CHAPTER XVI. KAMCHATKAN NIGHTS' ENTERTAINMENTS - CHARACTER OF PEOPLE - SALMON-FISHING - SABLE-TRAPPING - KAMCHADAL LANGUAGE - NATIVE MUSIC - DOG-DRIVING - WINTER DRESS
The settled natives of northern Kamchatka have generally two different residences, in which they live at different seasons of the year. These are respectively called the "zimovie" or winter settlement, and the "letovie" (let'-o-vye) or summer fishing-station, and are from one to five miles apart. In the former, which is generally situated under the shelter of timbered hills, several miles from the seacoast, they reside from September until June. The letovie is always built near the mouth of an adjacent river or stream, and consists of a few yurts or earth-covered huts, eight or ten conical balagans mounted on stilts, and a great number of wooden frames on which fish are hung to dry. To this fishing-station the inhabitants all remove early in June, leaving their winter settlement entirely deserted. Even the dogs and the crows abandon it for the more attractive surroundings and richer pickings of the summer balagans. Early in July the salmon enter the river in immense numbers from the sea, and are caught by the natives in gill-nets, baskets, seines, weirs, traps, and a dozen other ingenious contrivances - cut open, cleaned, and boned by the women, with the greatest skill and celerity, and hung in long rows upon horizontal poles to dry. A fish, with all the confidence of sea life, enters the river as a sailor comes ashore, intending to have a good time; but before he fairly knows what he is about, he is caught in a seine, dumped out upon the beach with a hundred more equally unsophisticated and equally unfortunate sufferers, split open with a big knife, his backbone removed, his head cut off, his internal arrangements scooped out, and his mutilated remains hung over a pole to simmer in a hot July sun. It is a pity that he cannot enjoy the melancholy satisfaction of seeing the skill and rapidity with which his body is prepared for a new and enlarged sphere of usefulness! He is no longer a fish. In this second stage of passive unconscious existence he assumes a new name, and is called a "yukala" (yoo'-kah-lah).
It is astonishing to see in what countless numbers and to what great distances these fish ascend the Siberian rivers. Dozens of small streams which we passed in the interior of Kamchatka, seventy miles from the seacoast, were so choked up with thousands of dying, dead, and decayed fish, that we could not use the water for any purpose whatever. Even in little mountain brooks, so narrow that a child could step across them, we saw salmon eighteen or twenty inches in length still working their way laboriously up stream, in water which was not deep enough to cover their bodies. We frequently waded in and threw them out by the dozen with our bare hands. They change greatly in appearance as they ascend a river. When they first come in from the sea their scales are bright and hard, and their flesh fat and richly coloured; but as they go higher and higher up stream; their scales lose their brilliancy and fall off, their flesh bleaches out until it is nearly white, and they become lean, dry, and tasteless. For this reason all the fishing-stations in Kamchatka are located, if possible, at or near the mouths of rivers. To the instinct which leads the salmon to ascend rivers for the purpose of depositing its spawn, is attributable the settlement of all north-eastern Siberia. If it were not for the abundance of fish, the whole country would be uninhabited and uninhabitable, except by the Reindeer Koraks. As soon as the fishing season is over, the Kamchadals store away their dried yukala in balagans and return to their winter quarters to prepare for the fall catch of sables. For nearly a month they spend all their time in the woods and mountains, making and setting traps. To make a sable-trap, a narrow perpendicular slot, fourteen inches by four in length and breadth, and five inches in depth, is cut in the trunk of a large tree, so that the bottom of the slot will be about at the height of a sable's head when he stands erect. The stem of another smaller tree is then trimmed, one of its ends raised to a height of three feet by a forked stick set in the ground, and the other bevelled off so as to slip up and down freely in the slot cut for its reception. This end is raised to the top of the slot and supported there by a simple figure-four catch, leaving a nearly square opening of about four inches below for the admission of the sable's head. The figure-four is then baited and the trap is ready. The sable rises upon his hind legs, puts his head into the hole, and the heavy log, set free by the dropping of the figure-four, falls and crushes the animal's skull, without injuring in the slightest degree the valuable parts of his skin. One native frequently makes and sets as many as a hundred of these traps in the fall, and visits them at short intervals throughout the winter. Not content, however, with this extensive and well organised system of trapping sables, the natives hunt them upon snow-shoes with trained dogs, drive them into holes which they surround with nets, and then, forcing them out with fire or axe, they kill them with clubs.