Your nostrils freeze together at -40 Degrees Centigrade
Without Rime or Rheason, White crystals form overnight in the Siberian Winter

Oh my my my....I am a cyclist, I am a crazy cyclist, I may even be a crazy world touring cyclist. But I am not crazy enough to cycle when its forty below zero, am I? Well then..just how did I get to take this picture? The answer: I am crazier than you ever imagined, i didn't bike there...I LIVED there for two years. What a place! I loved Russia and the Russians, and the real Russia is not the European wannabees you see in St. Petersburg and Moscow. The real russia is not the Duma, with its turds like Zhirinovsky. The real Russia is siberia...big, open, vast, endless. You could pick up the lower 48 states and drop it into a siberian forest...and they would disappear. There are mountain ranges here I never even heard of. When I took a 2 week ride southwest of Lake Baikal--itself a geologic wonder, the world deepest lake is a failed 'rift' zone, where tectonic forces tried to tear asia apart-- I came to the Sayan Mountains. I may as well have ben on the moon....never seen a picture of them...never even heard the name. Techncially speaking the road was closed to foreigners and even Russians without permission, but I never was one not to push my luck. And here I had plenty. My first police roadblock I startled the guards by riding up on a fully laden bicycle. I stunned them further by asking them, in quite passable Russian, for a glass of water. By this time they were not surprised to find that I had ridden all the way from irkutsk, that I was a professor at the university there, that I lived there and that i liked it. After i rode off they called my department chairman, one very flabbergasted Dr. Alexander Diagenov. Boy did **I** get a chewing out from the Dean when i got back! But the 'damage' was done. Russia is MY country! Someday Komrade Vladimir Putin and I will visit the countryside together.

The temperature falls to about 40 below in irkustk any time between November and early march. At this temperature the snow creaks underfoot like rubbing styrofoam packing material. Your nostrils stick together when you breath in; thawing on the way out. Be careful, after being out in Irkutsk in midwinter, that you do not have a stalactite of snot hanging from your nostril after a few hours.

But the real miracle occurs at night when, in the calm but bitter cold air, small needles of ice form on any suitable surface, and frost it a white so brilliant under the morning sun that you must squint when you look at it. The photos here were taken in the early morning--you can still see a pinkish tinge to the background light. Looking out the office window, amidst this calm scene, you can forget just how cold it is--until you step outside. How the Russians cope with it as well as they do defies me. Many of my students came to class in running shoes! For myself, I wore USMC combat boots and six pairs of socks. Still...if i had the chance i'd be on the next plane back: for never did a country hold me in the palm of its cruel hand with such a contrast of delicacy and brutality. Almost like the Rime itself: beautiful, but cold and biting, and gone in flash when disturbed to the slightest degree.


This snowy path leads to my bus stop at the University

The haze is not fog...it is a small cloud of ice crystals, from which the rhyme forms. It is amazing to attend an ice hockey or 'bandy' game here in Irkutsk. The thousands of fans who fill the stadium are all breathing out of course, and their breath freezes and comes back down as single needles of ice. Thats what is on those trees...it did NOT snow.

Sometimes it makes it look like the tree had actually been BITTEN by the cold. Evergreens like this pine must have to do quite a job to hold onto their needles in the midst of such frigid conditions.



Of course we have snow in siberia as you can see on the ground in this photo. But oddly enough we only got a little over a meter per year. Its just that (1) it never thaws out and melts the snow, so what ya get is what ya see! and (2) there is not alot of industry and vehicles so the snow stays pearly white, as in front of my academic building at Irkutsk State University. Our faculty was on the 1st floor; other joint ventures with universities in Mongolia and China occupied the upper floors.



Of course, not just evergreens get bitten during the long Russian winter. The forests nearby are loaded with birches, which already have a white bark; and the forests thus do not have the gloom that evergreen forests do, since the sun shines on the glistening branches and trunks all the way to the forest floor. Seductively beautiful; as everything else in Russia, with a sad story to go with it. Under the melting snows of April, it was not unusual to find 'springflowers;' frozen hands and arms and eventually the whole body of those who tried to escape Siberia's notorious prison camps, only to die in the bitter cold. Experienced prisoners knew the only way to survive the camps was to wait until the calls of the 'cukoo bird' could be heard--it was called 'going to general cuckoo for orders'-- only then was it warm enough to survive in the forests, and food could be foraged. They would allow themselves to be 'recaptured' in the fall; else they too would be part of the next years crop of 'flowers.'