IN THE LAND OF THE BEAR, by Denny Geurink, details the excitement, mystery, danger and adventure of hunting huge, aggressive brown bears in Siberia and traveling in Russia from 1991 through 2011, a time of political turmoil when the Soviet Union was evolving into Russia.
FOREWORD from IN THE LAND OF THE BEAR
by Denny Geurink
One of the few things I remember about the Soviet Union from my childhood is Nikita Khrushchev pounding his shoe on a table at a United Nations General Assembly meeting in 1960.
I don’t remember why he was beating the table, but I do remember the former Soviet leader as being something short of a real charmer. He’s the same guy who told the world his country would bury ours … not exactly an open invitation to Americans to stop by for a visit. Throw in the fear of Russia generated on our side of the pond when President Reagan referred to the Soviet Union as the “Evil Empire” and you can understand my reaction to an invitation I received in August 1991 to be part of an exploratory safari to the Land of the Bear (Siberia) and then write a story or stories about it.
So began one of the most exciting chapters in my life. This country boy from Allendale, Michigan, was about to have his world changed. That pioneering visit took place between the coup and the collapse.
It was still the Soviet Union when we arrived in Moscow in 1991, and I was one of the first Americans to get up-close-and-personal with this vast, secretive country. This was a land that Americans had heard only scary stories about, a nation and a people judged to be enemies.
After returning from that journey, I wrote a number of stories for various newspapers and magazines. Many of my friends and colleagues from throughout the United States interviewed me for stories they wanted to write for their newspapers and magazines. As far as we knew, I was the first outdoor writer invited to the Soviet Union. There was high interest in what I did, what I thought, and how easy — or how difficult — the trip was. Endless questions.
It was a special time in history. The world as we knew it was changing. Even the Berlin Wall came tumbling down.
Stories of my historical trip were highlighted by my colleagues in articles written for the Denver Post, the Chicago Tribune, the Detroit News, the Cleveland Plain Dealer, the Grand Rapids Press, and many other daily newspapers. Those stories spawned a huge interest in Russia, so much interest my phone began ringing off the hook! I received more than 400 calls in one week. My wife finally took the phone off the hook so we could get some sleep.
In the ensuing years, I had a chance to explore new lands, learn new customs and traditions, and study a culture few people knew anything about. I’ve met many wonderful people, including a number of dignitaries, such as the President of Kalmykia, the Vice President of Crimea, the ministers of various conservation and forestry departments, and even a colonel in the Russian army.
I also met everyday people from all walks of life — guides, cooks, hotel clerks, taxi drivers, teachers, professors, outfitters, and interpreters. I’ve had the great privilege of sharing many a wilderness campfire with the Eveny, an Inuit-like people inhabiting the wild regions of Siberia.
I learned from my new Russian friends what the Soviet Union was like before the collapse. I’ll never forget when one of them told me his wife would get up at 6 a.m. to stand in line at the store, which opened at 8 a.m., to buy bread. We heard a lot about the bread shortages in the Soviet Union, but this put it in perspective.
“Denny, if you ever go back, I’d love to go with you,” was what I often heard. I did want to go back, because I enjoyed myself and liked the Russian people.
After a few more trips and with interest still growing, I decided there might be some money to be made from this burgeoning desire to visit Russia. I contacted Dmitri Sikorski, the outfitter who set up my first trip, and asked him if he wanted to get into the tourism business.
“Yes, I do,” he said.
I started a company called Denny Geurink’s Outdoor Adventures and began taking people to Russia regularly.
Over those years, I shared campfires with wonderful people from the United States and Canada. Among them, prominent people such as Apollo 9 astronaut Jim McDivitt and his friend Earl O’Loughlin, a four-star Air Force general who flew spy plane missions over the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Jim and Earl took two trips with me.
During the 20-plus years I outfitted, I made more than 50 trips to Russia. I took hundreds of clients with me, many of them more than once. One has been there nine times. Most trips have been more than a month long, and some have been almost three months long. (For me, not my clients. I stayed in Russia while my clients shuttled in and out.) This means I’ve spent a lot of time in small trapper’s cabins and tents in the middle of Siberia, miles away from civilization, showers, electricity, and flush toilets.
This book is about those many journeys to the Land of the Bear. It’s not a book about just hunting or fishing; it’s as much about the people, the food, the land, the impressions, adventures, and excitement of trekking through the Siberian wilderness. Many of the stories were written shortly after they happened, so they give you my impressions of that particular time in Russia politically.
A number of stories were written with the help of friends and clients. They give you an insight into their impressions when they visited this wild land.
Some stories come from the Russian people themselves. They reveal the harsh reality of living in this wilderness called Siberia. One of the most touching is about a teenage girl who calls her mother on a cell phone to say goodbye … as she is being killed and eaten by a bear.
So pull up a log, sit close to the warmth of a Siberian campfire and, as one of my Eveny guides once told me, “listen to what the flames tell you about the great adventures that lurk in the wilderness around you.”
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