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  Field Notes From
Great Northern Forest



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On Assignment
Arrows
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From Author

Fen Montaigne



On Assignment

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From Photographer

Peter Essick


In most cases these accounts are edited versions of a spoken interview. They have not been researched and may differ from the printed article.

Photographs by Maria Stenzel (top), and Peter Essick
 

On Assignment On Assignment On Assignment
Great Northern Forest

Field Notes From Author

Fen Montaigne
Best Worst Quirkiest
Canada, along with Russia, is probably my favorite country in the world. I love northern climes and cool weather, and, for this story, I spent slightly more than three weeks flying, driving, and walking around Canada’s boreal forest. I spent a couple of days with ornithologist Richard Thomas in Alberta’s northern forest, watching birds and visiting boreal fens in which rare orchids grow. It was also a real pleasure to fly over pristine boreal forest in Quebec in an ancient deHavilland Otter floatplane. The trip gave me an appreciation of the endless expanse of lakes, wetlands, and woodlands that comprise the Canadian north woods and the Russian taiga.

I was in the Russian Far East, 15 time zones ahead of my home in New York, when the terrorists struck the World Trade Center. I didn’t learn of the attacks until midmorning the next day when I went to a bank to change money. There, customers told me that New York’s two tall towers had been destroyed. I was stunned. At the time, my wife worked in an office right across the street from the complex.
I ran to my car and turned on the radio. The news was true, and I feared that Laurie and thousands of others might have been killed, injured, or trapped in the collapse. When I returned to my hotel and saw the pictures, I ordered a call to New York. Miraculously, it went through in about an hour. Picking up the receiver, I feared the worst and fully expected to hear my daughters weeping that their mother was missing in New York. But my wife answered, and we both broke into tears. The school bus for one of my daughters had been quite late that day, causing Laurie to be 45 minutes late for work. Hearing the news of the attack, she had turned around and had never even made it downtown.


I teamed up with Luda Mekhertyecheva, National Geographic’s Moscow office manager, to search for Old Believers, a Russian religious sect whose members reject modern life to live off the boreal forest. On a cool, rainy day in central Siberia, we drove ten miles (16 kilometers) down a muddy road, walked more than a mile through boreal forest on a steep slippery track, then finally made it to a mist-covered river near the Old Believer village. We tried unsuccessfully to find a path through the forest, then failed to make it upstream along a rocky bank. Finally, our guide decided to bushwhack his way to the village, where he hoped to dispatch some members to pick us up in a boat. He succeeded, and we spent a few hours in the village, talking to residents, eating melons, and sampling homemade beer. One of the Old Believers over-imbibed and nearly capsized our boat on the return trip. He was a sweet man at heart.



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