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The Buryat people live in southern Siberia aromui Lake Baikal. Primarily fishermen, they are also hunters, trappers, and herders, but the recent influx of hard currency from tourism has begun to disrupt their traditional way of life.

Opposite: In the Siberian taiga, bridges are rare. They serve no purpose in the winter it’s easy enough to cross on the ice itself and the cost of building structures solid enough to withstand a river’s breakup and flood stages is prohibitive. In summer, primitive ferries cross the river, and people, vehicles, and a variety of animals crowd on board together.

The Taiga

The taiga an enormous swath of evergreens just south of the tundra is the largest forest in the world. It covers 10 percent of the earth’s surface and accounts for one-quarter of its forested land. The taiga extends roughly from the fifty-fifth parallel to the Arctic Circle. In its southern reaches, the forest includes a number of deciduous species, birch among them, and grows to a density of some 130 tons per acre. In the north, one finds at most a density of 45 tons per acre, principally larch. Given its average productivity of roughly 7 tons per acre per year, the taiga could supply the entire earth with wood from now until the end of time, but unfortunately or fortunately most of it is inaccessible.

The taiga is characterized by conifers (spruce, fir, Scotch pine, and Siberian stone pine, among others), which are excellently adapted to the cold. Their “leaves” are reduced to needles, which limits their surface area and the plants’ water loss. In addition, the stomata, the microscopic pores that allow gas exchange in summer, are totally closed in winter, transforming the tree into a sort of hibernating mummy. Larches behave like deciduous trees and shed their “breathing organs” in winter. Losing little water in summer through their needles and none at all in winter, larches combine the advantages of the deciduous tree and the conifer, which helps explain their remarkable success in the taiga.

Be there a will, and wisdom finds a way.

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