BK in (mostly) BW

While our group’s professional interests are in recording the biological conditions in Lake Baikal, I found myself drawn to the village of Bolshiye Koty (from which we conduct most of our field work) when I first visited it on a preliminary scouting trip with Lev Yampolsky and Marianne Moore in late October 2011. The visit to BK, as we call it, left me with a melancholic yet nostalgic feeling. There were images and objects which seemed to directly connect me to my youth in south Louisiana, 6500 miles and some 45 years distant. Most of the building exteriors were made of birch, spruce, pine or larch, apparently milled locally. They reminded me of the house in which my dad was born, made of bald cypress (milled near Paincourtville, Louisiana) with mud and Spanish Moss for insulation. Windows at BK were often dressed in lace curtains that reminded me of the hand lace work that Grandma Theriot produced in abundance for her home in Paincourtville, Louisiana. And, of course, BK is on the water, although Lake Baikal will never be mistaken for a Louisiana swamp!

House and yard at BK.

House and yard at BK, October 2011.  We shared a lunch of omul and tea with our Irkutsk State University colleagues here. We also ate here for a about a week during the 2012 field season while the field station cafeteria was being renovated. Lyudmila, the field station manager, lives here and is always a gracious and generous hostess.

When I was in college, we disassembled my dad’s birth house (and I mean disassembled – the frame was joined by “peg and slot” – it was like taking apart a giant puzzle), and perhaps this is a symbol of a fading rural life in South Louisiana and elsewhere. Today, for the first time in history, as many or more people live in an urban environment than in rural conditions. So, I indulge my nostalgia by photographing old homes and old villages, and maybe leave a record behind that others might find interesting.

It would appear that much, if not all, of the lumber in the buildings is locally milled.  There is a sawmill near the beach.  In this picture you can also see some ice fishing shanties on the shore line.

Sawmill (on the left), an ice-fishing shanty, and an old beached workboat, at the beach at BK, October 2011.

Sawmill (on the left), an ice-fishing shanty, and an old beached workboat, at the beach at BK, October 2011.


Many of the buildings were natural wood or wood and darkly stained.  However, there was a lot of color on some buildings, often quite bright and cheery, as the porch of this small home.


After eating omul, bread, cheese, cucumbers and drinking tea, I laid down on a bench, looked up and was struck by the blue sky contrasted against this blue clothespin.

And the sky, when we were there, was always brilliantly blue.

A small chapel overlooking the main village at BK.

Religion and churches are a huge part of south Louisiana. Many small communities on the bayou have large, elaborate and beautiful churches.  There was a lovely outdoor chapel on a hill overlooking the main part of the BK village.

A small chapel overlooking the main village at BK.

I love old barns and old machinery.  There is a bit of agriculture in the little valley in which BK sits.  As BK is remote, and not accessible by car or truck except when Lake Baikal ice is thick, the village has to be somewhat self-sufficient.  There were several pieces of heavy equipment including a large backhoe in this area.


Tractor, trailer, and other farming implements.

I learned to grow vegetables from my father and grandfather. Grandpa Theriot taught me to plant corn when the leaves on the pecan trees are as big as the ear of a mouse (hey, it works).  One of the pleasures of living in central Texas is growing a winter garden.  I am pretty sure that folks don’t grow winter gardens around Lake Baikal.  Many houses had small garden plots, some had greenhouses, and there were large plots as well.  I was told potatoes had just been harvested.


Recently harvested fields at BK.

I have to close with this photograph.  My Russian-speaking colleagues tell me that Bolshiye Koty means “big cat.”  I doubt that this was the eponymous cat, but it sure seemed to act like it owned the town.

                                              The Big Kitty.

 Rural villages like BK are not about to go extinct, of course.  If half the people on earth live in an urban environment, then the other half must live in the country!  A Russian colleague asked me what Baikal would be like in the West.  I told him only half-jokingly that it would have a six lane highway around it and a four-star hotel in every valley that adjoins the lake!  (Lying in a graben, Lake Baikal’s shoreline is mostly abruptly steep, preventing much in the way of development along much of its shoreline – the intersection of geology, geography and culture.)  The only thing that seemingly  slows this kind of development around Baikal is its remoteness.  But even a place as remote as BK has internet (if sporadically) and television, and a there is a small amount of tourism development at various points around the lake.   It will be interesting to see how this shapes the future of  local cultures as well as the future of Lake Baikal.

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