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92 From Chzhumtayza to the Village of Zagornaya A Change in the Weather. An Amur Rat Snake. The Storm. The Vangou River. The Village of Zagornaya. Panachev, the Old Believer. Signs of the Antichrist’s Coming. We thought that by morning the rain might stop, but we were mistaken. In fact, by dawn it was raining even harder. In order to prevent the water from dousing the fire we had to continually throw wood on it, which burned poorly and smoked heavily. People huddled in their mosquitonet tents and didn’t venture out. Time passed tediously and slowly. RainfallssimultaneouslyacrossabroadareaintheUssuriKray,and does so with surprising regularity. Sometimes these rains cover several watersheds,andsometimeseventhewholeregion.Thishelpsexplainthe significant flooding that can occur here. Dersu believed that if fog developed in the mountains during a rain storm, but it remained motionless, the rain would soon stop. But if the fog moved quickly—this was an indication that the rains would continue , and perhaps even develop into a typhoon.1 Before sunrise the next morning the rains petered out, but the water in the river continued to rise, so we had to hurry with our crossing. The Gold helped us considerably with this, as they transferred all of our 1. Derived from the Chinese word tayfyn, meaning “a great wind.” This is what Pacific cyclones are called [VKA]. 11 From Chzhumtayza to the Village of Zagornaya 93 supplies by boat to the far bank quickly and efficiently. The weak horse crossed alongside the boat, but the remainder of the troop swam on their own. At about eight o’clock in the morning the sun’s rays penetrated the stormcloudsandplayedwiththefogbanks,illuminatingthemingolden light. This scene made me think of how the world must have looked during prehistoric times, with steam evaporating off the earth’s hot surface. The fog finally began to dissipate. Nature, having been immobilized by the poor weather, began to revive: we heard the songs of skylarks, and insects once again appeared in the air. Once the boat departed, we set off with a few of the Gold guiding us. The mountains were now off to our right and the river to our left. Althoughthewetlandswerebehindus ,thisdidnotmeanwewerefreefrom sogginess: the ground was saturated from the recent rains. The streams had all overflowed their banks and were pouring water into the valleys. Due to some delays along the way, the horses ended up lagged behind while we went on ahead. Finding an old, dilapidated fanza on the forest’s edge, we decided to sit on some rocks and wait for our horses to catch up. Suddenly, something long and dark streaked past the rock pile. The riflemen rushed over: it was some kind of large snake. It slipped into the grass and headed for the bushes. The riflemen, fearful of this creature, ran alongside, not daring to approach too closely. A minute later it had reached a log, in which it tried to take shelter. The log had a rotten core, was about 4 meters long, and was 15 centimeters in diameter. Merzlyakov grabbed a stick and started poking it into the hole. The cavity buzzed in response, and bumblebees started to crawl out. So, there was a bumblebee nest in there, but then where did that snake disappear to? Did it really slither in there with those bees? If so, why were the bees not agitated by this as they were once the stick was thrust in? This question interested everyone, and the riflemen began to chop open the log for an answer. Because it was rotten, the wood broke off easily in chunks. As soon as the tree split, we saw the snake. It writhed slowly, trying to bury itself in the soil, but this did not save it from the Cossack Belonozhkin, who cut off its head with an axe. We pulled it out, and saw that it was an Amur rat snake. It was 1.9 meters long, and 6 centimeters in circumference. 94 The 1906 Expedition The log cavity was narrow at first, then widened slightly toward the tree’s base. We found bird down, bits of fur, dry grass, and snake skin sheddings inside, all evidence that this had been the snake’s nest. However , there was a bumblebee nest close to the entrance that wrapped around one of the sides. That meant that any time the snake went in or out it crawled directly past this hive. The snake and the bees clearly got along, and neither resented the presence of...


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