Siberia, Russia In Summer
Brrr! Blizzards remind us of Siberia, leaving our predisposed notion of what freezer-frigid places are like and the two words, blizzard and Siberia, cuddled up well together.
It is hard to conceptualize Siberia with almost the opposite but in Asian Russia summer is more likely a chemistry of humidity from downpours, the thermometer entertaining over thirty Celsius, and the occasional temporary flooding everywhere. What would be the agenda in Ulan Ude, Siberia, the first major pit-stop northwest into Russia from Mongolia, on such a day? Never mind the mandatory umbrella and puddle jumping. Permeating the air is the smell of ageing architecture saturated with moisture overload and fireplaces burning to take away the dampness, setting the stage for an architectural tour. So don the best cover you have (not from the cold but from the wet) and enter the world of century old crumbling facades, reflections and water-intensified colours. You will remain primarily unnoticed, meandering the back streets capturing moments in time, all of the locals are just trying to keep dry.
November Monochrome Musings
There is wind where the rose was,
Cold rain where sweet grass was, …
-Walter de la Mare
Now that several consecutive weekend storms have passed, is November anyone’s favourite month?
Hardly! What is there to rave about a month that progressively fades into diminishing light and heat? In most people’s mind, the bridge between fall and winter has us mentally hunkered down in the dark, huddling the furnace with wool socks pulled up to our knees. Folks on the Canadian prairies are content with mere wind and rain but when the white stuff hits the doorstep a touque tops off winter styling in these parts. However, the “in between season” that early winter offers is an important time to pause, reflect and reconnect with nature, ideally, meditatively in a serene and untroubled setting. Often folks abandon these special places over the short days and long nights stretch, thinking that they serve best at the height of summer, ruminating over picnics in daylight that lingers late in the evening, sprinkled with children’s laughter after a park stroll, lolling in heat that does not fade into gradual darkness after 2 PM.
The leaves that haven’t been blown to other prairie provinces have gone monochrome and crunchy, the only sound other than the blustering breeze. No; it is not summer any more but a late fall or winter walk refreshes, invigorates and renews, allows ponder and contemplation. Autumn is but a sweet memory; the malingering, sweet one this fall almost vanquished southern Alberta’s late spring turmoil. We cling to the fading light as the stingy sun holds back more and the days fold into winter, and thank Mother Nature for providing places of respite and reflection before the harrowing days of the pending festival descend upon us.
For more on the goodness of in-between seasons, see:
My Trip To Belgium, November, 1917
Growing up in a three generation family offered lots of opportunities to ask the senior male about WWI. But no one talked about it, least of all my grandfather. The siblings and cousins found grandpa a little “gruff”sometimes, and, thinking about it now, if you had gone to Belgium in the fall of 1917, maybe your personality would become rigid on the bitter side. After Passchendaele he returned to Canada, continued farming the rest of his life, pondering his trip to Belgium over and over while ploughing fields in rural New Brunswick behind horse teams and later on tractors. Some of his experiences survived the years in written form and this letter to his future wife of over 60 years remains testament to a trip he hoped never to relive again.
November 18, 1917
My Dear Edna,
I am going to write you a little story of what happened to me on my trip to Belgium. Of course I cannot write it so you could understand all of what we went through and there are many things that I would not want you to imagine. Perhaps I am making a mistake in writing this but I want to tell you something about it.
Oct 16 We were relieved by the Imperials and came out of the line here in Neuville St Kaust. We had a bath the next day and the next morning the 18th we marched to a little town 12 miles and stayed there until the 24th. When we took the train and came to a town near the Border of France and Belgium. We stayed here the whole company sleeping in a big black barn and practiced over the tapes for the stunt until Nov 3 when we took the train again and came to Ypres. This must have been a beautiful city as the ruins of very fine buildings are still there. There are no civilians staying there as the Hun still shells if with long range guns. Well we marched through the town and were billeted in holes in the ground with corrugated iron overhead. That afternoon one of the fellows who knew Perry came up and I went down to their camp about 2 ½ miles. I stayed all night although I was taking some risk of being marked absent but, however, everything turned out jake. There was no rest around there for a nervous man as Fritz shells it with his long range guns and their aeroplanes are forever bombing the place. It isn’t very pleasant lying in a tent and hearing one overhead and not knowing when he is going to drop a bomb. Well, on the night of Nov 4 at about eleven o’clock we marched about four or five miles over trench mats as there is so much mud they have tracks laid all the way. We stayed in what is called Brigade Reserves the rest of that night and the next day. We dug little holes in the ground and got into them. That night we moved up to the front line.
We had our overcoats on and had a pretty good load. I had 48 hours rations, 2 water bottles, 4 pans of Machine Gun ammunition, a bomb, 2 ground flares, 100 rounds of rifle ammunition, and one shovel besides my equipment, rubber sheet, etc.
Well about 3:30 AM the order came down the trench to get out and crawl about 30 yards in front. Well we stayed out there in shell holes until our barrage opened up at 6. Well it was rather ticklish waiting there so long with machine guns talking and bullets whistling overhead. Fritz must have got wind of us being out there or perhaps he saw us getting out as he seemed very nervous. He shelled us considerably. There was a fellow wounded in the same shell hole I was in and I was knocked silly for a minute. However, at sharp six our barrage opened up and every gun sounded like one. All we could hear was the brigade and divisional machine guns. As soon as the barrage started every man jumped to his feet and started as if they were going out to work! I cannot understand why it is but I wasn’t more scared than if the bullets were only flies flying around. Well we walked along and all we could hear was the swish of our shells overhead and our machine guns. We couldn’t go very fast as we didn’t want to get into our own barrage. We would slip and sit down in a shell hole and talk and laugh as if we were going ot a picnic. I didn’t see any live German until we got nearly to Passchendaele when I saw some running. Well we reached our objective just beyond the church and … And I dig in. Well we fooled around all day The Germans didn’t seem to be around at all. They didn’t snipe at us at all. That night after dark we put up flares on our right and saw a lot of Huns and they sent up the S.O.S. signal and our machine guns and artillery opened up immediately and must have mowed them down fearfully if they were coming over for a counter-attack. Well things quieted down after a bit but the company on our right kept sending up flares and firing their Lewis Machine guns as they could see Huns out in front. I suppose they were trying to dig in front of us. Well at last the long night was over and daylight came. We could see several Huns running around at a distance of about 500 yards in front and we were sniping at them when we saw some come out with white flags to pick up their wounded so of course we didn’t fire at them. We found afterwards that we made mistake as they had brought many machine guns and put them in position. Our officer said he would never trust a Heinie again. One thing that surprised me very much was that the first day there was hardly any sniping and very little the next day although we were firing a lot at them but was not sure that we got any. We could see them fall but whether they were only dodging or not, we did not know. My company was very fortunate after we reached our objective as we only had three casualties and were only wounded and got out. Well about ten o’clock of the second night we were relieved and went out of course went out by platoons. Well we just got started out and it was very dark. We were coming out in single file and some of the boys stopped to help a fellow out of a shell hole when the rest of the platoon got ahead of us. There were about a dozen of us and we lost the direction. We had to come back to the front line to find the way out. They directed us and we travelled a long way on a long road that we could hardly get along as it- the mud- was so deep. We got a way out of our way and ran into a first division man that was going out and we followed him. We were very dry. Some of the fellows had been drinking out of the shell holes which we could not stand. We stopped near a dressing station in an old pill box. Just as we stopped there was a big shell truck right along side of us. The soft mud was the only thing that saved us that time. Well the first division man was hit in the back and I helped him into the dressing station. The rest went on except two boys and myself. They said they were going to stay until morning and I decided to stay with them. We crawled inside the pill box and stayed till daylight. We started out the road and came to a plank road where the motor-lorries brought up shells to our guns. We got in an empty one coming out and rode to Ypres. Well after drinking immeasurable cups of tea at the Y.M.C.A. we went looking for the camp and horselines which we eventually found. This battalion came out that night and G. was glad to see me. He had been sent to the front line to find me as they only came out to the reserves that first night.
Perry came up that night and was very glad that I had pulled through OK. Well we stayed around there until the 11th when I was sent I was sent up on a carrying party to carry out wounded but not many wounded so I didn’t have to carry any but had to stay all night until we were relieved in the morning. We came out to Ypres and the battalion had gone. We marched to the train and joined the battalion a few miles out. The next day we got on the buses and left Belgium and that is the end of my trip to Belgium and I hope never as long as I live to see that country again.
There have been enough good Canadian men lost their lives there aside from all the British and Anzacs to pay for a thousand such countries. I have written this clear so that anyone you wish to show it can read it. Hoping this will interest you and I know it will. I wish you to keep it so that when I come home it will help refresh my memory so that I can give you a more detailed account of it when we are sitting by a fire and can find nothing more to talk about. Just one more thing I will add and that is that our division is going out for a months rest before Christmas and that we will be out for Christmas and New Years.
I remain as ever