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Thursday, December 29, 2011 - LoW-HI RV Ranch, Deming NM

Sunset, Sandhill Cranes, Bosque National Wildlife Refuge, San Antonio NM, February 11 2010
Sunset, Sandhill Cranes, Bosque National Wildlife Refuge, San Antonio NM, February 11 2010

Night camp

Site 8 - LoW-HI RV Ranch, Deming NM

Interior of a Settled Korak Yurt

The interior of a Korak _yurt_--that is, of one of the wooden _yurts_ of the _settled_ Koraks--presents a strange and not very inviting appearance to one who has never become accustomed by long habit to its dirt, smoke, and frigid atmosphere. It receives its only light, and that of a cheerless, gloomy character, through the round hole, about twenty feet above the floor, which serves as window, door, and chimney, and which is reached by a round log with holes in it, that stands perpendicularly in the centre. The beams, rafters, and logs which compose the _yurt_ are all of a glossy blackness, from the smoke in which they are constantly enveloped. A wooden platform, raised about a foot from the earth, extends out from the walls on three sides to a width of six feet, leaving an open spot eight or ten feet in diameter in the centre for the fire and a huge copper kettle of melting snow. On the platform are pitched three or four square skin _pologs_, which serve as sleeping apartments for the inmates and as refuges from the smoke, which sometimes becomes almost unendurable. A little circle of flat stones on the ground, in the centre of the _yurt_, forms the fireplace, over which is usually simmering a kettle of fish or reindeer meat, which, with dried salmon, seal's blubber, and rancid oil, makes up the Korak bill of fare. Everything that you see or touch bears the distinguishing marks of Korak origin--grease and smoke. Whenever any one enters the _yurt_, you are apprised of the fact by a total eclipse of the chimney hole and a sudden darkness, and as you look up through a mist of reindeer hairs, scraped off from the coming man's fur coat, you see a thin pair of legs descending the pole in a cloud of smoke. The legs of your acquaintances you soon learn to recognise by some peculiarity of shape or covering; and their faces, considered as means of personal identification, assume a secondary importance. If you see Ivan's legs coming down the chimney, you feel a moral certainty that Ivan's head is somewhere above in the smoke; and Nicolai's boots, appearing in bold relief against the sky through the entrance hole, afford as satisfactory proof of Nicolai's identity as his head would, provided that part of his body came in first. Legs, therefore, are the most expressive features of a Korak's countenance, when considered from an interior standpoint. When snow drifts up against the _yurt_, so as to give the dogs access to the chimney, they take a perfect delight in lying around the hole, peering down into the _yurt_, and snuffing the odours of boiling fish which rise from the huge kettle underneath. Not unfrequently they get into a grand comprehensive free fight for the best place of observation; and just as you are about to take your dinner of boiled salmon off the fire, down comes a struggling, yelping dog into the kettle, while his triumphant antagonist looks down through the chimney hole with all the complacency of gratified vengeance upon his unfortunate victim. A Korak takes the half-scalded dog by the back of the neck, carries him up the chimney, pitches him over the edge of the _yurt_ into a snow-drift, and returns with unruffled serenity to eat the fish-soup which has thus been irregularly flavoured with dog and thickened with hairs. Hairs, and especially reindeer's hairs, are among the indispensable ingredients of everything cooked in a Korak _yurt_, and we soon came to regard them with perfect indifference. No matter what precautions we might take, they were sure to find their way into our tea and soup, and stick persistently to our fried meat. Some one was constantly going out or coming in over the fire, and the reindeerskin coats scraping back and forth through the chimney hole shed a perfect cloud of short grey hairs, which sifted down over and into everything of an eatable nature underneath. Our first meal in a Korak _yurt_, therefore, at Kamenoi, was not at all satisfactory.

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