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When the captain brought the journalist along on the whale hunt, the elders predicted trouble. The elders were right. The whale tried to kill them all.

Wednesday, Oct 17 2001

Page 9 of 9

Two hunters from Novoe Chaplino -- Igor Macotrik and Maxim Agnagisyak -- arrived in Yanrakynnot through the same storm that besieged Tanko. The next night, they warmed their bones in the village's wood-heated sauna. These men said the storm's 7-foot waves and the shrieking wind of the gale were bad omens. They suggested that the villagers from Yanrakynnot should rebuild the whaling shrine and make offerings of vodka to the sea. They also agreed to return the following week with more men and boats to help.

"We are always ready to help the people in another village who are in trouble," said Agnagisyak. "And this village is in trouble. They have no whales. So we will come back and we will try to hunt quickly. If we are lucky, we will be able to harvest enough whales for them to last the winter."

And if they are not lucky?

Agnagisyak pointed, silently, toward the burial mounds in the hills outside.

Natasha Ashkamakin was optimistic. "I believe they will be successful. We will make it."

That is what people do in Chukotka. They make it. Last winter, the worst on record in 50 years, Yanrakynnot ran low on gasoline and heating oil. In February, Ashkamakin decided to chance a snow machine run to the nearest village, Novoe Chaplino, to borrow fuel from friends to ferry back to her family across 50 miles of winter-bitten wilderness. She had only a half-tank of gas. She thought it would be enough. It wasn't. "There were too many drifts of snow," she said. "The wind kept blowing them in front of me, and it took all my gas to power through them." The snow machine sputtered out 10 miles from Novoe Chaplino. But Ashkamakin made it. She walked the rest of the way.

Her feet froze, and a doctor cut both of them off. At the memorial service, she hobbled around on stumps laced tightly into tennis shoes.

"I think I'm very lucky," she said. "I'm not beneath the rocks."

About The Author

David Holthouse


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