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Summer at the Baikal

Source:  Baikal: four seasons. - Irkutsk, 2002.

The sunny days of summer cover the mountains and Baikal itself with such a dazzling radiance that the light granite boulders, polished by the eternal waves, lie on the bank-pebbles like red-hot coals. The bold and piercing green of spring is replaced by the tranquil, noble patina of the taiga, which seems to be exhausted by the heat, the abundance of sunlight and the dense silence. The colours have become richer and more contrasting, the transparent air, like a giant lens, shortens distances and allows us to mark out isles of fir-trees, the delicate garments of larch groves and the sparkling foliage of birch woods, crossed by white vertical lines. And when a cloud unexpectedly covers the sun, the barks of the birches continue to shine, as if they are luminescent. When many clouds collect and they hang low over the water, the sky seems to absorb this green light and the clouds take on the guise of fluttering grasses. The struggle of warmth and coolness continues because in the summer the air over Baikal is colder by 5-6 degrees as compared with the air over the Cis-Baikal Region.

The period from the end of June is the period of mists. The wet air rolls down the mountains into the valley of Baikal in invisible cascades. From the Chersky Peak, which stands at the source of the Angara River, one can see this off-white shine, which envelops the whole sea-lake, and the clear-cut surrounding world with its fantastic cliffs, and brilliant snow-covered peaks on the opposite bank of Baikal, which are more than 40 kilometres away. This mist represents a strange combination of crystal clarity and a whitish sticky and damp sheet, which makes it impossible to see anything on the opposite side of

our little launch. Such mists appear in June, July and August. Sometimes they are immediately dispelled by the wind, from the banks, which comes from the mountains, but, at other times, they dismally hang over the water for two or three days on end.

The water in Baikal is extremely cold, and even in the hottest days of summer, it warms up on the surface of the lake to not more than 13° C. However, Siberians know quite a few spots where the sun manages to conquer the cold, and in these places the bank of Baikal looks much like the beaches of Crimea and the Caucasus. Nevertheless, there is a difference -the water here is sweet and transparent, and the sand and pebbles are tinged uniquely.

In some places the water warms up to 23° Among these places are the deltas of large rivers, such as Selenga and Barguzin, and shoals, for example in the Proval Bay. «Proval» means collapse and this name is an echo of a past tragedy, which changed the line of the Baikal shore in a matter of minutes. In January 1862 on the south-western shore of the Siberian sea a violent earthquake took place. A 6-force underground storm rocked the gigantic mountains, broke the earth-crust, and here, in the delta of Selenga River, the wide steppe, the area of which was nearly 260 km2, together with settlements, cattle herds, fields and gardens, yurtas and huts, fell down a number of metres and turned into the bottom of the bay. Today this place is notable for its warm water.

There are places on Baikal where the coastal water is separated from the sea water by enormous splits, covered with stones and sands. (The local name for them is «karga».) A split of this kind has turned the Posolsky Bay into a delightful spot: the water is not deep here (in Baikal one usually finds oneself in extremely deep waters as soon as one steps from the bank), the water is as warm as fresh milk and the shore is covered with velvety sand.

Summer is the best season for fishermen and travellers. Some time ago fishing particularly its beginning, was a gala day for the dwellers of coastal villages and settlements. People used to discard all their other affairs, push back their cares and worries and went to live for a while on the shore. Whole families lived in small booths and everybody took part in the fishing for the delicious Baikal omul (fish of the salmon species). The fish was then treated accordingly and stored for the winter and spring. These fishing teams provided Siberian with fresh, salted, dried and smoked fish. In the years of World War II, aiming to save themselves from the famine, people began to catch the omul with fine-mesh nets and at all seasons. In consequence, the population of this fish of folklore renown diminished and became unproductive to such a degree that the scientists were obliged to sound the alarm. For fifteen years the local fishermen had to be content with modesb rations: fishing was prohibited. In this way the scientists managed to save the unique World of Baikal, in which all living creatures and phenomena are interconnected: water, sun, plankton, small crawfish, the silver omul, the ocean seal and human life.



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