...Today, modern science has confirmed what local residents have known for centuries"that Baikal is one of nature"s most remarkable creations. It is the deepest and oldest lake on earth, and it holds far more water than any other. Its waters are among the clearest and purest on earth; they"re home to hundreds of unique and sometimes bizarre animals and plants, including the world"s only distinct species of freshwater seal, and to a mysterious and seemingly resilient ecosystem that baffles even some of the best scientists. And the lake is also something that scientists can"t even begin to quantify but that they can"t avoid trying to describe anyway"a place of transcendent beauty and wonder...
...I remember the photo of the young Russian couple standing on the frozen lake in midwinter, he in a suit, she in a wedding gown, beaming from ear to ear. It seemed an invitation to breach the distance in geography, culture, and politics and visit them and the place in which they clearly took so much pride. And, of course, there was a shadow, too, the legacy of damage from misguided Soviet development and the threat of something perhaps even worse in the coming era of economic openness.
But, of course, I knew there was no way I"d ever get there. I filed the thought away for another life... Traveling to Baikal remained as likely as living to see the Red Sox win the World Series.
But life isn"t always predictable. Six or seven years later, the Sox were still finding new ways to break their fans" hearts... but one day I found myself tapping out an email to a guy I"d never met, in a city I"d never heard of, who, I"d been told by another guy I"d never met, was the best guide on the eastern shore of Lake Baikal. Could he help me get out onto the lake, up into the woods, into the homes and lives of local residents?
"Thank you for your letter," he wrote back. "I"ll be lucky to help you. Everything is possible..."