Seton and Vadim Gorbatov

Vadim acknowledged Seton as an influence before he ever visited us in NM.

When a Korean publisher asked him to do a version of Seton’s Lobo, the story of a youthful Seton’s capture of a notorious cattle- killing wolf in late 19th century New Mexico, we sent background images to him in Moscow. He in turn gave us an original two page spread.

You might think he had lived here all his life.

Cherkassov from Vladimir

Vladimir Beregovoy now has copies of his translation (with a slight assist from me) of Cherkassov’s East Siberian Hunter to inscribe. I am not sure of the price–25?– but postage (for a BIG book) is only $5. Jim Cornelius at Frontier Partisans, Dan On the Rock, and Constant Commenter (and wild canid maven) Lane Batot are fans–check it out!

(Jim adds: “And yes, that’s a Vadim Gorbatov painting on the cover. Huzzah!”)

Vladimir Beregovoy

1507 Mountain Valley Road

Buchanan, Virginia 24066

Former vol 2 cover, now back:

Original illos:

Cherkassov at last!


After several years, I am happy to announce the publication of A.A.Cherkassov’s 1865 Notes of an East Siberian Hunter, translated by zoologist, eminent cynologist, and “dog in law” Vladimir Beregovoy of Virginia, with a little help from me. It is available as a large format, good- quality print on demand paperback of 439 pages, for [To come shortly– around $20 I think], from Vladimir at his address:

Vladimir Beregovoy
1507 Mountain Valley Road,
Buchanan, Virginia 24066

(The shipping is about $6.00 (book rate) within the US.)

UPDATE: V doesn’t have any yet but here is a link to order directly from the publisher. You can always send it to him to sign!

It is a unique book, and I should quote at length from my even longer foreword. The editing and captions could be better, and if Vladimir makes some money, will be. But the text is worth every penny.

“The book itself is remarkable. Cherkassov’s biographer Felix Shtilmark says it resides on the imaginary “golden shelf” with those of such masters as S.T. Aksakov, who wrote not only novels but books on wildfowling and fishing, and Ivan Turgenev, whose Hunter’s Notes is as good as, if more obscure than, such classics as Fathers and Sons. All these have been translated into English, but until now, Cherkassov has not. Yet his is a book any modern naturalist or hunter will find fascinating; it will also be of value to any historian or scientist who reads with care. Notes is encyclopedic, including technical information on guns and traps, observations of animal behavior that are still fresh today, and even, perhaps, bits of fiction and legend. ; if , in the course of all his years, Cherkassov encountered or observed anything that he did not include in this book, I would be surprised.

“It is also, according to Felix Shtilmark and my friend Vladimir Beregovoy, a treasure trove of archaic Siberian dialect and expression. I cannot judge this, but I can testify that while Shtilmark’s intro and the occasional footnote read as modern English, Cherkassov’s personal voice is that of a garrulous old backwoodsman, full of fire and prone to digression. The educated scholar within him notices everything with a keen predator’s eye; Cherkassov apparently observed many zoological phenomena for the first time. (Shtilmark cites among other things the breeding period of hoofed mammals, the mating habits of capercaillie, and the natural history of Siberian bears). But the voice rambling on in the foreground remains that of a shrewd but somewhat superstitious old countryman, above all that of a “passionate hunter”, a phrase that occurs again and again.

“It is important for the American reader to realize that Cherkassov lived not just in another century, in another country, and on another continent, but in another world than ours. It is possible and sometimes informative to see the ethnically- Russian free Siberian hunter, the “promishlennik”, as the equivalent of a North American sourdough or Rocky Mountain fur trapper, but their situations were quite different. America’s western frontiers opened after the American Revolution ended and were closed after Manifest Destiny, the railroad, and the Indian Wars, only about a century later. Whereas the first Cossack trappers started to explore east of the Urals as early as the late 1600s, and much of the immense Siberian forest is still roadless today. While there have always been a scattering of free trappers, smallholders, and remnant Native tribal peoples living a free hunter’s life there, it is well to remember that Nerchinsk, Cherkassov’s first Siberian post, was to quote Shtilmark “…known mainly as a place of exile and penal servitude”.

“It was a magnificent and beautiful but harsh environment, containing dark taiga and deciduous forest, with isolated mountain ranges and bogs and dry steppe and permafrost, where hunting and trapping and logging were all pursued with enthusiasm and no thought for conservation. That modern concept did not even exist. Despite Cherkassov’s obvious intelligence and sensitivity, he never quite “gets” this principle. While he laments the disappearance of game again and again, he doesn’t make the connection that seems obvious to us today. He bemoans the diminution of herds, the absence of entire species from where he hunted them when he was young. Then, for instance, he will say in his chapter about capercaillies (the largest species of grouse, now considered the trophy of a lifetime in some western European countries), “…I would repeat once more that spring hunting at the singing sites is very productive [emphasis mine], delivers great pleasure to a true hunter, and is very interesting to a nature lover.”

“Cherkassov’s promishlenniks and natives were both subsistence hunters who pursued various game animals summer, fall, winter, and spring, in rutting season and in breeding season and in their dens. Some– never tender- hearted Cherkassov himself – show a cheerful, almost heartless lack of empathy that borders on cruelty, with their elaborate traps and occasional gruesome practices. I mean this less as a condemnation than as an anthropological observation. These men lived hard, poor lives as predators among predators, ultimately as innocent and fascinating as their prey. But a few practices can make a reader who is not used to country matters flinch.

“… there are two kinds of delights in Cherkassov’s Notes. The first consists of his endless “facts”, his mixture of everything from instructions on how to shoot firearms originally designed in the 17th Century and keep them working (he calls such weapons “primitive” in 1865 though I saw the same type used in Mongolia in the 1990’s) to the sex habits of carnivores. These things were as fresh to the young administrator from Russia’s European west as they are to us, and his enthusiasm for learning them is contagious. As an example, he tells you how local tribesmen cook Mongolian marmot or “tarbagan” “They clean the animal of hairs and entrails and, very skillfully, remove all the bones and fill the ugly- looking corpse with hot rocks. They quickly close the opening by sewing it up, and roll the whole thing on the grass until it is ready.” Unlikely? I can testify that I have eaten marmot cooked by that method in Mongolia in the late 1990’s!


“The other delights in Notes of an Eastern Siberian Hunter are his narrative and poetic set pieces, some with the feel of tales passed around the campfire among friends, some as lyrical as any in Russian literature. [Here] He tells of a tiger (“babr”) that befriends an Orochon tribesman who frees him from a trap as though it happened yesterday. “The exhausted babr fell heavily onto the moist ground; he lay for a long time, moaning like a human. Then he came to his senses and called the Orochon again, but this time in a much nicer tone than he had before. The Orochon did not hesitate and quickly came to the babr who tried by all his means to express his gratitude, licked the Orochon’s hands and feet, bowed to the ground (I do not know how he could do that), walked away, and brought firewood. The Orochon started a fire. The babr brought a roe deer for him. They had breakfast together. From then on the babr lived with the Orochon and helped him by bringing him game…”

[A terrifying fire on the steppes] “Fire, driven by wind like a wall, spreads over the steppe with incredible speed on the flat surface, burning down all the remaining yellow grass, small steppe shrubs, reeds and everything that can burn, turning it all into ashes and raising the remaining ashes into the air in a vortex which together with clouds of white smoke is lost in the darkness of wide open space. The all-devouring flame may be so strong and moves with such a speed that herds of horses and sheep, caught by surprise, cannot run away from the flame and are scorched…The stars in the skies become paler and stop flickering. Suddenly, you see that the fire weakens; in some places it has died and in some places it is still crawling through the dry tops of grass; finally, it dies everywhere with only some single sparks still running in the dry grass. The surroundings become dark; behind the swirling smoke stars appear in the skies, looking down on the charred steppe after the fire. You may think: why has the fire suddenly stopped and died? It is not difficult to understand: the fire came to a creek, could not cross it, and died. But now, look, the wind has started to blow and a barely-glowing ember on some stem leaped to another one, onto the third one; or the wind has thrown a smoldering horse apple, and the fire has again reached dry vegetation, reviving the flame, which again becomes a wide sea and runs further on the wide steppe. The noise and crackling resumes and stars in the skies become dimmer and the crimson flame is again reflected on the dark skies, lighting the surroundings.”

Notes from an East Siberian Hunter is something unique for the English speaking reader, for hunters, naturalists, black powder shooters and anthropologists, historians and Russophiles. Constant commenter Lane Batot, who read the ms, adds a few thoughts below; then, I will leave you with Cherkassov’s own send- off.

Lane: “AWRIGHT! I hope I can afford a copy! SPLENDID cover! I still can’t afford Vladimir’s primitive dogs book-last I looked on Amazon, it was “only” $189.00!!!!! Although nobody knows who I am, SOMEBODY should mention(in a promotion blurb) that naturalists as well as hunters will find much valuable and fascinating information in it–this will help sell more copies to a wider audience(as hunters as a cultural group are becoming rarer and rarer, as you well know!) But heck, that cover alone will sell a bunch of copies, I’d think!…”

Alexander Alexandrovich adds:

Hunters! Read the truth I wrote:
I hope you find I told it well.
Ask not what I do not know.
I told you all I have to tell.

And here is VB with his old laika Alik

Two Links

Vadim Gorbatov has his own website at last! It is in Russian but just click around– you don’t need language to appreciate a great painter.

Click the second button (“Novosti”) for not only tigers battling bears but great sketches and images including ones on this Samurai falconer.

You can buy his prints from Al Gates– links in post below.

Also, though I am almost embarrassed to so to speak recommend myself, the Suburban Bushwhacker has just done a perceptive and moving review of Querencia- the- book. Thanks, Sten!

Back Again… (and Guests)

Only this time I have never left– just been ridiculously busy. To reassure– my health is the best it has been in a year, though my vigorous and always expanding exercise routine takes up a surprising amount of time, and neglecting it brings on a slide if I do it very long.

Add guests to the mix and one runs out of hours in the day (and sleep is also important for controlling PD).

I think the Russophile “motif” and the Asiaphile one (is that a word?) has reached critical mass in my life, work, and the environs of Casa Q. About two weeks ago we knew that two of the people we term “The Russians”, Australian- born, Ukrainian- derived Denverite Peter Reshetniak and his associate, merliner Anne Price, were on the way. Russians? Both, who also run the Raptor Education Foundation , are Russian speakers who brought our friend Vadim Gorbatov to the US, including Casa Querencia and the Golden Spur, a few years ago.

We also knew that Lauren, subject of innumerable posts here and now the official first female Berkutchi, was coming to tell us of her Fulbright year in Bayan Olgii Mongolia, and brainstorm on travel writing before she was off to a remote cottage in Scotland to fly a slightly smaller (big male) eagle and work on her book.

What we didn’t anticipate were an email from another young American off on a Fulbright to study eagle-ry in post- Soviet Asia, this time in Kyrgizstan! Dennis was in Santa Fe and was leaving California for Bishkek, Kyrgizstan, about as far from our beloved Almaty as, well, Santa Fe is from here. He was leaving in a week and had been inspired in part by Eagle Dreams; could he come by and pick my brain? He did, and I attempted to fill it with info and contacts for about three hours. Dennis is not a falconer (yet) but has Russian and some Turkic and has read at least one anthropological Russian work on birds of prey in Inner Asian culture that I want but that is beyond my feeble Russian. (He was a high school exchange student in Almaty–!– has kept up with his “family” there, and went to Olgii to see eagles off season). My network has responded and we hope for dispatches from Bishkek.

And just to bring the whole situation to the edge of absurdity, we walked into the Spur after one group left and a local rancher in his forties came up to introduce his new girlfriend who he said had a special reason to meet us. Her first words were “I speak fluent Russian and I’d love to go to Mongolia.” She was not exaggerating– had worked in Moscow for two years– and also turned out to be a mathematician and a pilot. “Bodio’s law” is “everybody knows everybody”, meaning closer than six degrees– you just have to dig. Its corollary is “All roads lead to Magdalena/ The Golden Spur Bar”. (That one is so true nothing shocks us– in addition to “Names” I have talked to someone there in from Beijing less than 48 hours after the Tien An Min Square massacre, who lost a friend there; a guy who had just worked in a village targeted by the Sendero Luminoso; and less ominously, a rich Ugandan who kept a Mercedes up on blocks in his garage, was obsessed with goats (“Do you have GOATS in America?”) and who lost a bet to the Beijing guy that I wouldn’t know Kampala). That all said, things were as they put it in cowboy land “real Russian” here this week.

I have planned a lot of blogging with links but at the moment links will not cut and paste. (I typed the ones above, and don’t know if they will work yet). I am now going to try to put in photos.If THAT doesn’t work I will post anyway and cry for help. If it does, I have more photo stuff for another (single) post, courtesy of Lauren. Wish me luck, and see you soon I hope.

Aaahh, photos work anyway. (All will “embiggen” if clicked on). Below, game dinner (rare grilled Canada goose breast slices, with a pomegranate marinade, and pheasants, brought by the “Russians”, at cellist neighbor Joel Becktell’s. Joel will be the subject of a post himself soon when I get the frackin’ links working. From left: me, Anne, Peter, Libby, Joel.

The inhabitants of the living room: Ataika, Irbis in his crate, the redhead (who is now doing high jumps).

And, finally, a pic of Lauren HERE with us, rather on horseback on snow, eagle on glove; at rest for a fleeting moment:

John Vaillant’s The Tiger

Here it is, Q- Philes– John Vaillant’s The Tiger: a True Story of Vengeance and Survival is finally out this week. It is better than good– my favorite book of the year so far, and a likely classic in my rare favorite genre, that which documents (to use a book title) “the edge of the wild”, that interface where humans and “nature” are not artificially separated but in conflict or cooperation, acting on each other.

Tiger is a non- fiction book that reads like a novel, set in “Primorye”, the Russian Far East– not “Siberia”, despite its desperately cold winters– but rather a huge block to the east and south of Siberia, a rugged place of mixed deciduous forests, few roads, a flora and fauna mixing the temperate and the subtropical (like leopards and tigers), inhabited by a never- prosperous populace now eking out their lives by such expedients as beekeeping and subsistence poaching.

Its protagonists are a single huge tiger, a ragged bunch of drunken poachers, and a patrol of anti- poaching rangers dedicated to protecting tigers over a huge area, with no money and inadequate tools. The beginning, as an unnamed hunter and his dog approach a dark cabin on a freezing evening, is a masterpiece of tension and quiet terror; the ending is utterly cinematic but real (the book is based on over 200 interviews). In between, Vaillant skilfully cuts from one “protagonist” to another, building an almost unbearable tension even as he dramatizes the serious issue of Asian poaching.

He manages to evoke sympathy for a man- killing tiger that outdoes any in Corbett (at one point he drags a mattress out under the shelter of a spruce to await his next victim in comfort; waits for another IN HIS BED; toward the end,`a la Kipling’s “Letting In the Jungle”, he appears to be contemplating the elimination of a village), but also for destitute subsistence poachers tempted by the Han Empire’s eternal appetite for animal parts, and above all for the underpaid, overworked, and threatened Russian rangers, who use SKS’s in 7.62 X 39 (on brown bear, moose, and sadly tiger if they must) because they are the BEST rifles available! (Regular readers will recall previous posts on my love/ hate for this working man’s rifle and cartridge– more later, but I would never use it for such animals if I didn’t have to!) On the other hand, a scene where a poacher pulls the trigger on an ancient Mosin and, instead of the firing pin falling, in the words of James McMurtry it “didn’t, quite…”, doesn’t end well; perhaps the rangers are doing the best they can.

(In fact, my only extremely minor quibble with the book is re firearms: if you know a bit it can be momentarily confusing; if you don’t, though, you won’t even notice. But a poacher’s badly- handloaded 16 gauge single- shot shotgun is not a “rifle”, and using a thing like that to try to poach an Amur tiger is the exact kind of drunken Russian foolery that is likely to bring on Nemesis, on wheels, with no brakes…)

But really, a quibble– this is an amazing book, one to stand with Arseniev and Corbett, its worthy predecessors. Annie Proulx sent me an early galley, asking that I return it as soon as I finished, and I was so blown away I asked– well, demanded!– another copy from the press, to quote to my friends until the real thing came out months later. On the Amazon site she says:

“The Tiger is the sort of book I very much like and rarely find. Humans are hard-wired to fear tigers, so this book will attract intense interest. In addition to tiger lore and scalding adventure, Vaillant shows us Russia’s far east and its inhabitants, their sometimes desperate lives interwoven with the economics of poaching and the politics of wildlife conservation… This is a book not only for adventure buffs, but for all of us interested in wildlife habitat preservation.”

Another good writer, Sy Montgomery’s friend Liz Thomas, adds:

“In it are chilling accounts of human encounters with tigers—but these encounters, however fearsome, convincingly demonstrate the role that these enormous cats continue to play in the natural world. Equally compelling are the people of Primorye, those who of necessity must hunt the tigers, and those who would preserve them. To call this book a page-turner is an understatement.”

I rarely quote other writers in praise of a book I like– as anyone who knows me knows, I am secure in my opinions (!) But in this case, I think this book is so good I want to remind readers that writers I respect and who like MY writing– “friends of Q”– are as over the top about The Tiger as I am. Run don’t walk…

Not- so serious links

Dr Hypercube has three great links from English Russia which you should also visit, on reindeer races, Ukrainian Amazons, and wildly implausible airplanes, some of which actually existed (see here.)

The charm of the first is partially linguistic: “People bring their best deers and race, race, race. The looser deers are being eaten then, like, they did not satisfy the expectations, giving the big meals to everyone.” The charm of the second is the concept. And the third– well, you really have to see it!

Hounds

The Asian tazi gene pool continues to expand– Vladimir now has three, in addition to mine and their offspring.

Puppy Urtak is somewhat related to my dogs, and is going to be huge.

Here he is at only four months with the full- grown female, Adel, who is closely related to mine. Timur, a young male, is from Saint Petersburg and of a completely different line. We may outcross to him.