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  Field Notes From
Russian Smokejumpers



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On Assignment
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From Author

Glenn Hodges



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From Photographer

Mark Thiessen



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 Valeriy Korotkov
 

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Russian Smokejumpers

Field Notes From Author
Glenn Hodges
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In a typical Russian sauna—called bagna—you sit on a wood plank and whack yourself and your comrades with birch branches. Who would have guessed that for 20 dollars in Krasnoyarsk we could rent out a hotel’s marble-floored sauna complex, complete with a fountain-decked swimming pool and a lounge with a giant TV and a fridge stocked with beer and vodka and chocolate? After spending nearly three weeks running from rain in the Siberian woods, we never would have guessed it—and we went for it. Our guide Valeriy summed it up perfectly: “Look at us—like rock stars!”



Rain camp. Sure, we could have called it mosquito camp, or swamp camp, or broken radio camp. But no matter. It was five days of rain and bugs and noodle soup, waiting for a helicopter that seemed as if it would never come. The bright spot: Valeriy brought a tape player—and one tape! So now I know by heart all the big hits of DDT, a Russian mega-group, after hearing it maybe a thousand times.



We landed in the tiny village of Yarkina like spacemen, with our mosquito headnets and yellow fireproof shirts and crates of photographic equipment. The kids all came out to gawk, followed by adults on motorcycles, bleary-eyed from moonshine—about the only industry remaining here since the farm subsidies stopped in the early ’90s. We slept on the moonshiner’s floor that night, meeting a steady procession of wobbly men with empty plastic soda bottles, begging for a pint on credit. One of them couldn’t believe that I didn’t speak Russian. Everybody speaks Russian! The next day before we left, an old woman came up to us at the field where the helicopter would pick us up. She gave us a jar of sweetened currants and told us we were the first foreigners she’d seen since World War II. The last ones were Nazis.





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