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15 Oct, 2010 06:52

Rural Russian traditions: source of fun and food

The rural way of life is close to the hearts of many Russians and foreign tourists alike. For some in Velikiy Novgorod, hunting wild animals and berries is not only fun, but the main source of income.

Living off the land: every morning at dawn, Maria Petrova, who everyone calls Auntie Masha, goes berry and mushroom picking. This brings in more money than her pension.

“If people want to earn a living doing this they can,” she said. “For me it is not work at all, in the forest I relax.”

Maria hands her pickings over to Elena Soloviyova, who started jam making as a home business, when she was pregnant and unemployed.

She thought people would want jam that is completely natural – no cooking, no additives, and often no sugar. Her recipe has not changed, but now she employs dozens of people, and her jams are sold all over Russia.

“Large-scale agriculture was in decline here in the countryside,” she said. “Often the people I employ have no other way to make a living.”

Svetlana Garbar has been painting the beautiful surrounding countryside since she was a child. She sees herself as a chronicler of a country life that is slowly disappearing, as more people move to urban areas.

“My heart breaks sometimes, when I see the crumbling houses, the lonely older people,” she said. “Nowadays people do not put as much of themselves into the places where they live but the quiet decline goes well with the cool, delicate nature of the place.”

However, not everybody enjoys the outdoors in quiet contemplation.

October signals the start of the hunting season. It brings in hunters from all over Russia and money for the forestry commission for licenses to shoot boar, deer, ducks, and even bears.

The hunt is carefully choreographed. Shooters take up positions on a range, several hundred feet away from each other.

Then a "beater" enters the woods on the other side. When his dogs detect a scent, they begin to chase the animal, flushing him out, and presenting an easy target for the shooters – well, at least in theory. On some occasions nature spares its offspring, and after many "drives" no game is killed.

“Well, you can never guess, a hunt is a hunt,” said the head of the Hunting and Fishing Association, Vasily Razhov. “But the forests here are teeming with animals.”

At dawn the hunters, berry pickers and fishermen leave the woods, allowing nature to rule over its domain. They will return the next day, because whatever cities offer, it is nature they still depend on.

Although many Russian traditions seem strange to foreign tourists, some visitors find them enthralling.

“I have been in the banya [Russian sauna] before and that was a very interesting experience,” American student Jim Murphy told RT. “As far as the traditions, I am not really sure what exactly they are. I just know that I felt great after the banya and that I would really like to go again.”

“Actually, back home I am a hunter so I have no qualms, as you put it, about hunting as long as it is not just for sport, that you eat what you take,” Jim added. “That would be fantastic if I could find somebody to tag along with to go hunting or even just fishing.”