Our thoughts regarding the slow start to the greening up of the steppe have been corroborated by Clyde Goulden (Natural Academy of Sciences at Drexel). Clyde reports that the herders he has been interviewing in the valleys east of Hövsgol Lake for the past few days agree that this spring is a “gan” (pronounced more like “gone”). A gan is the springtime equivalent of a “zud” (extremely harsh winter), and bad news if you’re a herder. It is characterised by a succession of hot days and cold nights, with very little rainfall, hence the normal springtime plant development is very slow, at a time vital for the recovery of animals after the winter and for those suckling young.
Last night, at around 7 pm, it finally started to rain, perhaps marking an end to the gan? We had been expecting rain the past couple of days, an expectation predominantly driven by our native intuition, but also by the weather forecast off the television. The clouds toyed with us for a while, gathering over the mountains beyond the lake on Saturday morning, gathering further up the valley in the afternoon, and instrumentalised by long low thunder rolls. At 4 pm on Saturday, the sun was blocked out, but then at 5 pm it appeared again for a rather pleasant sunny evening. On Sunday morning there was the faintest drizzle as we passed to and fro between sleeping gers and the kitchen and office gers in the morning. You could see the individual raindrops hit the dust and leave a round dark spot, but the drizzle stopped before the dark round spots had chance to meet each other. And so, we had to wait all of Sunday until the rain finally started in earnest at 7 pm, and has continued – on and off – through to this Monday evening.
The good thing about having slightly colder damper weather is that it is easier to appreciate very hot soup. We have soup most days, generally for the evening meal. Most of the time it is vegetable soup featuring carrots, onions, potatoes and perhaps cabbage or peppers, in a lovely rich meaty stock, and of course interspersed with meat – either as small pieces or minced. Usually the soup is tasty, sometimes it is delicious!
The discerning amongst our readers may have read “weather forecast off the television” above, and had a doubt as to whether I was saying it matter-of-fact, or tongue-in-cheek. It is, in fact, the former – and this correspondent has to report a somewhat unexpected addition to the office ger equipment this year in the form of a battery-operated satellite television. The intention, I believe, is to allow camp members not to miss the sporting excitement of Summer 2012 – including the European Cup, and the London Olympics. Apparently, international football is very popular in Mongolia. For example, the herding family that live in the Dalbay Valley – the Hurtleys – installed a satellite television in order to watch the World Cup 2010. While I appreciate the attraction of football, I was rather surprised to hear that it was popular in Mongolia since you do not see football pitches either in the town or country, and I haven’t seen children playing football at all. The European Cup matches are not broadcast live on Mongolian television, and neither do we have any schedule, so it is by pure happen chance that I managed to watch both of the England games so far. I was left slightly discombobulated after the first match, against France, in which, at 1-1 with about 3 minutes of extra time still to play, the coverage was stopped in order to show the next non-live game. No indication of the final score was presented, so I am still unsure as to whether England clinched a winner in the final seconds.
The cuckoo still calls, though not quite so persistently as in early June. We sometimes hear a Siberian Roe deer barking at night, an eerie echoing call. We often see Black Kites with their distinctive forked tail, and the other day we saw an enormous bird fly over our heads as we kneeled at one of the plots. I only saw it from behind and guessed it to be a Golden Eagle, while Pierre, seeing also its head, labelled it as a vulture. I doubt we will ever settle this dispute. Finally, for birds of prey, I have just now seen a kestrel, hovering over the riparian zone waiting for an unlucky rodent. The camp crowd is also augmented, on and off, by domestic animals. The last time a yak was killed, we had six loitering dogs who one by one drifted away over a couple of days leaving a loyal black dog who still occasionally revisits us. Slightly less welcome (in my eyes at least) is a camp cat who spends about 80% of her time sleeping, and the rest lurking around, as cats do, occasionally succeeding in killing other unlucky rodents.