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Winter at the Baikal

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

However Baikal does not surrender to winter for a long time. The crazy waves rise to the clouds, beat against the rocks, breaking stones and the first white patches of snow and ice on the shore. The freezing water washes the stones, which lie on the bottom of the lake and sets there. It also stands stock-still around the wharf structures and in the depths. Gradually these white messengers increase in size and all of a sudden they break away from the bottom and rise to the surface, turning into an ice-float, which finally reaches the Angara River. It is very soon replaced by new ice-floes, which continually appear on the surface of the water. The coastal ice-floes become stronger all the time and they slowly yet forcefully restrain the wild water. The frost gains strength all the time, but Baikal has no wish to calm down, and now, if you listen attentively, you will hear the waves rustle. This rustling becomes louder and louder because inside the storming water little pieces of ice appear and they fall and rise together with the waves. The local inhabitants call these ice peas «rustles».

The frost pierces the water from the inside, and at the end of December or in the middle of January, there will come the most frosty day, when Old Man Baikal will finally calm down and become silent. A strong wind will come and break the ice-sheet, which has already covered Baikal, and again water, which seems to boil in the frost, will come into the open.

And so, at long last, Baikal is quiet and it will be quiet till spring. Now in the clear frosty air we see the signs of the tremendous force of its rebellion. The trees, bushes, boulders and rocks, that is all things, which happened to be located within he range of the furious waves, are now covered with fantastic ice patterns, and magic trees, fairy-tale monsters, birds and beasts all interlace in a refined ornament. Here such ornaments are called «sokui». Professor Mikhail Kozhov, who devoted his life to the research of the sea-lake, described winter Baikal in the following: On clear, sunny days, Baikal, clad in its ice armour, is particularly beautiful. When the sun disappears behind the horizon, a pink and purple light envelops the boundless ice plain. In the distance snow shines brightly on the naked mountain feet of the mountains, covered by trees. The unusual silence of winter evenings is at times broken by a whole gamut of sounds: now we hear the ominous noise of breaking ice, which comes to us from afar or the moans of ice splitting and breaking into little pieces somewhere near us. We also hear a thunderous knocking and see how nearby a wide crack suddenly appeared in the ice and out of it water begins to ooze out. All this produces a very strong, and sometimes terrible impression on a person, who sees and hears all this for the first time. This symphony of the ice-clad lake becomes particularly impressive in the beginning of the winter.

However, the old timers know that these backbone cracks appear due to the changes of temperature of the air. Ice, which expands during strong frosts, bulges out onto the shores and breaks. But when the temperature rises, the opposite happens - the ice undergoes a great pressure and in the end it bursts. This bursting is accompanied by a terrific noise, much like a clap of thunder. This burst makes a large «wound» or crack, which is often more than four metres wide.

Nonetheless, life in the taiga takes its normal course. The snow is spotted by the tracks of hares, elks wander in the thick of the forest, looking for food, deers collect around the salt-marshes, bears sleep, but in February the females give birth to their cubs. In the depths of the lake, a hundred metres and more beneath the ice sheet, hibernates the omul, and the golomyankas (a fish of the perch species, which is found only in Baikal) and the bullheads lead their mysterious lives. The seal, having «drilled» holes in the ice, goes fishing.

And so the birds, animals and fish will continue to live this way until the sun will turn for the spring, when its rays, becoming warmer every day, will struggle through the thick ice and warm the water. And everything will begin all over again.

No matter when you come to Baikal, be it spring, summer or autumn, it will always present you with warmth and reveal its secrets to you, secrets, which it will not reveal to nobody else for it has special secrets for each of us.



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