Woody Packard

Words + Pictures


After classes today I took off by foot (I don't even have a bike now) to see the Buyant River, which Google maps had promised me I would find just west of town. I remembered a river crossing to the north-west, so headed back to the road that Judy and I walked the first evening we were here. Following it out another half mile or so, I came to the river crossing I had seen. It was, at the same time, everything and nothing like I had imagined. To begin with, the images on Google maps are more than seven years old. (This has been pointed out to me several times since I've been here.) Those images were taken in winter, and show solid ice instead of the shallow braided stream that I am looking at standing on the bridge.

Growing up in Western Pennsylvania, I am always surprised by flat ground. I understand it intellectually—some combination of gravity and sediment disbursed in water will do the trick—but the visual evidence is still foreign to me. Here there is another twist. I feel like I am looking at the world's largest golf course. It isn't clear to me yet whether the vegetation is trimmed so neatly by the cattle grazing on it or by the fact that winter lasts so long and that evolutionary pressures have selected for the compact and tidy. In either case, I am describing wide-open space that extends between sharp ridges to the east and west, and which extends in length as far as the eye can see to the south. To the north, there is a cut between the west and east ridges which the river slips into, disappearing on its way to the Khovd River which then empties into Har Us Lake.

Between the bridge and the cut are dozens of sites where gers have been set up. Large circles dot the landscape with, depending on how long ago the gers left, either bare soil or vegetation that is a different color than the surrounding hue. Here is where the hard facts of nomadic life are expressed, for while the gers move from place to place, the discarded artifacts of their temporary stay do not. Some of what remains is the evidence of a meat-based diet—bones, skulls, horns, bits of skin and hooves which are in the process of blending back into the land. There is also that part which is not blending back into the land—the by-products of modern life that we take for granted with our public system of garbage collection and recycling. There is no trash pickup here, so, unlike the bones and skulls, the plastic oil containers, beer bottles, rubber flip-flops, and detergent bottles remain in place for the foreseeable future, startlingly out of context.

Close Story—Back to Pictures


Click below to page through enlarged images or read the story.

West Police

Power Lines

Ger Neighborhood

Ger Neighborhood

Buyant River

Ger Site Circle

Vegetation Detail

Ger Site Circle, Detail

Ger Site Circle

Cattle Bone

Goat Horn

Sheep Skull

Sheep Skull

Buyant River

Pool Beside Buyant River

Broken Bottles

Stone Pattern on Vegetation.

Hawk Carcass

Insect, Laying

East Gate

West Gate

Khovd, Looking North