There"s a thin swath of freshly cut dirt that slices through the wooded hillside along the Babkha River a little ways outside of town, and stretched along the far end of it are maybe two dozen people, maybe fifteen to fifty years old, men and women, chopping at stumps and roots, unearthing boulders, filling holes, leveling, tamping, smoothing, and with each passing hour pushing the new Babkha Trail a little farther up into the Khamar-Daban Mountains on the southern shore of Lake Baikal, and one of them, a linguistics student from Moscow with a slender frame and a keen and thoughtful glimmer in her eyes, looks up from the meter-wide swath of fresh earth at her feet and flashes a satisfied grin. "What I like here," she declares—her name is Lena—"is womens and mens working equally! Not like in Moscow, for example. Here I can dig, I can saw— same as men!"
Of the dozen or so women on our work crew, Lena seems most enthusiastic about the work itself—getting dirty and sweaty, spending day after day at the always plodding and sometimes grueling task of reordering this small ribbon of earth. But Lena didn"t come to Siberia just to find a rare taste of gender-equal physical labor. She came to help build a future for her country"s great lake.
"I feel better that I can see people here who cares about Baikal," she says, her face illuminated by a beam of yellow August sun slipping through the canopy of poplar and fir. "Not only Russians, but Americans and other nationalities. Lake Baikal is epitome of Siberia. I come here by train. It takes me four days, but it"s worth it. This place is very spiritual and very energetic, and when I came here and went to see Baikal Lake, I feel something special. When you touch the water, something like wind blows in your head..."