Showing posts with label Russia. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Russia. Show all posts

February 21, 2007

The end of an era in serious boots

Canvas/leather enlisted men's boots from the Russian army
Southern Colorado is thawing out a little bit this week. My rubber snow boots, caked in mud, sit drying on the front porch. Fifteen inches tall, they are still not tall enough for some of the lingering snow drifts.

M. swears by her Sorels with the felt inner liners and rubber/nylon outer layer. I go for laced shoepacs with removable liners when I have to walk a long distance; gumboots with thick socks when I don't.

But none of that compares with the World War II German and Russian infantry who marched in pull-on boots and no socks. Instead, they wrapped their feet in pieces of cloth (an art in itself) that could be rearranged when holes wore through, thus outlasting any pair of socks. Today's Russian army, however, appears ready to drop that system. (See photo.)

Advocates of the tradition say cheap and virtually indestructible boots and foot bindings suit the cold Russian climate better than the refined footwear of Western armies. And in the marshland, there is almost no danger of water making its way inside.

On a related note, this story from a January 1945 issue of the military newspaper Stars and Stripes describes how American soldiers adapted to winter weather.

February 05, 2007

A new birthplace for skiing?

Retro skiers of the Altai Mountains
My readers who are familiar with Central Asia (the both of youse) may enjoy this news.

Stranded in the customer lounge of the Jeep dealership last Friday while M's TJ was undergoing a facial, Swedish massage, and mud bath (Jeeps love mud baths), I read an interesting item in one of last year's issues of Skiing magazine.

The oldest archaeological evidence for skiing comes not from Scandinavia but from the Altai Mountains, where China, Mongolia, Russia, and Kazakhstan meet.

Stone Age cliff paintings found in the Altai range in northwest China that date back to about 8000 B.C. are the latest proof that skiing got its start in central Asia. And even though the paintings, which depict hunters using primitive skis, are 10,000 years old, not much has changed in the Altais: Nestled in valleys ringed by 14,000-foot peaks, a handful of tribes are still using what looks to be the same ancient skiing technology.

The indigenous, nomadic Altai people have had minimal contact with their ethnic-Chinese neighbors until very recently, and even less exposure to the West (thus no P-tex or dorky Austrian graphics). In turn, they have maintained traditional lifestyles, living in log houses and yurts, tending livestock—and slapping on eight-foot-long, five-inch-wide wooden boards when the snow flies.


Since I doubt that there was a Mongolia-Finland trade route, I suspect that Scandinavian skiing, which goes back at least four millennia and maybe more, was an independent invention.

In Colorado, however, we assume that skiing was invented by the 10th Mountain Division.

June 11, 2006

Ballast waifs, Frank Meyer, and other mistakes

Researching houndstongue for the previous entry, I learned a new term, "ballast waif," for plants that cross the oceans in ships' ballast. In the days of sails and muscle power, ships were ballasted with layers of big stones, stacked carefully at the lowest point of the hull.

These stones were sometimes removed to make room for cargo and were just stacked to make breakwaters, etc. Now pumps fill tanks with water for ballast, and sometimes floating seeds (and zebra mussels) are sucked in, only to be flushed out later.

Lots of undesirable plants have arrived mixed with other seeds. I think that both tumbleweeds and kolchia came in with Russian wheat. This article explains the whole spectrum of hitch-hiking plants

Then there are "science heroes" like Frank Meyer. Back in the late 19th century, agricultural scientists looked upon the American and Canadian prairies and saw that they were bad. They were not "productive." They needed "improvement."

Hence, for instance, the institution of Arbor Day, a civic semi-holiday devoted to tree-planting. Kids were taken out of class to witness tree-planting on the school grounds: I remember that at Canyon Lake School, Rapid City, South Dakota.

Frank Meyer, a Dutch immigrant, was sent to Central Asia by the US Department of Agriculture to bring back "useful" species. He collected more than 2,000, making him either a science hero or a botanical Typhoid Mary, depending on your perspective. He drowned in an accident on the Yangtze River in China--or maybe some ethnobotanist shoved him overboard.

I grew up in his arboreal landscape. Siberian ("Chinese") elms in the Rapid City shelter belts and trimmed into a hedge in Fort Collins, Colorado--Frank Meyer.

"Persian" lilacs everywhere I have lived, including here-- Frank Meyer. Russian olives planted in our yard in Lakewood, Colorado, and considered a nuisance tree along the Rio Grande in New Mexico--Frank Meyer.

Honey locusts growing wild up Ute Pass from Colorado Springs--Frank Meyer.

And soybeans. Ask Roseann Hanson about soybeans.

The crested wheat grass in every bin of "dryland pasture mix" at the feed store--Frank Meyer.

A study by the Fish and Wildlife Service in 1993 of twelve species of birds endemic to the Great Plains discovered precipitous declines in their numbers over the past twenty-five years. . . . .The study blamed this decline on the conversion of grasslands to agriculture and the planting of crested wheat grass.

Richard Manning, Grassland: The History, Biology, Politics, and Promise of the American Prairie, 1995

April 20, 2006

James is leaving Russia

My former student James Bright is nearly finished with his year of teaching in Rostov-on-Don, writing bittersweet blog entries about returning home.

From Pueblo, Colorado, to Rostov--I don't think he ever thought he would be doing anything like that, but to his credit, he did. And I take some credit for "We've Shared a Life," since I all but ordered him at gunpoint to blog about his experiences. Now, if he is anywhere near here next fall, I will have to try to get him to come by and talk to a class.