Story 16 - Horizons of Snow.
We looked down through the small window of the plane; "It's so untouched, so rich, so wild, so
beautiful," she said.
"Yes it is beautiful," I agreed. Still, the thought became stronger that we hadn't come here to look at the open taiga. I whispered something like this to Anton.
"Nicolai has arranged everything with the commander of the Reindeer Research Station," she whispered back. "The commander and a couple of scientists, know what we are coming for. The rest of the people know only our cover story. Even Rostislav knows nothing more. Nevertheless, he has been instructed to keep our destination and our visit a secret. He can be trusted with this."
Moments later Anton pointed to the ground again where she had spotted another herd of reindeer. "Did you know that there are two million reindeer in Siberia," she asked, while I had taken over the small window that we shared. "We have 80% of the world's reindeer population in Siberia. They are bred mostly on collective farms now, and on feed lots, which is far more efficient for raising them, than shepherding herds across an icy land. The wild herds that we see are not harvested anymore, they belong to the land."
Her face radiated with a great pride whenever she spoke about Siberia. This pride seemed totally justified. What I saw was a beautiful land, a land of blue shadows, white trees, and a deep blue sky. Except her pride in it was more beautiful than the land itself.
"It is a free land, for free people," she remarked. Watching Antonovna, I instinctively sensed that this was her land, something she owned as a citizen, something she identified with, that provided her an immense satisfaction.
It was altogether a lovely experience flying with Antonovna. We had our faces glued to the window. It was amazing the things she knew and noticed. She talked about trappers and prospectors who had pioneered this land, and about today's communities serving the Soviet era infrastructure projects. Everything was exciting to her, even the shape of the mountains, as well as the bright future that this land signified to her.
In her company, the two and a half hour flight seemed like a short jump. We landed on a frozen river or lake between three hills that formed a triangle. Landmarks are scarce in this endless wilderness of ice crusted trees, and apparently, so are good landing sites. The chosen site was perfect. We came in smooth, with a gentle approach and an almost unnoticeable landing. Everything in sight was clean and brilliantly white, unmarred by the least sign of civilization. There weren't even footprints in the snow where the aircraft came to rest. By all accounts we had landed in the middle of nowhere. Nor did anyone get off. The pilots kept the engines idling. Still, the captain did say that this was the end of the line. There was
the occasional chatter on the radio, except there was no one around. As far as I could see, there weren't even animal tracks in the area. It looked to me as though nothing had stirred in this part of the country for thousands of years.
Suddenly, as out of nowhere, a huge tracked vehicle appeared. It lumbered down over a snowbank. Antonovna gestured that we should step outside. One of the crew handed us snow shoes. The snow appeared far from being solid enough to walk on. The plane, on its wide skis, had carved deep furrows.
Uh, was it cold, though. The sun was bright, and quite warm behind the window of the heated aircraft, but what a deception this had been! The wind carried tiny ice crystals that stung like needles in the face. But who cared? I was in the Siberian wilderness that few in the world had ever set foot in. It was exciting.
"Welcome to Oymyakon International Airport," shouted the driver of the snow cat in English. He looked down on us from his huge snowmobile, something out of a science fiction movie, and grinned. "Come on up." Then a side door opened.