September 01, 2003

Kalmykia: Reviving the Dusty Plain

We are standing on what was once the vast, smooth floor of the Caspian Sea. Today, not a drop of water glistens within sight. The parched semi-desert plain, flat as a pancake, extends in all directions. There is not a single tree or telephone pole to be seen. My eyes strain, looking into the distance, searching in vain for anything other than land meeting sky. I have never looked so far for so long.


The Republic of Kalmykia is wedged between the diminished Caspian Sea and the regions of Stavropol, Rostov, and Astrakhan. My husband Igor, a Russian nature photographer, and I are a two-day drive in our Russian army jeep from the Bryansk Forest in western Russia, where we live. I have wanted to visit Kalmykia since working on a project for the World Wildlife Fund in Moscow to save the threatened saiga antelope.

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