“Like a Cow on Ice”

12 01 2014

Credit: http://www.smithsonian.com
The Lykovs lived in this hand-built log cabin, lit by a single window “the size of a backpack pocket” and warmed by a smoky wood-fired stove.

I was first introduced to the Lykov family via an article I read about them in Smithsonian.  The Lykov’s, a Russian Orthodox family living in Siberia, weren’t known to anyone until 1978 when a team of geologists flew over their homestead–150 miles from the closest town. And while 150 miles is quite a ways even when roads exist, it’s even less imaginable when it’s the taiga of Siberia.  The Smithsonian does an excellent job of summarizing their discovery and nearly complete demise once the outside world made its presence known in their lives.  Check it out here:


I forgot about that story until recently, when I discovered a documentary made about Agafia, the only family member who remains alive today.  She is not 70 years old and is out there, right now, living alone in Siberia.  She doesn’t own a Gortex jacket, a gas-powered chainsaw, or waterproof boots to get her through the nearly unbearable 9-month long winter.  Agafia does now have a neighbor.  One of the geologists who originally found the Lykov family decided to build a cabin and move nearby 16 years ago.  For better or worse–according to Agafia, he does not get his own water or find his own firewood.  Yerofei, the geologist, depends on a 70 year old woman to cut down trees by hand, saw them into logs, and drag them to his house.  In his own words, he is “like a cow on ice.”  Without all the fancy gear, my cookstove, a headlamp, and some cash, I think I’d be in the same boat.  If you can spare 35 minutes, watch this documentary about Agafia featured on Vice:


I highly recommend you read the article about her family first, though, to truly put her experience in perspective.  When I read that her brother Dmitry, “could hunt barefoot in winter, sometimes returning to the hut after several days, having slept in the open in 40 degrees of frost, a young elk across his shoulders,” I stop convincing myself that biking in my Gortex raingear in the Pacific Northwest is such an arduous task.  That truly, there’s little difference between me in Siberia and a cow on ice.

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