National Geographic : 1976 Feb
MONG odds and ends gathered from various parts of the world that adorn my office and home is an enameled insignia from a Russian Army uniform. Some three years ago, while riding on a train from Irkutsk to Novosibirsk, deep in the vastness of Siberia, I met a happy young soldier returning from the Chinese border. He had been married more than a year before, ordered to duty after a brief honeymoon, and now was about to see, for the first time, his young son. As a gesture of our 24-hour friendship, he gave the insignia to my wife, Donna, and we had our own small detente rolling through the endless Siberian night. That vignette of memory helps to recall other im pressions of a nation so vast it encompasses a sixth of the total landmass of the planet, stretches across eleven time zones, and numbers more than a hun dred distinct ethnic groups. (See the double-sided map of the Soviet Union and Peoples of the Soviet Union enclosed with this issue.) I recall, for example, a fascinating interview with Dr. Pavel Melnikov, Director of the Permafrost Institute at Yakutsk-one of the world's few large cities built on permanently frozen ground. "Nearly half of the Soviet Union is underlain with permafrost," he told me, "but these cold regions are now being actively developed. Oil, gas, and ores are all present in quantity, but their production requires special techniques. The environmental conditions are both awesome and fragile. We have had helpful cooperation with Canadian arctic ex perts. I believe that scientists must work together." Quite often, however, the desire for intellectual communication runs afoul of other national interests. Melnikov himself said that he had once been denied permission by the United States to visit an Army-run cold regions research center in this country. (He has since been welcomed there.) The GEOGRAPHIC team that this month reports on the River Ob could not get permission to travel the river's final 400 miles. In any nation where the state has a direct interest in the activities of journalists, the experiences of covering a story can be frustrating and harrowing. Yet, with persistence, patience, and fortitude, men like NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC'S Dean Conger and Robert Paul Jordan have been able to bring us unique articles from places normally closed to Western journalists-parts of Siberia, the length of the Volga, and now, in this issue, the River Ob. In this era of detente, we believe the product worth the sometimes agonizing effort, but we do not delude ourselves that it will be entirely fulfilling, and we know that certain disquieting realities of Soviet life will be beyond our purview. IGEOGfPnIHC THE NATIONALGEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINEVOL. 149, NO. 2 COPYRIGHT© 1976 BY NATIONALGEOGRAPHIC SOCIETY WASHINGTON,D.C. INTERNATIONAL COPYRIGHT SECURED February 1976 Siberia's Empire Road, the River Ob 145 One of the world's great river systems drains north to the Arctic on the Soviet Union'sfrontier between Europe and Asia. Robert PaulJordan and Dean Conger find energetic "Siberiaks" bringing their oil-rich region into the technologicalage. Handclasp in Space 183 As historicfinale to the Apollo era, U. S. astronauts and Soviet cosmonauts rendezvous 140 miles above the earth. Text by Thomas Y. Canby. Adrift on a Raft of Sargassum I88 Robert F. Sisson takes a naturalist's camera into a realm of strange life amid a vast sea offloating weed. Minnesota, Where Water Is the Magic Word 200 The American dream seems attainable in a lake-spangled state with room enough for progressive cities, bountiful farmland, and wilderness guarded as a treasure. David S. Boyer and David Brill report. Thomas Jefferson: Architect of Freedom 231 Designsfor our basic liberties and a new nation, handsome buildings and ingenious gadgets flowed from the mind of our third President,a universal man. Mike W. Edwards and Linda Bartlett offer a Bicentennial salute. The Azores, Nine Islands in Search of a Future 261 Portugal'smid-Atlantic archipelago,still living much in the past, hears growing clamorfor autonomy or full independence. Don Moser and 0. Louis Mazzatenta look at the isolated world of the Azoreans. COVER: Along the River Ob (pages 144-181), Siberian winter adds high color to a woman's cheeks. Photographby Dean Conger.