Dancing With Milk, and Frosted Mice
About five years ago I went to Mongolia with a fishing buddy of mine, and with the help of a locally based outfitter, we made a week-long camping and fly fishing trip, floating down northern Mongolia’s Delger River in small rafts. The scenery was spectacular, and apart from the occasional local herders, we saw virtually no one else during our week on the river.
那位装备商把他的狗也带上了 / The outfitter brought his dogs along
It was late August, and we were far enough north that there was often frost on the ground in the morning as we emerged from our tents. By noon on most days, it was warm enough to wear just a T-shirt; but in the course of the trip we experienced a wide variety of different temperatures and types of weather, which is typical of the northern Mongolian climate, especially in late summer.
We caught lots of lenok, a Siberian trout, as well as grayling and taimen, a large landlocked salmon. With the exception of the occasional lenok for dinner, we released the fish we caught. We fished from the rafts as well as by wading in the crystal clear waters of the Delger river.
We caught our biggest fish on large mouse flies. A fly is a hand-made type of fishing lure, often made from fur or feathers, resembling an insect, small fish, frog or mouse. In Mongolia, mice are a favorite food of the big local trout and taimen. The fish wait for mice and other small rodents to swim across the river, and then — garroomph! — they swirl up and gulp them down.
On the sixth evening of our float trip, we had just set camp and were relaxing over a few Chingghis (as in Chingghis Khan, a leading Mongolian brand) beers, watching a beautiful sunset over the larch-forested hills behind us.
我们在德勒格尔河边的一处营地 / One of our campsites on the Delger River
All of a sudden, a fierce gale blew out of the north. Everything around the camp site which was not anchored down was scattered this way and that, and the temperature plummeted within a matter of minutes.
A few minutes into the big wind storm, our bright young Mongolian cook and translator, Degi, who was an English major in university at the time, went into the cook tent and emerged with a jug of milk.
She then began a kind of ritual, tossing a quantity of the milk to the north, south, east and west.
I asked her colleague and classmate Djanga what she was doing. He explained that the milk dance (my terminology) was a traditional Mongolian ritual for pacifying severe weather.
I was pleased to hear this, partly for the learning involved and partly because it made me feel better about the possibility of having no milk for my coffee for the rest of the trip. In other words, there was apparently a good purpose behind the sacrifice of some of our remaining inventory of precious milk.
I was even more pleased about 10 minutes later when — I kid you not — the gale force wind died down and the weather returned to its previous state. This had indeed been milk well spent.
After this episode we sat around the campfire and enjoyed a delicious meal, including a nice plump trout we’d caught that afternoon. Over dinner we discussed Mongolian customs and beliefs, and listened to stories of shamans believed to have special powers still living in remote forested mountain areas, as well as local superstitions, and interesting customs.
The next morning we awoke to find that the mice still attached to our fly rods were covered by a thin covering of white frost, which made them look a bit grandfatherly. Our Mongolian adventure was drawing to a close.