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A woman’s five seasons on northernmost Russian cape

March 20, 2017, 8:46 UTC+3 ARKHANGELSK

Meet the woman who had worked five polar seasons on the northern Novaya Zemlya archipelago as the inspector of the Russian Arctic National Park

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© Irina Skalina/TASS

ARKHANGELSK, March 20. /TASS/. Tamara Molodtsova comes from Arkhangelsk, in Russia’s north-west. She worked five polar seasons on the northern Novaya Zemlya archipelago as the inspector of the Russian Arctic National Park and spent a winter in a camp on the uninhabited Franz Josef Land. 

She at once begins talking about her "folks" on the Cape Zhelaniye. Those are Arctic foxes, gulls, loons, of course bears, as well as whatever other feathered and furred inhabitants of the Cape. "Early in the morning, I would jump on my quad (an ATV), move on slowly, observe the territory - to see what’s where and who’s with who. Here are whales, for example. This year they were many, and I could watch them right under the shore."

'Three-in-one' inspector

She did not plan going to the Arctic. A nurse, a nutritionist, retired already. Her husband was planning to leave for the Arctic as an inspector of the Russian Arctic National Park. To the very north of Novaya Zemlya - to the Cape Zhelaniye - on the border between the Barents and Kara Seas. Construction of a base began there in 2012. The work in the Arctic can be only in summer, and the group was looking for an inspector, who could provide emergency medical assistance and also cook - thus a "three in one" specialist.

"And then it occurs to me: why not Tamara. She is easy-going, you know. So I tell her, but she: no, no, no," Igor, her husband, said, and here Tamara continued: "Then I wondered: look, it’s good money they pay for me to see the Arctic, such offers are not made twice." This was how she decided to go to the Arctic, to the Cape Zhelaniye.

The first days on Novaya Zemlya, she says, are out of the memory now. She was to settle there somehow - all in a tiny room, she is so little and slim, but the guys around are huge. Besides, the roof could not stop the dripping. "We had a table there, bowls on top. Open the door and you’ll see: bowls, bowls everywhere - not to have puddles." And now, life is comfortable: a cabin, and a new sauna made last summer. On top of the previous one a bear was jumping, the roof got broken, and the chimney - he must have wanted to take it with him, but could not pull it out.

A woman with a rifle

The first year they did not have guns. That meant to be by the base all the time. Later on, they took training and bought rifles. "In childhood, yes, I saw a twenty-too (a small-caliber rifle), yes, had it in hands, no, I never fired it," Tamara said.

On Novaya Zemlya she fired for attention, or rather against it. Once, two of their group went to clear a house on the old polar station, and Tamara remained on the base, and like always she kept looking through the window to see what’s happening around her. Here, from the see comes a bear with cubs, they walk, go round the base. Tamara grasps the radio, to say about the danger, but it would not work - all silence. She rushes back to the window, and the bear family is targeting right at that house. Tamara gets out, shoots in the air - no, they would not hear - the wind is from them. She drums a bowl - the bears get interested in the noise, but the colleagues still could not hear her. She has to rush to them. "I put on slippers, and off to them. By foot - the ATV is gone, but I can see where the danger is and can go by it. So I run to them, asking - can’t you hear - no, they say, we can’t."

Bears: the acrobats and the adoptees

You never know, she says, what to expect from bears. "The bearers (scientists, who study bears) put up baits on wooden poles, which are in place of the former military unit, were waiting, but no, not a bear would come. They (bails) remained up there, the scientists left. One day, I am by the window, and what do I see: a bear (polar) climbs up the pole. I could never imagine a bear can climb!"

In 2014, there were very many bears by the park’s base. Among them was a cub, a little girl, most likely an orphan. She was so cutely curious, Tamara said, was sniffing everything, and got especially interested in diesel oil. Once comes a bear with a little cub, so small it was even pink as yet, and the orphan was by them all the time, and then in about two weeks they all got lost. "Next year, I drove across all the places, studied all the bones - no, nobody has died. And this summer here comes a bear, who behaves weirdly: at first it begins sniffing the diesel oil, then gets into the windows and sits on the beacon. The other bears stayed closer to the sea. I look at it: she looks like that orphan. And then I was watching them on the shore: she was next to the bear-mother with the grownup cub. The mother would roar at the orphan, and it would obey, but still not like a family, you see. Then they disappeared as suddenly as had come. Who knows, maybe it was an adoptee."

Feathered guests

Tamara says about how interesting it is to take a picture of some rare bird. She has a special feel for birds. A year ago, a photographer lived on the base. "I tell him: Kolya, look, there is an owl, take a picture." He says: "No, it’s a stump, I have its picture already." But it was so far! I tell him: "Do, do take a picture." He obeyed. Then we see: right, it was a white owl. There he rushed to it!"

This year, red throated loons settled on the lake by the base. "I was watching them every day," Tamara said. "Mother is there with the chick, father brings a fish. The mother cries out to him. He comes, growls on her, like a man saying - what’s up, I am busy, fishing, you know, then throws in the fish - and off he flies."

Getting from the island

There is no regular transport communication with Novaya Zemlya. Polar staff is taken by expedition or cargo vessels. Getting onboard is usually by climbing an abandon-ship ladder. That most often is a rope ladder, or rather a thick rope with staves. The boots - Tamara is wearing boots three sizes bigger than hers. They are very slippery on the staves. Plus the warm clothes, plus a vest - not helpful for easy moving. "Usually, when we are leaving Novaya Zemlya, the weather is disgusting. We have to climb and crawl. Once I was climbing up, the stave was loose, and I got twisting, the back to the boardside, but they did manage to see and bring me up."

The water temperature in the Barents Sea at that time is about zero. "In the 13th (2013) I had a dog with me. We were sailing from the shore then, the boat was throwing all sides, I even shut the eyes, covered the dog with something to make sure it does not jump out. Then they raised us up with the boat," she said, the best getting from the island was in 2016, when a helicopter took them from the Cape right to the vessel.

Winter and eclipse on the Alexandra Land

On the Alexandra Land (Franz Josef Land - Russia’s northernmost land) Tamara worked for four months in 2015. She calls that trip from February to June the winter trip, unlike the routine summer seasons on the Cape Zhelaniye. "It was on April 1. The mood was to make a fool of somebody. So, we tell the shift on the radio that the entrance door got frozen, and getting into the house could be only from the roof and the tiny balcony on the second floor. Nobody even tried the door, all went from the roof. And here I am with the camera - recording them," she laughs.

There, on the Alexandra Land, in 2015, Tamara watched the sun eclipse. It was very cold in that March, the wind was stormy. "I was to catch the moment: the dawn only began, and here is the eclipse. But the feeling was not from the eclipse, but from the understanding you are so far away somewhere…"

As yet, Tamara says, she does not plan to go to the Arctic again. Enough. But then, after a pause: "As the season comes - here I am suffering, watching the pictures all over again and again, remembering the teddy bear. Tears will come and come. No, I don’t know," she smiles.

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