January 01, 2002

Duck Devil and Little Wolf

We threaded our way down the aisle of the stuffed Yak-40 airplane, between bundles of dried fish and bags of onions, to claim the last three empty seats. Incongruously, a huge bouquet of crimson, long-stemmed roses occupied in its own seat.

We were flying to Tilichiki, a small town on the east coast of Kamchatka. But our ultimate destination was the tiny Koryak village of Vvenka, and the only way to get there in April was a two-hour snowmobile ride south from the airport.

The summer before, Jon (my husband) and Misha had been storm-bound in Vvenka for three days during their sea kayak journey from Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky to Alaska (see Russian Life, March/April 2001). After the storm, while Jon and Misha were loading up their kayaks to continue their journey, Moolynaut, the grandmother and shaman of the village, hobbled down to the beach. She urged them to return for the spring festival and to help her adopted sons, Oleg and Sergei, buy some reindeer for Vvenka. It’s not everyday one is invited on a pilgrimage by a Siberian shaman, so Jon and Misha accepted immediately and asked me to come along.

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