote-Alin Zapovednik Nature Reserve, asked us (in Russian) if we spoke Russian. Dave and I gave our generic response: "Chut-Chut", as in, "very little". [All my Russian translations are phonetic. Don't use this as your Webster's Dictionary, seriously]. "Then I will speak in English" he replied..., in perfect English. Already, we knew we had made a wise desicion.
Our time here has been full. We have blazed two trails, hiked roughly 40 miles, and have become part-time volunteers for the Sikhote-Alin Reserve and the Wildlife Conservation Society. And, we have been scared out of our minds once --- well, Dave twice, when a rotten old tow-line snapped and sent him slidding down a cliff.
During a night hike, along the coast, under the stars, we were reminded as to why Dmitry gave us flares...
Setting out to the beach to set up a night time-lapse, we push our courage and began to follow the coast north. There are a series of pinnacles standing tall out of the water, and a small gathering of Common Seals barking, beyond the wave break. As we make our way north the beach becomes narrow, pinched by the high tide and a cliff that marks the entrance to a dark oak forest. The cliff rises and rises until it is high above us. At it's peak the stars begin to find openings between the chaos of the wiry tree trunks. The stars seem like eyes, looking down upon us. We make it past the pinch, to the safety of steeper walls and rockier shores. I admire the smooth rocks that make up the ocean floor, illuminated by my headlamp, their colors and shapes dance like a backlit mosaic.
Arriving on the other side of the bay's northern wall, we admire the stars. The Big Dipper has sunk low to the horizon. And after a long exposure, I notice a small boat out at sea. It's orange light moves slowly across the black horizon. As we head back, my boots wade through shallow water. I begin to think about the connectivity of the oceans and how the water I now stand in is the same water that breaks on the shores of Japan, some 400 km away. [Japan, an island. I move past it towards the island of Midway and further East until I pass over Hawaii and eventually hit the cliffs of California, and America, home.] Rounding back to the pinch, we walk with a steady pace, knowing that the eyes in the forest are only stars.
I stop. Dave stops.
Two eyes that are not in the forest above, big and bright, weave smoothly amongst the boulders, cat-like. The eyes stayed fixed on us, not stopping but approaching. My headlamp is fixed as well. I stare steady on the eyes as they disappear and reappear, behind uneven ground. My world has become the circle of light my headlamp creates, like a campfire, everything that surrounds it goes pitch black, with no detail. My perception begins to fail me. I can not tell if the eyes are 50 feet away or 500. Dave scans the nearby cliffs for any signs of a get away (unlikely) or Mama. [Earlier that week the Director of the Wildlife Conservation Society in Russia told us that a female tiger had been identified in the area, with several cubs.] It continues to approach, and both of us have pulled out our flares (thanks to Dmitry). We start to walk towards it, still unsure of its proximity. We walk slowly. It finally stops, lifts it's head high and stares for a few seconds. As we continue, it gets smaller and smaller. It was, indeed, a cat -- a house cat. Wanting to do the same thing, just seconds before, the tiny tigress turns and heads for the saftey of a cliff. Dave and I didn't say much after that. The stars in the forest became eyes again.
We just returned from dinner with Dmitry, and are reminded again of the hospitality and generosity of the Russian people. Tomorrow we head into the northern reaches of the 1,000,000 acre Reserve to aid a graduate student with her study of musk deer.