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The external beauty of Lake Baikal is primarily a combination of magnificent bays, capes and coves, and mountains and hills surrounding the lake with their rich flora. The diversity of trees, shrubs, grasses and flowers that can be found on Lake Baikal is hard to imagine. But it is trees that define the perception of local nature. They are a pine, a larch, a cedar, a birch, a fir, an aspen and a cedar elfin. At least 90 % of the Baikal taiga is comprised of these trees natural commonwealth or forests with a predominance of a single tree species. Accordingly, some place names reflect this feature.The larch is “the luckiest” of them: there is the Larch Gulf at the rise of the Angara, the Larch Cape and the Larch Island on the east coast in the middle of the lake. The cedar is represented in the names of three capes – the Southern Cedar Cape, the Middle Cedar Cape and the Northern Cedar Cape situated in the north-western part of the lake. In the southern part of the Barguzinsky Reserve there is a cove and a river named Sosnovka (comes fom the Russian word sosna – “a pine”), and near the settlement Listvyanka (comes from the word listvennitsa – “a larch”) there is the Birch Cape. Among the names of rivers and bays of the lake there are such names like Elovka (comes from the word el – “a fir”) and Osinovka (comes from the word osina – “an aspen”). The latter name, for example, is the name of at least five rivers in the south of Lake Baikal. Among the “shrub” names and the other “flora” names there can be distinguished names of capes like the Big and Small Cheremshanny (comes from the word cheremsha – “bear’s onion”) Capes in the northwest of the lake, River Great Cheremshanka, Lake Cheremukhovoe (comes from the word cheremukha – “bird-cherry tree”) situated near the settlement Posolsk, then comes River Smorodovaya (comes from the word smorodina – “currants”). These and other “flora” names are likely to reflect not only individual manifestations of Baikal areas, but also the internal state of people.

Often the ability to think of spirituality and psychology of nature is ascribed to poets and humanitarians reveal their nature in such a way. But let us dwell on the thoughts of a natural science specialist, ardently loving his Baikal region, V. Takhteev: «Who has visited the taiga wilderness at least once remembers the overwhelming feeling of grandeur and unity with the pristine nature. Secular cedars and mighty pines, sometimes silent, then the stately rustling in gusts of wind sweeping the tops; the smell of wild rosemary and fir; gracious fooling with fresh mushroom; springs with crystal clear, almost icy water; bunches of blueberry and bilberry bushes with clusters of ripening berries in late summer; and in the winter – clean untouched drifts, snow clothing on shaggy branches of trees, sparkling in the day light, and at night making them look like a mysterious fairy in the bluish moonlight… All this revives the warmest feelings in the soul (and sometimes it simply makes us recollect we’ve got one)! And that is why when on walking holidays, or sitting by a tourist campfire or in a warm, winter hut well-wrought by cedar nut getters there appears a great desire to think about the eternal, the universe and the perfection of nature, about your place in this world, and even about other, distant worlds that are visible only as bright twinkling stars overhead, among the crowns of the taiga giants. And you always return from the taiga purged, with awakened gust of dreaminess and sense of pride for your region”.

Flora in the chain of “the lake tree of immortality” ranks first as overall of the world evolution. The man is believed to have been a vegetarian for the most time of his development, and he has to be very grateful to his Mother Flora. From the psychological point of view the ancient man could not help being grateful to the flora for many reasons:

  • human communities living in areas with some predominant certain species of plants, connected their origin with these plants, or at least believed in their beneficial impact on the lives of their families and tribes; it is not by chance that many family names of Russian people have “plant” origin: Sosnin (comes from the word sosna – “a pine”), Kedrov (comes from the word kedr – “a cedar”), Berezov (comes from the word bereza – “a birch”), Elkin (comes from the word el – “a fir”) and many others;

  • stimulating or stupefying note of some plants along with the impossibility to explain the reasons of this phenomenon became the basis for people to recognize their supernatural power;

  • fragrance aroma of many plants and especially flowers have always attracted people, arouse pleasant feelings and emotions, made them surge for strength in them;

  • healing properties of some plants both animal and human tested, evoked reverence to these plants, acknowledgement of their protection and patronage for various reasons (maybe this is also connected with ancestral spirits).

Currently, psychologists are gaining more and more material supporting the idea that the love and interest of a person to certain plants is connected with traits of his character. And this connection is not likely to be accidental. In calendar ceremonies and celebrations of many nations we can find tree cults. A tree was considered sacred if it witnessed the most essential events. It could be an oak, a pine or even a pear located somewhere along the road or in the centre of a village. The sacred tree was not to cut down, it was not to be climbed up; its fruits were given only to sick men, and when one passed it he took off his cap and took a bow. Flowers, stems and fruits were tied to its trunk and branches.

The famous folk rituals of the Trinity are based on the cult of wood. The cult of the birch originates from it too as a symbol of Russian nature. The ancient Trinity custom comprised decorating houses with birch or flowering viburnum branches. The floor in the huts was carpeted with fragrant herbs. Girls went to the forest and curled birches: “Came girls to a white birchy”.

In his book “Walden, or Life in the Forest” Henry David Thoreau wrote: “It would be great if our farmers when cutting down trees could feel at least a part of that terror that ancient Romans experienced when they had to thin out the sacred grove to give light to it (Lucum Conclucare) and believe, like the Romans did, that this grove is devoted to some deity”.

People often divide flora species into hierarchical levels just like they do it in the human society. By this feeling V. A. Obruchev seemed to be overwhelmed when he stood on the Olkhon mountain plate, and stated: “On the left and right at low altitude there are lords of the Siberian forests, proud cedars; at the bottom of the throne foot there stand serious guards, firs and pines; then there are birches and aspens, such welcoming, nodding, flattering and rustling vassals; and quite deeply down there is a thick crowd of ordinary people, alders. A carpet of green grass covers the ground; however, in the middle between the princely seats there stretches a huge stone staircase, broad steps of which descend to the deep blue sea or even almost to the very sea depths…”. Let us follow the suggested hierarchy in presenting this section material.

There is a great variety of plants among the most revered wild plants and trees in the Baikal region, but still the coniferous go first: a pine, a larch and a cedar, and above all, Scotch pine. It is not only because at least 50% of the Baikal mountain and forest plants are these beauties of the taiga, but also because of their individual qualities. A lot depends on how people decide to use them. For example, the specific features of pine timber and benefits of its use in the pulp industry have become one of the principle arguments for construction of pulp and paper factories on the shores of Lake Baikal [93, p. 11]. This miserable fact does not detract there numerous merits, from “furniture” and “building” up to “healing” ones, because its fragrance revitalizes all the living things in the forest wilds, and many ingredients are very useful for human health. One poet once said: “Pine, pine! Odorous doctor! I need your pitch so much!”

In 1785 the famous explorer and scientist Academician Peter Simon Pallas in his book “Description of Plants of the Russian State”, wrote that “collected young pine and cedar twigs are commended by all the manufacturers and sailors in Siberia as the best remedy for scorbutus and balsam, and medicine considers it the best of all scorbutic disease drugs as well. Those pine twigs are exported in great quantities from the Russian state to foreign pharmacies”.

By the way, in Europe consumers remember very well the legends about the miraculous effect of “pine” medicines on people who walked through the country after well-known events. When the French traveler Jacques Cartier made his second trip to Newfoundland, out of 110 participants of the expedition 100 people got seriously ill with scorbutus. An Indian advised the members of his expedition to use as a remedy against scorbutus an infusion made of pine needles. The pine infusion had really a wonderful effect, a few days later all the sick recovered, and Jacques Cartier admiringly exclaimed: “This is the tree of life!” Thus, in 1535 for the pine needle properties the pine was called the tree of life.

The desire to spiritualize the pine tree, to make it human-like is common to many peoples. Just recall the poem by M. Y. Lermontov “In the North Wilderness ...” His lone pine reflects, she even dreams of a beautiful tree, growing on a mighty cliff... In the Confucian canonical “Book of the Statutes” defining the norms of relations between people he speaks about a perfect man, whose heart is like a pith of a pine and a cypress. Like these trees do not change their decor, the generous man remains constant in his beliefs. In the legends of Siberian people the pine often symbolizes strength and aspirations inviolability, vitality, longevity.

Although less widespread, but no less significant cedar has become one of the symbols of Christianity. In one of the temples of Tobolsk there was preserved iconostasis made of cedar. “When you see a cedar, the king of taiga”, L. Leonov said, “the hat falls down from your dome by itself in reverence”. In Lake Baikal region the cedar is widespread in the mountain chains of the Khamar-Daban, Ulan-Burgasy, Barguzin and Baikal. In many areas, particularly in the south-eastern coast such as Baikalsk, Vydrino, Tankhoy, Enkheluk and many other places the cedar goes down to the very lake. Sometimes more than a 50 meter hero may live, as many consider, at least for 800 years. The cedar bestows health and longevity to all the surrounding; in cedar forests flu, a running nose and a sore throat cannot survive. The air, infused on essential oils of cedar, ruins any ailment. Oil made of pine nuts possesses no less curative effect. In recent years its production technology has improved and the oil is at good service to people. And there is no question of the benefits of the tree for many Baikal rodents such as the sable, squirrel, kolinsky, and ermine.

The pine tree, the cedar nearest kin, plays a very important role in folklore and legends of different nations. It is also personified, ascribed different psychological qualities, like in a work of the Siberian writer O. Serova:

“The cedar is a hero with a soul so sincere, ingenious and courageous. He embodies generosity, good humor and power. Thanks to his strength and the breadth of his soul he does not remember some little grievances, does not know the feeling of irritation and revenge.

If he hates, he does it only to death, if he loves – only forever.

In his life there is one open wound that is his love to the whitebodied birch. But a strange mistery, unknown to people, separated their hearts.

Trees makes fun of the faithful heart of the cedar, but they are afraid of gossiping loudly, fearing the mighty branches of the giant and his honest anger”.

One can laugh heartily at the author inspiring and overidealizing a tree. But if you take a look at the cedar that grew up on granite cliff without any congenial soil near the Sandy Bay, the desire to make fun of the fiction disappears. People call this cedar “the Courage of Life Tree”; and cedars are consistent with this credo. On the spot we can say that the observation, reasoning and intuitive perception, suggested by O. Serova, characterize not only the trees themselves, but also can form the basis of psychological typology of human character in its relation to various plants and trees, as we mentioned above.

In the taiga decays and bog areas the famous larch can be seen. On the territory of the Baikal region there is a border between two of its species: the Siberian larch grows in the western part of the lake and the Dahurian one – in the eastern part. The larch is famous for the fact that on piles made of it the buildings of Venice for many centuries already have been standing firmly. In water air tight the larch does not get rot, but, on the contrary, becomes as sturdy and durable as iron. In the Baikal forests this tree is absolutely tenacious of life. In the second half of the last century at the Pongone Cape a larch 535 years old was sawn. Local people build larch houses, baths, fences, and many other facilities. As for the healing properties of this tree they are not less than that of the pine and the cedar. The Irkutsk scientists have extracted a powerful drug of its ingredients – Diquertin that is now widely used both for maintaining people’s health and disease prevention.

Varlam Shalamov has a short but very meaningful story “Resurrection of Larch”. The plot is simple enough: from the north to Moscow someone sends a larch branch, a dead branch of wildlife to the wife of a poet who died in Kolyma. The woman puts the branch in a tin with chlorinated dead tap water in Moscow, and after three days and three nights the branch comes to life. The writer believes that the branch has collected all the hidden force, physical and spiritual, to rise not only in memory of the dead, but as the resurrection of new life. One more idea of the story is that living for many centuries and keeping the information about human life, the strength of people’s soul, their physical and moral sufferings, the larch makes people immortal, and, conversely, the memory of the dead revives the larch. V. Shalamov personifies the larch as having its own psychology. On the basis of the mentality we hold this sounds plausible. And involuntarily there emerges a question: what kind of information about the lake and the people the old larch sawed at the Pongone Cape has accumulated for more than 535 years...

For us the question of interaction of the dead larch with water turns out somewhat mysterious as well. As it has already been mentioned, it has lived for centuries in piles under the waters of Venice. It behaves similarly in Lake Baikal. In 2002, near the Swede Cape, we found ejected from the depths remains of a ship made of larch logs. Judging by the old forged and rusted nails, the age of the vessel was not less than a century, but it was impossible to say this judging by the light and hardened like a stone timber of larch. Apparently, water and larch gain a lot from their interaction, they revive each other, and it is necessary to learn to use this property for life. But e problem is that larch snags, sunk during the decades of alloys, can partition off river beds.

When providing remarkable facts and legends about the life of elder brothers and sisters of the entire flora, i.e., trees, it would be unfair not to mention one or two of their younger representatives. It is interesting to mention that in the cold tropics of southern Baikal apart from endemic species there are species absolutely atypical for Siberia: grapes, chicory with blue flowers, plush tiger lily and many others (245, pp. 11 – 12). One of the most famous local shrubs is wild rosemary – Dahurian Rhododendron. In late May and early June one can hardly find a more magnificent place than the shores of Lake Baikal, decorated with a myriad of lilac, violet and even purple wild rosemary bushes.

At the beginning of summer in the lowland coasts and in the surrounding forests Globeflowers Asian are especially beautiful, and local people call them zharki (comes from the word zhar – “hot fire”). And here is one more legend that shows the unity of the mysterious world of the sea, men and plants, in this case flowers.

“The slender young shepherd Alexei often drove herds of horses to drink water to Lake Baikal. Amain the horses flew into the bright waters of the lake, raising a fountain spray, but the most restless of them was Alexei. He was so happy diving, swimming and laughing so heartily that he scared all the mermaids in the place.

The mermaids have come up with different tricks to tempt Alexei. They then went out on a foggy meadow and danced so easily and beautifully only a mist stirred by the breath of wind could dance like this. Then they sat down on a green bank, singing songs, swaying their graceful heads. Then they swam in a lunar lake as gracefully as the most agile swimmers could swim, but none of the mermaids was honored the attention of the young shepherd.

Sighing lonely, most of the mermaids dived into the depths of the lake and sometimes their sighs could not but reminded people of the futility of the mermaids’ attempts.

But one mermaid fell in love with Alexei so much that she did not want to leave him. She got out of the water and quietly crucified the shepherd. Her hair was bleached by the sun so that it became golden. Her cold sight got fired. But all was in vain, Alexei did not notice anything.

Only sometimes he, wondering, looked back at the rustle of a bush or surprised at unusual outlines of fog resembling a girl holding out her arms to him. But even then he only laughed, and took run with the horse so that the mermaid just sprang away, shivering with fear.

The last time she was sitting near Alexei by a night fire, and tryed to draw his attention whispering a sad song and smiling a pale smile, but when Alexei got closer to her the mermaid melted at the rays of the morning sun and turned into a Globeflower that Siberians affectionately call zharki. The hot flame of love can ignite even the soul of a mermaid...”

We have told you in detail only about some species of flora of the Sacred Sea, but we can speak about other species endlessly. The world of our green friends is as unique and has so many faces, as the human world. But still we must confess that for the past decade the Baikal taiga has got emaciated in trees and plants. This process must be stopped or its malignancy can enhance the problems of Lake Baikal. Resurrection and spiritualization of flora ecologically and psychologically is a greatest challenge for us today.

See also


  1. The Many Faces of Multilingual and Mysterious Baikal/ A.D.Karnyshev-wThe 4 The Edition, updated/ (Монография) (2011г., Ulan-Ude:BSU Publishing House,2011.-586p.: with illustrations.)

Выходные данные материала:

Жанр материала: English | Автор(ы): Karnyshev A.D. | Источник(и): The Many Faces of Multilingual and Mysterious Baikal. Ulan-Ude. 2012 | Дата публикации оригинала (хрестоматии): 2011 | Дата последней редакции в Иркипедии: 30 марта 2015

Примечание: "Авторский коллектив" означает совокупность всех сотрудников и нештатных авторов Иркипедии, которые создавали статью и вносили в неё правки и дополнения по мере необходимости.

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Тематический указатель: Irkipedia English