First Find

June 5th, 2009

NEAR KHAMONTOVO, LENINGRAD REGION, RUSSIA–When you’re a paleontologist in the field with other geologists for the first time, you need to prove your general scientific worth by either saying witty things or finding an excellent specimen right away. I went for the latter and picked up on our first outcrop the rhombiferans you see below. I’m golden now, at least for a few days.

Ordovician outcrop near the field house, and the beautiful eocrinoids found there.

Ordovician outcrop near the field house, and the beautiful rhombiferans (probably Glyptocystites) found there.

Rhombiferans are Early Paleozoic echinoderms which resemble crinoids and blastoids but have few brachioles (extensions around the mouth to filter food from the water). I’ve only previously seen random plates and holdfasts, so I was plenty surprised by these beauties. I donated them graciously, of course, to the echinoderm expert. This is not hard to do since Russian law does not allow foreigners to take fossils out of the country.

A Geological Field House

June 5th, 2009

NEAR KHAMONTOVO, LENINGRAD REGION, RUSSIA–It is not your typical Russian dacha, this field house.  It was purchased partially-finished by Andrey because it is ideally located (N60.01114°, E32.56416°) very near important Paleozoic outcrops.  The setting is beautiful — on the top of a steep bank overlooking the Lynna River as it meets the larger Sass River.

Our field house on the first day of our work.

Our field house on the first day of our work.

There is no running water, but there is electricity (most of the time).  Heat was originally supplied by a large wood-burning stove, but alas (!) someone broke in and stole it before we arrived.  It is a very cold place right now, so I wear my down jacket all the time, even to bed.  The outhouse is … well … as basic as it can get in the hole-in-the-floor Russian fashion.  Our water comes either directly from the river or from a nearby well.  “Completely pure and safe to drink”, I’m told.  I’ve seen the outhouse, though, and I’m imagining a few hundred others like it upstream.

Nevertheless, this is an excellent base for just what we want to do.  One of the prime outcrops is just a few meters away from the front door, and the others we need on this expedition are mostly within 10 kilometers.  I can rough it here for two weeks, especially since there isn’t a mirror in the house.  Another benefit is that I’m a guest of the Russian Academy of Sciences — the lodging, food and transport here doesn’t cost a kopeck.

We are joined in this house and in the field by another member of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Nikolai Kuznetsov, and two geologist-technicians, Andrei Schatsilov and Sergei Orlov.  They are interested in tectonic and paleogeographic issues with the Lower Paleozoic of this area.

Sleeper Train West

June 5th, 2009

Andrey and I boarded a west-bound train in Moscow at 6:25 in the evening. It is a nine-hour ride to Volkhov, so the cars are equipped as sleepers. This meant that we shared an open compartment with two other people, and then at some point of mutual agreement we made our beds by placing sheets on thin mattresses and spreading them out on the seating benches and the two suspended bunks above. Andrey and I had upper bunks, which meant we climbed high and slid ourselves into narrow alcoves about two feet wide and something considerably less than 6’3″ long. My sock-clad feet hung out over the aisle, unfortunately, to be frequently bumped with a whispered “izveeneetyeh” (excuse me). Since our stop was at 3:15 a.m., I didn’t sleep well because I was worried they wouldn’t wake us.

Train loading at Moscow Station.

Train loading at Moscow Station.

The uniformed car attendants did wake us in time to fumble on our shoes and gather our luggage as the train slowed. I lugged that 57-pound suitcase of equipment down the dark aisle, doing a set of my own izveeneetyehs. We were dropped off on a railroad siding opposite the station, so all the passengers as a matter of course climbed down onto the tracks, crossing them in the dusky lighting of one of the famous “white nights”. We waited in the station another six hours for a local train to take us fifteen minutes to the field house, which is fortunately only 200 meters from the tracks. The temperature was 40° F with a light rain — not nearly as warm as I expected!

Train stop near the field house, Leningrad Region.

Train stop near the field house, Leningrad Region.

Touring Moscow

June 4th, 2009

MOSCOW, RUSSIA–As I write this entry and the following few, I’m deep in the Russian woods in a small “field house” with no internet connections.  I will post this entry and the others when I get the chance and back-date them so they show the day they were written, not posted.

This is a brief cultural note before the field accounts to come.  Andrey and Veronica Dronov picked me up from my hotel and gave me a wonderful tour of the primary Moscow sites.  We started with the Kremlin walls and then walked around Red Square.  Stalin and Lenin appeared to be posing for photos, so I checked their last resting places and confirmed that they are indeed still dead.

Afterwards we had a minibus tour of the city, another walk through parks, and then a Tajik dinner (lamb kebabs for me).  My first impression is how very deep the history of this city is, from buildings erected by Ivan the Terrible through the drama of “Soviet times” to today’s attempts to soften Moscow’s public image with massive reconstruction of churches and other pre-revolutionary buildings.  This is also a city which is not easy for visitors to negotiate on their own.  I admire my daughter Amy even more for spending her junior year here.

The Miracle of Wireless

June 4th, 2009

Somehow I stumbled upon a wireless connection in my Moscow hotel room this morning. I shall post quickly before it vanishes. It disappears now and then, but I’ve thus far been able to retrieve it.

First, a couple of images from my recent neighborhood:

My hotel on the left.  On the right is some statuary they forgot to knock down.

My hotel on the left. On the right is some statuary they forgot to knock down.

Yesterday afternoon I arrived in the airport and met my new friend Andrei Dronov from the Russian Academy of Sciences. It was a bit of a trick because he sent me a photo of his face for me to recognize and I learned quickly that there are many Russian faces like his at the airport! But I found him and we set off for the city center. Riding the Metro was an adventure in itself. It was like being shut up in a rocket and blasted into the darkness, although maybe a bit faster and noisier. It all worked out, though, even while schlepping 57 pounds of equipment.

The tiny bit of Moscow I’ve seen in the last few hours is very much like any megacity, save for the Cyrillic signs. The traffic is extraordinary, and the noise from it lasts through the night. There is plenty of food available from stalls on the streetsides. The blocky Stalinist buildings (like my hotel) are relieved by the occasional pre-Revolution stonework and the bright golden-domed churches. There is a streetcar system just outside my room which looks ancient, but it is fast and apparently efficient.

This evening I go with Andrei by train to St. Petersburg and then the Volkhov region to the southeast of the city. He describes our lodgings there as a “field camp”. It is an unfinished house taken over by geologists because of its prime position on a famous Ordovician outcrop. I doubt very much I will be posting through wireless from there!

My goal on this trip is to explore the Lower Ordovician hardgrounds and fossils to test some hypotheses I’ve developed over the years in other regions.  These Russian rocks are among the best exposed earliest Ordovician in the world.  I also want to see how feasible it will be to bring Independent Study students to these sites.

Wooster Geologist in Russia

June 3rd, 2009

My first day in Russia.  I’m in Moscow hotel lobby with only this cranky connection to the Internet, but I’m here.  Tomorrow I leave with my colleague Andrei Dronov for work in the St. Petersburg region on the Lower Ordovician.

I wish I could post some of my great photos of Moscow, but they willl have to come later.  I’ve already had adventures in the Metro and buying food.  All is well.  The geology will come when I can connect my computer to the Internet — which may not be for two weeks!

« Prev