We had rolled into Terney the evening before after dropping our various chauffeurs at the “wilderness lodge” on the edge of the nearby Sikhote-Alin Zapovednik. The drive into Terney was gorgeous – rolling hills of deep green forests and fields spattered with various sized bodies of water reflecting the grey sky overhead. It felt a bit like the Oregon Coast. The town itself felt different from the other towns we’d passed through. It was clean and bright and all the roofs were similar and newish. Terney is home to a large Japanese timber company which accounts for its prosperity. It’s also home to a branch of the Wildlife Conservation Society, started by an American guy named Dale Miquelle in 1992. WCS is primarily devoted to research and protection of the Amur Tiger & Amur Leopard. Their headquarters, a cozy little home/office perched on a hill overlooking the town, was our base – the most comfortable base we’d had yet, complete with tiger striped blankets & towels, and a super high-tech shower from the future. Our host, Anna, was the only staff member around and the first true red-head we’d seen in Russia. Anna made me notice how many different noses there are in the world – hers was very cute and elf-like.
After settling into our new digs and a delicious dinner featuring fresh baked bread, we headed over to another organization’s space, Uragus, where we would be presenting the following morning. On this night, however, it was our turn to be presented to while nibbling on the compulsory tea and sweets. The speaker, and our primary contact in Terney, was yet another passionate woman named Galina. She and her husband Serge (a former ornithologist for the zapovednik with the most amazing eye brows I’ve ever seen) had founded two organizations, one for adults the other for children, both dedicated to ecological conservation. Uragus, the adult version, was named after a very common bird native to the area. Among the various projects these organizations had started was an ecology club that went on hikes and camping trips in the region that included trail building; summer ecology camps for kids; an ecology olympics that sounded like a lot of fun; student/teacher workshops with all 10 villages located in the Terney region (2 of these villages are inhabited by the indigenous peoples known as the Udege); and last but not least a mini-arboretum that surrounded the building in which we now sat. We talked until 11:30 before finally calling it a night. The forecast was for rain in the morning so we went to bed not knowing if we would have much of a crowd when we awoke.
We had little reason for concern. Russians are a hearty lot and like Seattlites, a little rain is hardly discouraging. But before our schtick, we were to take a tour of the garden that Uragus had planted with the help of kids and community members. Our tour guide was a little girl with a bright pink shirt and a long red stick for pointing at things (or snapping our attention). She was incredible. If only I could recruit American kids like her to help lead our Weekend Walks. It was a tough act to follow, but Tony and Sally knocked it out of the park and as we had come to expect, the kids who participated in the ecosystem challenge demonstrated a deeper understanding of ecological concepts than most adults. My favorite part about this particular session was how the small group of slightly older kids (teens) helped out the younger ones in figuring out the ecosystem puzzle. Bandura would have been pleased with such effective modeling.
Afterwards we took it outside for some games. We were short on time, the kids wanted to run and we were dealing with a pretty big age spread. So we played a few rounds of “bear, salmon, mosquito” followed by a little “maple seed mix-up” during which I learned the Russian word for “tree” (dierova). We were joined, un-expectedly, by Helaina and the kids that had basically kidnapped me the day before. It was good to see them, and a nice feeling to have been missed. We returned to our base at the Wildlife Conservation Society where we were joined by Galina for a delicious lunch of soup, salad and bread. We brainstormed how we could help and get Vlad BG involved and came up with a few ideas, the most simple of which was to provide them with plans to install a cattle guard in their front gate to protect their garden from the “free-range” cows and goats that roam the town.
Our time in Terney had been too brief, but there was still so much to see and do. First on the list was a crappy little art museum back in Kavalerovo, and who should we find as our tour guide – Helaina, showing up yet again like a dirty penny. The first piece I saw as I entered was an intergalactic landscape scene complete with space station (Russians love space). I knew I was in for it. Featured prominently in the gallery were works by a local sculptor. When I say local, I mean 5 minutes down the road. So we went to his house and toured his garden. Oleg was not only an artist, but also a proprietor of a “banya” (sauna). I use that word “proprietor” loosely as I don’t think we actually paid anything, but sauna we did! It was terrific and if I could choose one aspect of Russian culture to bring home, it would be the banya.
p.s. If anyone out there is interested in collaborating for some sort of artist exchange, I know a Russian sculptor who’s dying to show some work in Seattle.