Travel 2003 - Episode II
Tales from the Todzha
Mon, 28 Jul 2003
Friends and Everyone,
As usual Itís hardest to
begin, but like the surprise rain storm that just blasted in to Kyzyl sending
everyone in the courtyards running for cover Iíll do my best to run with
spontaneity and pour like the rain! I think itís been a couple of weeks since
the last entry which is about the schedule Iíd hoped to keep. Lots to tell so
here it is....
So it took a while before
the eye of the needle between natureís forces and our human modes of
transportation opened wide enough for us to make the journey to the barely
accessible northern region of Tuva called Todzha. Those of you who know the
forests of the Pacific Northwest and wetter parts of Northern California can
possibly imagine best the kind of mountainous forest we gradually became
immersed in throughout an entire day of travel beginning on the bank of the
Yenisei near the center of Asia monument.
There are three ways that
folks get to the Todzha, four if you count helicopters. By Boat (12 hours up, 7
down), Plane (1 hour) or by Monster Machine (18 hours on some of the worst roads
imaginable). Our first choice was boat of course, there hadnít been enough rain
to get the boat through an upper part of the river so we had to just wait for
the rains or take the plane --- we thought. Turned out that after two half days
of waiting at the airport for the weather to get good enough to fly they
canceled all flights for the week. We only considered the truck option for about
an hour before giving in to wait for rain....
From the journal
We are on the crowded
littlie sardine or possibly sturgeon of a hydrofoil. Lots of kids just boarded,
on their way to the summer camp we have heard about. Turned out to be the place
we were going as well called Azas at lake of same name. Another flurry of noise
as more people show up and try to squeeze into every crevice. The boat is
overbooked and now that the engine has started some are scrambling to get
Hereís a side-line to
allow the beautiful
present moment to have a say: In just the
time it has taken to write this the storm
which seemed to appear like an Apache
crown dancer instantaneously from the
north has now apparently gone east and
left the late day light to illuminate the
Immaculate concept of clean, clear energy
The engines roaring, we are
moving against the strong tide at a pretty fast clip. The rain still falls. Itís
been raining on and off for the last 24 hours or more. Heading up the Yenisey
soon to become the Biy-Khem. Vast golden rolling steppes giving way quickly to
meditative mountains. Lichen covered cliffs, with small caves. Japanese
landscape looking rocks forming walls and peaks of moss, pines and birch,
apparently endless varieties of plants whose details pass in a blur. Willows
along the banks and river bars. Rocks of warm amber-grey pink and brown
punctuated with chunks of white and slate grey.
The geology Iíve seen in
the brief time spent in parts of the south, west and now north of Tuva are
incredible and varied. Still Iím amazed thinking of the 40 types of building
materials found here.
Thoughts along the way:
Yesterday I received a
couple of follow up messages from a dendrochronologist fellow named Wayne
Hamilton who I met while living in the Port Angeles harbor aboard my fatherís
boat. I had left a note saying Ďplease e-mail meí on his car which displayed a
ĎTuva or Bustí bumper sticker (Title of book by Ralph Leighton about he and
Richard Feynmanís pursuit of an adventure in Tuva). So we had an interesting
conversation at the time over tea about our very different connections to this
far away land. For him as a scientist the account of Feynmanís insatiable
curiosity about a place whose capital is spelled K-Y-Z-Y-L was a wonderful
inspiration and it was the metaphorical Tuva that he so enjoyed visiting in his
own scientific work. If anything I live my life in the way I do to make a good
story and as my organic farming mentor Doug Hendrickson has said for the pursuit
of usefull-ness.... and happiness Iíll add.
The gist of Wayneís
messages were; ĎCan I get your journals off to the
www.FoTuva.org for publishing?í ĎYes,
after they are cleaned up a bití and could I possibly find a way to get a
circular cross-section of a 400+ year old conifer without killing one. I.E. from
a logging operation or? Well I just had to start imagining. Thinking that with
this new layer of focus when around old forests and ecologist/natural resource
specialists of Siberia maybe I would encounter such a tree that had just fallen
after a lightening strike atop a nice dry hilltop where the rings would have
grown tight enough to fit all 400 in my day pack. No such luck in the Todzha I
would find out later.
10:46 p.m. and there is
a "Naples" yellow,
soft blue and amber,
like window glow at dusk
in the northwest sky/
Thereís something that happens
when visiting any culture foreign
to us as we perceive events. We make
assumptions and sometimes understand
things backwards or just miss the truth
entirely and our mind creates something
to fill in the gap.
Navigating with questions
I have just
avoided such a creation.
Khima was telling a story about her
Husband Orlanís brother who is a
Neurologist. I <B>heard that he had just
rushed off to a powerful arjan (salubrious
spring) in an area of the Todzha accessible
only by helicopter or 4 legged modes.
To bring a stroke victim there for
What actually happened
was the reverse,
a man staying in this area who had eaten/
a-lot got a bit too much heat from the powerful/
spring and well, had stroke, coma and a rushed/
trip to the conventional hospital in Kyzyl.
I wonder how often anthropologists do this?
More notes on
A spring rolling down from
a picturesque valley. The hydro-foil cabin becoming incredibly stuffy.
Carelessly, a man tosses an empty plastic chip bag out of the window to begin
its tumble toward the Arctic. Maybe itís more strange that we tumble against the
tide and rapids toward the sources of the river. I listen to Manu Chao on
mini-disc as the condensation drips and the shrimp flavored chips fly.
Just went through a narrow
passage of extreme rapids with waves high enough to splash all the windows clean
for a brief time. The forests have become much bigger and like a last out post
before the rapids stood a small cabin, a boat dock with smaller hydrofoil. We
stopped there briefly so the crews could talk and the dogs could bark. As we
passed through the rapids a feeling of doing the impossible came over me and an
excitement very close to fear. The feeling of just barely making it on our
engine power. Imagining what would happen if the captain for a moment became out
of alignment with the direction of the current and gave the river trenches a
moment of slack with the vessel. Maybe ending up like the little rusted wreck we
passed right after coming ten feet from a giant partly submerged boulder. Now
maybe 40 minutes later we are passing meadow lands and newer forest on the flat
bars of a large valley. Grassy mounds crawling along like a heard of sheep.
Rolling mountains sparsely covered in trees as if in Oregon.
Markets/Produce in Kyzyl:
Weíve just finished a
wonderful lunch thanks to Khimaís impeccable planning. Last night she sent Amir
and I out shopping in the neighborhood for a frozen chicken, some bread and
cheese. Around the tenements there are many shops with a variety of goods. All
put together within a few blocks you have the contents of a supermarket. The
prices are relatively the same regardless if the place looks like a corner store
or a market place. Most fresh produce is sold outside by vendors from small home
farms in the country. The growing season is of course short, but very good for
growing. Plenty of rain and usually heat (this summer has had some unusually
cooler weather when the rains have come, folks say.) Potatoes, cabbage, onions,
beets, carrots, tomatoes, eggplant, strawberries and garlic are all abundant.
Speaking of chickens, we
had a laugh the other night when I decided that Iíd bring home another chicken
and all I could find were the leg/thigh portions. I got them home and Khima
insisted that this was an American chicken (literally imported) not a Tuvan
chicken (which are better, raised a bit more caringly I would guess).
The Stretch to
Toora-Khem and Azas
Aside from the several
stops in villages along the way to have a stretch the most interesting thing was
the tug ferry that shuttled us over the shallowest portion of the river in three
groups and towed the boat itself probably dragging it over the rocks a bit.
We finally arrived in
Toora-Khem in the early evening and after waiting for the Volkswagen-sized
mini-van to get a repair 13 of us piled in and were off on another Tuvan country
road at sunset cramped but trying to view the incredible unfolding scenery. The
van just about and got stuck in the mud and tipped over but the driver/camp
director unflinchingly maneuvered us through.
We arrived at Camp Azas in
the dark, hungry and tired. After getting situated in our rooms we sat down to a
meal of sausage, salty fish, noodles, cookies, tea and bread. There was a bit of
confusion when Amir and I got to our room. We had been told that just for
tonight another man would be there as well. There were three beds, one made, one
about to be made and another covered in smoked fish. Of course I tried for the
made bed close to the window. The guy who had been there for a few days already
came in and kindly told me that this was his bed then quickly started packing up
the fish. The bed itself wasnít much of a prize, very institutional and hung
like a hammock. I tried my best to exercise good humor, but found myself
irritated and already judging the situation and the place for not fitting my
expectations. The rooms were really quite unpleasant and served as a nice last
resort for resting when it was too cold, wet or buggy outside. The up-side to
this was that I wanted to spend every last minute I could outside exploring the
forests, hiking, swimming, picking berries and sitting to write or meditate in
the meadows or on the dock.
At Home in the
Blueberries at Arjan Nogan-Khol
This place deserves some
sensuous description, and yes I wrote another romantic Siberian letter in the
nude from here. What can I say, I was born nude and sometimes miss those hot
summery days in California, just me my shoes and a running hose.
I think the mosquitoes are
taking a break for a while to watch the sunset. We are back from Nogan-Khol
certainly one of my favorite places in Tuva so far. Three kilometers from Azas,
hiking through beautiful Taiga on a typical Tuvan country road, add some extra
black mud from the rich top soil. Close to the lake there is an area of rolling
hills where groups of Tuvans are camped in tents (definitely where I would stay
if I return again). The entrance to the recreation area of the lake and the
sacred Arjan has a lovingly constructed entry gate/sign, then a covered shelter
and stairway. Below is a beautifully cared for site where icy salubrious spring
water streams from halved, hollowed out trees in a network of flowing fountains.
When we arrived the branches of a fallen tree were the center of a nature alter
for fabric prayer ties and small sincere offerings. The water is absolutely icy
and pure and flows down to the warmish, shallow lake which is beautifully clear
and a greenish tint because of the mineral mud on the lake floor. When pulled up
the mud is a white-tan color and is rubbed all over the body and allowed to dry.
It claims to heal arthritis, healthy for the joints. The muddied bathing area
looks like beautiful milk, I loved swimming through it with my eyeís open,
seeing the white liquid light.
The lake is surrounded by
Taiga forest. I sit on a dry mossy mound above a little bog estuary that is a
haven for sedges, grasses, moss and a myriad of beautiful plants, flowers and
some young trees. Butterflies are dancing around on the luscious shining wet
moss --- orange and purple just like the flowers in the meadows and fields we
pass along the road here. Gentle, calming breezes pool an energetic and
meditative feeling throughout the landscape. The mid-day sun warm, but insulated
by a thin cloud cover.
After convincing Khima that
I would be fine staying here and returning alone I set out to see the area west
of the swimming hole and trails. I found myself stumbling into an absolute
blueberry heaven and once again imagined myself home in the Olympics doing the
same. Wishing Liz was here to share the experience.
I feel so grateful to be
here, filling my senses with nothing but nature and my book of writings. The
rest are probably having lunch now. I am happily satiated with berries, red
currants, pure cold healthy water and the sounds and smells of big forest. I
feel safe walking around in these forests, itís true they are foreign and I
really donít know enough of their rules, but still they feel familiar.
So thereís an incredible
amount of material to cover in this here journal Iíve been keeping so Iíll
summarize once again to provide a platform to elaborate on later.
Into the Tuvan style Tee
Pee with the summer camp kids, cover made from giant tree bark. Given tea (in a
sincerely soiled cup). After all their questions, sang them the three styles of
khoomei I know, which inspired one of them to sing khoomei as well. I told them
I knew only one American song and itís about ice cream and I will sing it but
only if they will all sing afterward. I did my cheap imitation of Tom Waitsí Ice
Cream Man. Then after some deliberation the girls went for it with a familiar
sounding song. Then the Accordion showed up with one of the older boys who
played and sang some rounds of one of my new favorite songs called Tuva Cherim
(Tuvan Land) as the fire crackled in the center. This tune has such a sweet
melody that if you need any reason to love Tuvan people and culture, this could
be it. I first heard this tune played by Andrei Mongush (from Chirgil Chin) on
accordion around the last nightís bonfire at the Ustu-Hure festival.
I associate this song now
with a dream I had shortly after the rounds with the kids.
Tuva was actually located
in/near the center of the U.S.,
but actually much closer to Idaho.
The roads of Tuva, my granny Rosie driving,
sunglasses on, looking classy.
Interactions with people
I have known and loved.
From my old home town Claremont to San Francisco and
Port Angeles, something about art shows, all very exciting.
Some personal elements regarding love and companionship.
I was very happy,
bringing the realization of Tuva to my people
The grasses of the Tuvan hillsides sang to me.
I just knew their song. Soft, serious and humorous all at once.
What a joy to be here and dream of being there, being here.
Iíll squeeze out this
little tale just to leave you hanging on the edge.
After a morning trip to
Nogan-Khol It became rainy for a while around lunch. Most of us had given in to
the warm inebriation of the rainy day bug and gone for a nap. I pulled myself
out of the spell after just 40 winks and headed out for a much needed solo hike.
I decided to return to the cliffy and rolling hills that over look lake Azas
from the north and Nogan-Khol from N.E. We were taken there the day before by a
local man my age (31) named Ezir-ool (eagle boy).
On the way here we found
the wild berry of the day, strawberry in abundance and learned how to chew pine
sap as chewing gum! A new healthy hobby for me! 4 out of 5 dentists would agree.
Believe it or not it even turns pink or purple depending on your oral chemistry.
Or maybe depending on how long you chew. Iíll be looking for research volunteers
So the world was wet and so
was I by the time I made it up and down the first hill and then into the much
wetter trail-less meadow to the second little mountain. The reason I went so far
was that I really wanted to give a valiant effort to the request from Wayne for
the tree ring. I finally found a couple of old looking trees, but probably not
old enough and certainly standing and alive. I had been practicing counting
rings in the forests and around camp for several days and now, in my exhaustion
and awe of the vast wilderness and panoramic views I knelt by the tree and asked
it how to find itís age, the thought came, Ďlisten, put your ear down low,
I found the place that felt
right and then something between hearing and seeing took place and I counted my
way into the center and determined that the tree was about 260 years old. Wonder
how close I was? So with that and a mountain meditation I headed back satisfied
that this part of the vast Todzha was incredibly wet and not the place to find a
slow growing conifer.
To wrap it up for now, I am
finally making a real attempt to learn Russian with a tutor and tomorrow will
resume my Khoomei lessons with Feodor Tao. Any free time is spent meeting with
interesting Tuvans here in Kyzyl and establishing some lasting connections and
plans for working together on projects of culture, music and educational
exchange. Iíll meet with the Ministry of Culture and Education for the second
time sometime this week to offer some ideas I have for creating an international
Tuvan culture/music center. Possibly in the San Francisco Bay Area. The Idea has
been met with great response here from musicians, academics, scientists etc. I
hope the seed will take root and inspire similar enthusiasm back home. I welcome
any suggestions, especially from other Friends of Tuva and Tuvanís living in
Best wishes, Devan
P.S. From the maker of the
above wild ideas comes this one:
Iíd like to offer my most
recent series of sculptural paintings that are based on the moving and energetic
landscapes and animal forms of the Pacific Northwest up for sale, first come
first serve. The goal being to raise some cash to:
1) Provide me with some
extra funds to purchase Tuvan Musical Instruments, clothing and artwork.
2) Donate some funds to
help rebuild the oldest, biggest Buddhist Temple of Tuva, Ustu-Hure in Chadan.
Iíll donate 20-30% to this project.
I have about 6 paintings
available which range in the size from 1 sq.ft to 3 sq. ft. (They are definitely
and intentionally not perfect squares) built of drift jetsam wood, mill scraps
and painted in vibrant colors and earth tones. Raw pigments in acrylic. Some
water color paintings are also available.
Unfortunately I canít send
photos by e-mail until I get back. And if you buy a painting it will also be
delivered when I return.
These paintings will be
sold for $250-500 (usually about $400-900) plus shipping costs.
If you are interested in
buying one or committing to one from the next series to be created in the fall
and winter please send me an e-mail and we can make arrangements.
Note: to save Devan from a perpetual deluge of spam I have not
published his email address on this WWW page --- you can email us at the email
address for_devan @ fotuva.org and we will forward the email to him.]
Keep in mind that if you
want your purchase to be of help with my current projects in Tuva you will have
to commit and deposit some cash soon. Iíll likely leave here in 3 weeks for
Please donít think that you
_have to_ buy a painting to be supportive of my work or to rescue me from
Siberia. Do it if itís affordable and meaningful to you.