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Nature’s grand scale

POSTED: June 5, 2013 4:00 a.m.

I spent years working in various parts of Kazakhstan following the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Kazakhstan is a massive mid-continental country about three times the size of Texas that spans from the Caspian Sea to China and Siberia.

Such a huge country offers diverse nature and geology so I was lucky to have been able to travel the length of the place over those years.

Western Kazakhstan is dominated by low flat desert that spans for hundreds of miles in all directions.

The parched windblown landscape can easily reach temperatures in excess of 110 degrees during the summer and plunge to 30 below for weeks on end during the long, dark winters.

Located there is one of the 10 largest oil fields in the world, hence my reason for being there. We had a huge oil facility located near the Caspian Sea that processed the field's oil for transport to Europe.

Most of the workers never left the confines of the facility. During their off hours they played poker, read books or just socialized within the small circles that form in such camps.

To them, the desert was a formidable environment that offered no beauty, interest or relief.

It was a shame.

A short drive outside the fence was all it took to reach the first lagoons and salt marshes of the Caspian. This was the breeding ground of the Russian Sturgeon from which their famous caviar is produced. Tiny fish born amongst the protective reeds quickly grew strong enough to enter the deeper sea. There they would grow into grand fish easily reaching 15 feet or more in length.

I drove with my close friends, not to see the tiny fish, but to witness an even grander sight - flamingos.

Often associated with the tropics, Greater Flamingos in fact roam across central Asia in huge flocks. They winter in Iran then migrate up across the Caspian to summer in western Siberia. Our little patch of the Caspian was a regular stop along their annual routes.

If you could time it just right you could sit there and watch thousands of the graceful birds first appear low on the horizon then marvel as they filled the sky all around looking for a spot to light in the shallow marshes. Hundreds would land across the open spaces and then calmly start poking into the water to feed on the tiny sturgeon.

Coming from the south they would be the classic pink making the sky awash in their flowing colors. They never seemed to collide as they swirled around and quickly dropped from the sky to land.

I had seen such on TV in documentaries but those productions could never equal the grandeur of Mother Nature in real life. The event would only last a few weeks at best before rested and fed birds again took to the air in order to reach their Siberian breeding grounds.

Back in camp, those of us that bothered to look beyond the safety of a fence realized we had witnessed one of nature's many spectacular events. Five flamingos walking across a hotel lawn in Miami might be beautiful and interesting. Standing in the middle of hundreds of the elegant birds as they fly like confetti all around you is quite another experience. Only Mother Nature can perform on such a grand scale.

Every year if at all possible I made the trip to the Caspian shoreline.

Some years I was rewarded. Other years I missed the event by maybe just days. Nature waits on no man.

To this day I hear from friends that worked there and never thought the place was more than a dry hostile desert. Those of us that dared to look a little further found nature on the grandest scale possible.

It just depends on whether you are willing to look outside your fence.

Charlie Auvermann is a longtime Dawson County resident and former editor of the Dawson Community News. He is also the executive director of the local development authority.

 

 

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