Far North: Кандалакша, Dashka, Russia.

At Dashka’s invitation, I lugged a hundred plus pounds of food from Moscow to a place near Murmansk Thirty-six hours on a train, two hours of pre-dawn fogged bag-dragging, and one short collapse in a rusting bed later, I helped a group of students unload a cargo freighter’s lumber. Approved, and safe in the belly of said hulk, I listened to the motor churn and stared out a crazed plastic porthole at faraway shores.

We stopped at a waystation with a windmill, a junkyard, and a stone foundation. There were houses made from huge metal tanks, outdoor toilets, rusting boats, and burning plastic garbage piles. At the waystation we were issued Soviet coats and tea. On the water again, in a blue boat (once red), we nailed a log or loch ness something. Instead of stopping our driver throttled up and drowned the motor. Though I had my DMM and tools handy, I couldn’t bring it back to life. Later, an older, wiser driver sailor brought us from the middle of the lake to land.

We spent a week there, on the island, picking mushrooms and blackberries, working when asked and otherwise exploring, guided by GPS, intuition, and shorelines. We found tiny wild strawberries, sandblasted glass shards, remains of old houses, bear shit. We walked on ground spongy with life, on rock weathered with age, on seashores littered with jellyfish. We ate mushrooms, seaweed, berries. We sunned ourselves on the biggest black rock we could find. We slept on the floor, freezing and frying in turns. We were eaten by a thousand mosquitos, simultaneously flirting across meadows. We told our family stories over white driftwood bays and white weathered outcrops.

A mid-week crisis left me messed-up but functional; best laid plans fail spectacularly and tides tend to swell deep, drowning music machines. Headphoned silent watching gulls, cold to life on the shore and wrapped in wet felt I walked back to arms. Time passed, trip ended on kontroller’s decision to kick me off the island, a midnight sailor’s visit, and our rusty powerboat. I left paranoid and relieved, fingers black and blue with berries and effort. Boat after boat, brilliant storytelling and softly speaking English with Dashka. Already missing Katya and Koma. Talking about anime, asian food, hopes, nightmares, watching endless stalky treeshores distant. We could have been anywhere but we were there, then, happy to be alive and already moving on.

Here are some pictures. I might put up more, someday.

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