Explorr Mikael Strandberg

Returning to Siberia, part 4; The Last Free Man

It felt like I was part of a fairy tale. Imagine yourself, zooming through a beautiful pine forest, heavy with deep snow, shining and glittering snowy mountains on both sides, a thick cloud surrounding us, made up from the breath from 25 reindeer’s running at full speed pulling our food, tents, all sorts of gear and us, 2 Even reindeer herders, Misja and Kesja, Jegor, Bolot, Timmon, Jury and me. All of us in different levels of freezing. Temperatures were below 50, but the sun was out and every time one was hit by a ray, one felt instantly a bit warmer, but at the same time, one realized how incredibly cold and frozen almost solid one felt. After a few days my feet just felt like two big, numb limbs of ice. But it didn´t worry me, because I knew at worst it would be a bit of pain, whenever we got inside somewhere and somehow and get some Siberian warmth. Every time we took a break, mainly for Misja and Kesja to have a smoke or a cup of tea, I ran up and down to wake my feet up. I had, by far, the worst boots.  But even some of the others who had reindeer boots or some tough valenki styled boots, did have cold feet. Otherwise I was fine. My face mask did the job and my thighs were a bit stiff after a day on the back of the sledge, but otherwise I was impressed how well my gear still worked since the Kolyma expedition, back in 2004-05. Misja and Kesja, dressed from top to toe in their own hand made reindeer furs, seemed untouched by this the lowest temperatures on earth. At one stage, Misja smiled at me, just after Jegor and me got thrown off the sledges due to a bump on the trail, he said:

“Siberia is cold, yes?”

I just laughed out loud, like a primal scream from the bottom of my soul:

“Ha, ha, ha, ha!!!”

But I felt very happy being back to these extreme temperatures. Traveling in these extremes, well, it is really like a fairy tale, because it enhances your senses. Your smell, hearing, eye sight, well, even your ability to feel things kind of evolves, at least until it gets frozen stiff! Everything is so clean, so untouched and virgin. And no ruckus or noise. One feels….free. And I think it is probably one of the strongest feeling a human being can have, being free. At least for awhile. It is a feeling I wish everyone could experience, it is so pristine and wonderful. Like a blessing from above.

That is why I have carried this wish to make a documentary about this feeling, and people who kind of enjoy it every day of their life, like Misja and Kesja. they have the freedom to be free, within certain limits of course, because today, most of us humans need money to survive, and this applies to Misja and Kesja as well, since farming and herding reindeer is their job. But compared to us who are tied up with the bonds of modern society, like mortgages and loans, they live in this clean environment dominated by fresh air most of the year. I miss this life a lot, but I am ok with the modern one, since I have a family I love. But, another important aspect of being out in this extreme part of the world, an aspect I detest of modern life, is the feeling of equality. There´s no, or very little, I am better than you because I have done this and that, and belong to this club and so on, I have lots of money, you don´t and have these clothes…well, you readers know what i mean, since pretty much all of you are stuck in this rut of life! this feeling of freedom is lost for most of us, and I worry it could all be gone soon, so I´d like to do a film to show people what it is – feeling free!

Traveling with reindeer makes traveling with dogs dead boring in comparison. The speed is a major difference and you cover great distances with ease and the reindeer are as loving as dogs. But, the draw back with reindeer is of course the predators prefer reindeer. Misja and Kesja figured they lost at least 10% of their herds to the wolf each year. And than, on top of that, bears add on to that loss. We stopped at one such a kill and Kesja showed us how he had just taken the lungs, nothing else. And that is one thing which really irritates everyone who have wolf in their neighborhood, even if they more than accept the wolf being there, it is that they just kill, but eat so little of their pray. We saw tracks after wolf all over the place and one of the major reason that they brought as many as 25 reindeers with them on an outing like this, was due to the fact that they needed back up in case they lost any to the wolf.

Every now and than, we stopped for Misja and Kesja to check their traps. Some big for bears, some smaller for snaring hares. None of them had a catch. The traps get checked a couple of times a month during winter. In this extreme cold nothing deteriorates. It is an open outdoor freezer most of the year. And in the life of the Even, they don´t waste anything on killed game or reindeer, which makes up most of their diet. They really eat of every little piece of meat and when finished they take care of the bones. Including the brain, nostrils and bone marrow. According to their beliefs, you can´t throw the bones anywhere, it has to be taken care of properly. Their religion is an earth based one where spirits and the fire play central roles. During my Kolyma year, I really did understand why they have those beliefs. It is impossible not when you live 24 hours a day in the great outdoors!

Let this film below tell you the rest!

See the photo portfolio from this visit at http://mikaelstrandberg.500px.com/

Discovery Channel interview here!


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