Sunday, September 16, 2012

The 3rd Snow Leopard Festival - WET, WINDY, and WILD!!

Snow Leopard populations exist in some of the tallest mountain regions in Central Asia including Tibet, the Himalayas, and the mountains in the southern reaches of the Altai Republic of Siberia. They are endangered to the extent that there may only be about 6,000 animals left in these wild and fairly isolated populations.  Illegal hunting still occurs for the beautiful warm fur and the organs (apparently used in traditional Chinese medicine) of these spectacular cats.

(Photograph by Michael Nichols retrieved from the National Geographic website)
Gorno-Altaisk, the capital of the Altai Region has hosted two previous Snow Leopard Festivals, making last Saturdays festival the third Annual.  The festival is organized by multiple regional, city and non-government organizations working together to develop an entertaining, international, and educational day on the town square in Gorno.  Among the groups instrumental in the initiation of the festival is the Snow Leopard Conservancy located in Petaluma and founded by Dr Rodney Jackson, an expert with over 30 years experience of working in the field in snow leopard ecology and conservation. A representative of that organization, Lucy and a volunteer Alice were in town after having done some trekking to look for snow leaopard sign and were involved in filming the happenings.  I met Lucy at the Univeristy here and we were all invited to (another) Natalias house for dinner.
The two Natlias stand in back. Moving forward in the picture are Lucy and Alice on the left and right of the table respectively. My daughter Elsa and I are at the front of the picture.  Willa is the photographer!
Another group, The Altai Assistance Project founded by Chagat Almashev is heavily involved in organizing the program for the festival. This is how I was given the honor of being involved in the third annual Snow Leopard Festival. I have know Chagat for some years and have met him several times in my travels to the Altai (twice before) and his visits to the Adirondacks on at least a couple of occasions. Chagat has been instrumental in developing connections between the Altai and the Adirondack region, Montana, and the west coast of the United States. Just about anyone who visits the Altai with an organization or environmental or cultural mission knows Chagat. My friends in the Altai know that I am a singer/songwriter and on my first visit to the Altai (in 2006?) I was inspired by the people and the place to write a song that my colleagues and I sang together at our last communal supper before leaving the next day.  The songs title "Golden Mountains" is a direct translation of 'Altai' and the song is about the beauty of the land and people and our shared love of places wild and beautiful. Chagat liked the song so much (my friend and colleague Natalia shared the recording I made for her) that he adopted it as the offical song of the Altai Assistance Project a few years ago and since that time several groups of students have learned it and it has been incorporated as background music video footage made by the group.  I am very honored by this!!!! AND so Chagat knew that I was in town as a Fulbright Scholar during the Festival time and honored me by asking that I perform the song amidst the colorful and creative plays and songs from childrens groups from the Altai and other countries depicting the plight of the snow leopard.
These are dancers from Gorno, from the studio where my girls take dance now.
The day of the festival dawned cloudy with the liklihood of rain in the forcast.  Only when we hit the street for our walk to the town square did we realize how windy and chilly it really was.
  I have kindly been leant a Fender acoustic guitar for the length of my visit here in Gorno, by Natalia (2) who also works with our Natalia at the university and works with Chagat Almashev

My Girls  and I quickly began  feeling like we may not have dressed well for the impending weather.  Nata did send us with an umbrella!!!
It grew steadily cooler and more windy as we watched the great acts that were part of the over 25 performances scheduled for the day.  The clouds gathered and became more and more grey and dense.  We  cuddled together for warmth as we stood near Lucy and Alice who were filming the event.   Finally I relented and went into the shopping center on the square to buy coats for my girls who were bearing up as best they could but shivering.  The weather made for a small crowd at the event, which has to be disheartening when so much time goes into the organization and preparation,but non-the-less, it was a really nice event.
During the act just before the singing of my song, it began to rain in earnest.  I ran into the shopping center (we might call them small malls, there are many all over town) and bought myself a jacket that had caught my eye when i was buying the girls jackets,  so I might still be able to play my guitar with functioning fingers!! The images don't do justice to the rain and wind. 


Natalia and Lucy joined in the singing of the song, and Willa did a beautiful job in her new coat:) of singing the refrains with us and as you will see in the video, acting it out as she sang!
I hope to be able to upload the videos in the near future or provide a link.. They are worth a chuckle!

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