Siberia, 2020

Siberia, 2020

by Angie Cosey

It was a raw and biting minus 30 degrees Fahrenheit as our little bread truck trundled across the Siberian steppe. A patchy layer of snow covered the grassy slopes in meringue ripples. We bounced across barren fields and through rutted cart paths and over frozen rivers, fighting fatigue as we traveled back toward the lodge after a day of staring across the hills and straining our eyes to catch sight of a snow leopard.

We came to a valley scattered with sheep and yaks and horses. The bread truck — called bukhanka, or loaf, in Russian because it was shaped just so — ground to a halt next to a shepherd who was keeping watch over his livestock. The driver got out to ask the shepherd if he’d found any leopard signs in the area recently. They conversed for a while, then walked off together into the field, returning a few moments later with a tiny wet lamb clutched in the shepherd’s arms. She was white and trembling and couldn’t have been more than 30 minutes old; I christened her Anastasia.

The shepherd needed to take Anastasia to his house — presumably so she wouldn’t freeze to death in the first hour of her new life — and it was agreed that we would give the pair a lift. It must have been two miles away; if we hadn’t come along that shepherd would have walked all that way with a newborn lamb. She could’ve frozen to death in his arms before they made it back.  

For a moment we had a glimpse into one instant of a steppe herder’s day and I’ve rarely seen a lifestyle so different from my own. A week later I would be soaking in a hot bath in a magnificent tub in the Hotel Metropol in Moscow, and this guy would be collecting another wet lamb and trekking it across the plain to dry it by the warm flames of his hearth.


Featured in our December 2021 issue, "Polar*ity"