Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Irkutsk and Baikal 6/24/09

Irkutsk and Baikal 

Clear skies, sun, clouds, thunderstorm, bright sunset again
Wind 2-30 mph
Temp 67F

The last city we visited on our trip east was the Irkutsk region including Angarsk and Lake Baikal. My only association with Irkutsk was as a region in the game of Risk. Now I have been there and it is a lovely city.

We were hosted by President and Sister Southam, the second counselor in the mission presidency and authority for the eastern cities. As we came from the airport to their apartment, the first landmark they pointed out was a tank about a block away from their home. This particular tank was one of six that were paid by the children of Irkutsk and supplied to the Soviet army during the second world war and survived to be returned as a thank you.

I became fascinated with the old wooden houses that lined many of the streets as we went from their apartment to the downtown area. This one is typical of what we saw, log houses with bright blue frames around the windows that often were at ground (street) level. I did some research about it and discovered that these homes have no running water, some with no electricity, and many without indoor plumbing. Many are condemned as unlivable, but most have people still living in them. It appears like the buildings are sinking, but actually the surrounding ground and street have been rising over the years due to the yearly flooding of the Angara river until several dams were built over the last 50 or so years to control the river level. I just love the detail on these houses and can imagine how they must have looked when they were first built.

The city has built several log homes in the part behind the tank to show what the 17th century homes looked like when they were new. Here is one of them as it would have looked. I could be very happy in one of these.

By contrast, here is a close up sample of Soviet era construction exposed in a wall of the Southam's apartment. This is typical of the buildings here. Ours in Novo is different only in that it is concrete, but the same level of competence is evidenced in it. Southam's is a five story Khruschev era brick building where ours is a 9 story later model.

Friday after District Meeting, the Southams took us on a tour of downtown. We rode the bus to the town center, past the Renik, and near the river. We walked through the flower mart and over to some Russian Gift stores that were formerly the official Soviet era tourist stores. We looked at Baikal stones and other things and always came to the same conclusion, "what will we do with it and where will we keep it" We usually just give up and walk away.

The river front park was beautiful and could have been in any city in the world. The people were happy and content, the scenery was wonderful, and the weather just right. This is a 360 degree look at the waterfront park as we saw it.

Saturday we rented a van, marshutka from the father of a member of the branch and she went along as our interpreter. We were driven to the shore of Lake Baikal by way of a federal park where they had many of the early settlers' buildings that had been moved from other locations to this park for a concentrated look at the homes and buildings of the settlers of Siberia.

The forests are even now extremely thick and in those days more mature and even thicker. All of these old buildings are made of logs and sawed wood and have a rich look. The doorways were all about 5 feet high and made you stoop over to enter. I don't know if the people were that short or it was just convenient to deal with smaller doors, but they are consistent

I guess I'd like to wrap up our visit to Irkutsk and our over-view of eastern Siberia with a comment and a question. Every place people have come to settle has been populated by someone else before them. They may have been nomads who just wandered through the area seasonally, or clusters of people (or maybe full settlements) related by blood or loyalty, but absolutely empty land is a rarity. Even the account of Lehi intimates that they were not moving into a land that had never seen human foot. The account of Coriantumr from Ether's last pages and the discovery of the people of Zarahemla bears that out.

My comment is this: As one group settles, or migrates, in a place, others eventually come and attempt to possess it, not by law, not by agreement, not by purchase, but simply because they can. In the last analysis, none of this earth really belongs to any of us by right. It is all God's and we possess it either by greater force than those who want to take it or by agreement with, and/or by assignment from, God. If we are left alone to hold it by force, it is only a matter of time before a greater force takes it from us. This was demonstrated in the Immigrants to the U.S. and their treatment of the former residents of whatever place they claimed.

However, if we possess a place by God's grace and we pay for it with our obedience to his commandments, there is no force that can take it from us because the true owner has given it to us and He will defend His covenant people. As a people, the residents of this great land of Siberia have not yet covenanted with the true landlord for permission to possess it. When they do, it will be a choice land, a bountiful land, a land of freedom and beauty and power with enough and more for all.

My question: When?

What a country

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