Mr N relates an interesting statistic about Mongolian families living on the Steppe; that they are spaced around 30 km apart in an arrangement designed to allocate and distribute enough land to support each family unit and their animals. In other words it’s not a random free-for-all out there, nor is it legislation for that matter; more of a working understanding that provides an equitable outcome for all concerned. The dots of habitation, spaced throughout the wilderness have a significance, an order then.
Of course, we would see the Steppe much differently to indigenous Mongolians. What looks like an empty expanse of nothing to us, probably equates to streets, roads, landmarks and signposts to them. I wonder if any studies have been done to look into this, and our relative perceptions of the same environment. I’m sure I read something similar about native aboriginal people: that their visual acuity was so refined that the seemingly random scatter of bush, brush, trees, rocks, tracks et al makes as much geographic sense to them, as our delineated streets and neighbourhoods do to us.
It’s an involved business, living within these unofficial territories, with a house-move on the cards five to six times a year as the livestock follows (ie: eats) the greenery. Not all of it though: the family themselves collect enough to (hopefully) provide for their livestock throughout the lock-down of the winter months. And again, the mutual cooperation kicks in.
You just don’t mess with another family’s grass store. I get the impression from Mr N that it’s a pretty serious business. Let’s face it: this provision will keep the animals and – by extension, the humans – alive during the punishing winters. Without exaggeration it is a life or death issue.
Whilst the local greenery is being eaten away, men (yes, gender roles are more defined over there) are sent to check for good grass ahead, sourcing a location for the next move. And so the process of immediate survival coupled with the stocking of winter grasses continues.
Incidentally, on the subject of moving house, Mr N reveals another remarkable Mongolian nugget (there are quite a few): that in expert hands a Ger can be assembled in 15 minutes! Good grief, so is that a family-sized Ger assembled by the family themselves? I should have asked. Impressive even so. Over here, it would take 15 minutes just to have the argument. And that’s before we’d try to follow the instructions upside-down. Remarkable.
The winter may last between five to six months from late October until the following April – which is unimaginable to us, particularly with the brutal cold at hand. Even minus 30° C is not news there, minus 53° C (approx) being the lowest recorded Mongolian temperature, or so I hear. The extreme cold of the winter (a relative term: it’s all beyond our experience) sets in from the end of November until the end of the following February – in other words, that’s most of the winter then. And afterwards, when the thaw comes, it’s time to start the cycle again.
There’s a love of open space prevalent in my conversations with Mongolians, hardly surprising if you are used to managing sweeping flocks numbering 100s, possibly 1000s of animals under wide-open, god-like blue skies. Yes, that’s how the sky is revered, and within the blue sky dwells the Buddha.
Compare and contrast M, whom I spoke to previously, often found sitting on the porch to his rabbit-hutch flat during his stay in New York, just to get some space around him. You can take the boy out of Mongolia, but… Well you know how that one goes.
More next time.
Next time: Trips and Tales (Part 110) Gobi (and Steppe) wanderings #3
[Photo by magical-world]