We were 8 teachers from QSI Minsk, on a Belarus adventure organized by Josh and Jaclyn Smalley. Only 1 1/2 hours from Minsk, but a world away. Vadim and Maximilian met us at the edge of the Naliboki Forest. They took us on a wild Lada ride through the now dark forest along a headlamp-lit, bumpy, puddled-filled road.
A delicious dinner prepared by Ira was waiting for us – potatoes, carrots and pork served in rustic ceramic pots, cooked in the ashes of an authentic peasant stove.
I love that Vadim is passionate about wildlife, especially wolves and lynx, but that he also takes such an interest in the human history with the forest. He knows that nature and history are intertwined and shares stories to develop a deeper understanding of both. My favorite stories were about the family he met when he first came to the forest in the 1980s during a break from university. He helped deliver one of their children, extracted teeth by candlelight, and eventually took over their home when they had to move into town. Their home is now the research station that we called home for the weekend.
Awaking to a fresh skiff of snow we took our first walk of the day through the swamps. We were prepared with many layers of clothing and socks and rubber boots provided by Vadim. We walked past an abandoned log cabin, along soviet drainage canals, spying a moose along the way. We check on two camera traps, one where a wolf abandoned a large piece of plastic he used as a toy, another captured amazing photos of a lynx crossing a canal, his reflection lifelike in the water.
Our afternoon walk took us through misty clearings in search of bison (zubr). We were rewarded for our patience on our dusk drive back home. First, we came upon two bulls crossing the road in front of us, briefly stopping to watch us. Next, we found a herd of about 10 cows and calves in a field. We made a quick exit when we thought they might charge us.
On the way back to base, Vadim stopped to howl for wolves. In a process that reminded me of a deep sea free diver he carefully took off his coat and hat, deep in concentration, then exhaled long and deep before reversing the flow of air, and finally releasing a spine tingling moan deep into the night. This was followed by an intense stillness as we all held our breath listening for a wolf to respond. Vadim’s howling was the most memorable part of my trip.
So many great memories from such a short visit to this amazing forest. Thank you Vadim and Ira for making it possible.