Home Back Forward June 24, 1999: Safe Return to Kambalnoe Lake

View from the helicopter on the flight down

Helicopter hovers to unload

Biscuit slides in my tracks

Biscuit talks to Chico

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Charlie left Jennya's apartment Tuesday night to sleep in his tent overnight so he could take advantage of the wetness of early morning dew on the grass to use the float on his ultralite plane without having to move it to water. We were yet another day late in our departure for Kambalnoe Lake due to bad weather. The final papers of permission to commence our work had been signed the day before in the office of Kronotsky State Preserve. Mr.Komarov, the Director, had been most helpful at this final stage to our incredible relief. We had gained permission to continue our program in a similar fashion to last year with an added provision. We must invite Russia's bear biologist, Dr. Pazhetnov, from Moscow, to visit us as a consultant, for one week, to head up a team of biologists who will add a more scientific element to our existing work. The people I met in Moscow felt this would add a dimension that would assist us permanently with our project. The argument presented all along by our enemy, here, was that we were not scientific and therefore our work was useless. As if that wasn't bad enough: It was implied at one point, that all my artistic pursuits were "pure entertainment" and that my "artist's cabin"(the shed I share with airplane parts) could be turned over to Preserve Inspectors. Both of us had times where it was all we could do to hold back on our tempers during final negotiations, but now we were off.

At the beginning of every season, we buy food in Petropavlovsk for five months. We bring as little as possible from Canada - usually items we can't live without, like good granola cereal and Starbucks coffee. Charlie brought 6 barrels of gasoline in on our boat shipment as gas here is often cut with diesel and the plane's engine stops at unexpected times.

We usually purchase more than we need. I always imagine: "what if we were stuck here for the winter?" I have a permanent supply at the camp of sugar, flour, powdered eggs, salt, oats, sweet canned milk and rice. This along with everything else at our Kambalnoe cabin is moved to Kurilskoye lake science station, for the winter, where there is someone to guard over it. This year our shopping included lots of canned goods: meat, sardines, corn, peas, tomatoes, olives, pickles, fruit, jams and a variety of hot sauces from Korea which are excellent. The Russian sausage, vodka, and cheeses are the best and the produce from the dachas superior to fresh vegetables in supermarkets at home. We order fresh salad vegetables and fruit, via our friends at the Science Station at Kurilskoye Lake, about once a month. Charlie flies over and gets it and we usually know it has been sent there by E-mail message. We treat ourselves to some fresh chicken and beef at these times. Once no one told us about the shipment and it sat there for 4 days! This year we added 5 pounds of jerked beef from Longview, Alberta to our imported larder. The canned beef we purchase, from unknown parts of the Far East, is a bit grim. Last year I found bits of a cow's nose, ligaments, tongue etc. in with the meat.

Charlie left at 8:00A.M., barely getting off the grass because of a lack of dew. I was in the helicopter with all our gear by 12:00 noon. A local TV crew was on board to do a story on us to give us some much-needed positive press. The flight down was a bit "iffy". Fog was heavy to the East Coast and I imagined Charlie underneath it. This past winter there were two helicopter accidents in Kamchatka with many lives lost. Both due to pilot errors according to aviation friends here. The flight was beautiful with the fog banks swirling around and by the time Kambalnoe lake appeared, one and one half hours later, I was in high spirits, especially when I saw Charlie standing on the spot marked "X" on the snow near the cabin. His plane was tucked in a clearing in the pine bush, out of the way of the wind from the chopper's rotors, not far away. With so much stuff, which included 5 barrels of aviation fuel and 1 of diesel, we wanted the helicopter to land as close as possible to the cabin. The snow was so unstable the pilot kept the chopper running and hovered to unload. At one point a gust caught it and it lifted up with Charlie underneath it just before another barrel of gas came out the back hatch door. When Charlie flew over to Kurilskoye lake to retrieve our supplies stored there over the winter, I enlisted the help of the TV crew to move as many boxes as possible up to the cabin. Charlie and I rigged up a rope harness (yes, like a dog one) to slide the gas barrels over the snow.

Early the next morning we hiked off to find the cubs. Charlie had seen the two while flying in. The first bear we found turned out to be Brandy, as in the "Cocktail Family" of bears. She was high on an outcropping of rock, snoozing with her cubs. The winter took its toll on her family as well. She is left with two cubs, Gin and Tonic. We are assuming the big predatory male grizzly nabbed Rum about the time Rosie disappeared. Her two remaining cubs are in beautiful condition and all seemed to recognize us and were very calm as they walked across the snow above us.

We almost missed Chico and Biscuit. They were feeding on young sedge in amongst the alder trees. Sedge is like grass, but has more edges, and is very high in protein early in the spring. They jumped down the snowdrift after seeing us, only hesitating briefly about 20 feet away. Chico came up to Charlie with a greeting I will leave for him to describe later. Biscuit went to my tracks in the snow. She sniffed them, rolled in them and finally slid down the snow on my track. What a look of delight and love in her eye. I was a bit apprehensive as she approached . She likely weighs about 300 pounds now. She is only 2 and 1/2 years old but has very big feet, claws and head. I can imagine these two bears must find it strange that we appear more small and delicate every year, when we are re-united, as they grow larger. I am amazed at how polite these two continue to be. Nothing in their manners has changed. There is no sign of aggression towards us and if anything they seem more aware of our fragility, year by year. It was a very happy moment for us all. The five weeks of struggles had been worth it.


© Lenticular Productions Ltd. 1999