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Crossing the Verkhoianski Mountains with the Nomadic Even

OUR ENCOUNTER with the Even, a nomadic people of the Siberian Arctic who travel through the mountains with their families and herds of reindeer, was unquestionably one of the highlights of this expedition. We found ourselves in contact with a people living in harmony with nature, maintaining a most perfect and beautiful equilibrium.

The Even are not ashamed to travel in the old way in an era of helicopters and snowmobiles. They are not ashamed to set off for the highest peaks to hunt mountain sheep, their main autumn food, in an era when meat is displayed in rows on refrigerated supermarket shelves. They are not ashamed, in an era of television and video games, to remain true to the old ways that the elders pass along to the young during long winter evenings in a tent. On the contrary. They are aware of the differences, and they are conscious that their lifestyle is an art. They take pride in their mode of existence and pursue it with dignity.

After traveling by dogsled over pack ice that the Inuit cross in snowmobiles, after riding through the Rockies in constant fear of all-terrain vehicles, and after canoeing on arctic rivers invaded by outboard motors, I finally had the feeling among the Even that I had gone back in time. I was no longer following in the footsteps of a vanished people, or walking an abandoned trail time had erased. The Even were here around me, alive and welcoming, an embodiment of the perennial forces that underlie civilization and provide it with depth and richness.

The Even lifestyle meshed with my own ideal image of travel and a life in nature. I spent six wonderful months with these people, and when I left the clan, promising to return, the soul of the Even had in some part taken root in me.

Eva, nine, and Sergei, ageless, were part of the family I lived and traveled with for six months. Nomads and reindeer herders, the Even live in clans composed of several families. They travel with their herds of two to three thousand reindeer, wintering in the valleys and spending the summers on the high plateaus.

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