Russian River

Russian River

- John Eickert

In south central Alaska, a place near the western tip of North America, there is a small river born of jagged granite and blue glacial ice. The river melts away from its mountain home, flows down into a black spruce forest, and then straightens for it’s run to the sea. In the fall, pink salmon, a fish which lives in salt water and spawns in fresh water, make their way from the sea to the headwaters of that river, the Russian River, to lay their eggs and then die. This dramatic ritual has taken place each fall for thousands of years. On their way upstream to their spawning grounds; the spawning nest for each female fish, a hen, is called a redd, each pink salmon must pass a gauntlet of predators. Seagulls, eagles, wolves, foxes, ravens, bears, and fishermen all test their ability to catch salmon. Pink salmon flesh is considered one of the finest of all fishes for eating. Being tasty only serves to make the spawning quest that much more difficult.

One fall day, under leaden skies, I walked the bank of the Russian looking for a pool filled with pinks. On the other bank walked my fishing partner, an old college chum named Bob. Bob considered himself a serious fisherman. I just liked to be in the forested mountains with a clear rushing stream. The path along my side of the stream led up a short hill through low-bush blueberry and moss-covered rock. The moss was ripe and pungent in the moist morning air. The blueberry leaves were in their fall color, now a sharp orange-red. It would not be long before snow fell and blanketed the landscape.

When I reached the top of the hill I looked down and across the river. Bob was just wading into the river at the foot of a large pool. It took my eyes a moment to adjust, but then I could see the object of Bob’s attention. In the pool, ahead of the now wading fisherman, was an enormous school of pink salmon. The river looked black and the fisherman carefully waded to a casting spot. Bob’s arm arched as he began his attempts to entice a fish to the hook. I enjoyed the scene. Movement in the willow near the river caught my attention and I focused there. In the brush along the river was a large brown bear. The bear was not ten meters from the fisherman and the pool full of salmon. I thought to call to Bob, but wind and river noise would not allow my voice to reach his ear. I watched, as did the bear. The bear sat down. The fisherman fished. Eventually, the fish moved upstream to a new pool. The bear quietly disappeared. The sky opened and rain began to fall. We caught no salmon that day, but there was a story for the ages. Not all fishing expeditions need to end with fish in hand. Cheers.  


Watch a one minute video on Salmon by clicking here

-Susan Sharma



Burning Issues




-Shivani Thakur 



In this world of quick fixes, allopathy rules. In spite of being unnatural, narcotic and costly, it is widely accepted form of medicine for all cures all over the world. But a holistic and natural approach is being used, if not by many, by some. This is a simpler, gentler and safer medicinal system free of side effects and affordable. Yoga and naturopathy have proven to be both preventive and curative in nature for stress related disorders.

        Many plants like “Gugglu”are used to make medicines to cure cholesterol related disorders;  “Chiraita” for liver,”Gudmar” for diabetes and “Brahmi” for memory disorders. Still, there is a problem, as many plants have not gained acceptance in both domestic and international markets. This is due to lack of scientific evidence to prove their merit. In 2005, The European Union made it compulsory for all traditional herbal medicinal products to be registered after going through a stringent framework of regulation.

       If recognition is a problem for these plants, there is another menace to these, that is, bio poaching. The demand for these natural and virtually free of side effects plants has fueled a thriving trade in the flora. It is not just the tiger but many medicinal plants and herbs are on the brink of extinction. “Yarchagumba” or caterpillar mushroom or   Himalayan viagra  as it is known, is considered a natural remedy for sexual dysfunction. What is amazing is that this plant commands a price of Rs 90,000 per kg in international market. It is found in Pithoragarh in Uttaranchal. Similarly, “Hathpanja” (for healing wounds) and “Pateesa” (for increasing resistance) sell for more than Rs 3000 per kg. Because of over harvesting now over 1000 medicinal plants are under threat in different ecosystems in India.

    These plants are not only used in Unani, Ayurveda and Sidha for their formulations, there is a demand  in domestic market too. As much as 90% of species used in production of herbal medicines are harvested from the wild, as they are difficult to cultivate in herbal gardens. These collections are rampant in Himachal Pradesh, Uttranchal, Jammu & Kashmir and the Northeast.

S. S. Samant of GB Pant Institute says  “ The uprooting of immature plants makes regeneration impossible, hence loss of a whole plant”.

For example  “Rakhal” an endangered species used to make cancer medicine. For medicine, the bark is removed which in turn destroys the plant by drying it up.

     Enforcement is a huge problem as these plants are high on value but carry low risks. The species are being slowly lost. According to Samant the species, which were earlier, found at 3,500 m are now found only at 4,000 m. A recent case of herbal theft reported in the Northeast brought bio poaching to the forefront. Two Japanese scientists collecting rare herbs were found to be actually having a booty of rich plants and herbs amounting to be about 3 tonnes.  Even if they were caught, there are many that don’t get caught. A Czech Republic scientist smuggled out seeds from West Sikkim and Arunachal.  He later claimed them to be of Sino-Himalayan origin and put them up for sale at

  Local people have knowledge of the existence of these plants and their involvement in projects that deal in conservation is important. Our heritage,  whether in Ayurveda or Unani therapies rely on these plants. Over harvesting and over reaping of these would bring us a step closer to their extinction.


( Photograph of Aantamul or Asthma Plant at Yamuna Biodiversity Park by Susan Sharma)



Common Birds of India

Large Pied Wagtail.( Motacilla madaraspatensis.)


This month I have written about the Large Pied Wagtail, a very shy seldom seen bird even though it lives and thrives around urban areas also. 


Large Pied Wagtail.( Motacilla madaraspatensis.)



A black and white small bird about the size of less than a Myna, frequently found hopping around on grassy patches and on tiled roof tops in urban areas, flicking its tail, often mistaken for a Magpie Robin, is the Large Pied Wagtail. It is slightly larger and slender than a Magpie robin. It is a very shy bird and often takes to flight the moment one sees it. These are more frequently seen around lakes and streams often in pairs.


The male is Black and white with white under parts and tail borders. The female is a duller brown in color. There is prominent white eyebrow which the Magpie robin lacks.



These birds are distributed through out the country. These birds can be found foraging on grassy patches of land and among rocky deposits constantly hopping around flicking their tail, when noticed by humans flies away a short distance and resumes its activities of foraging frequently keeping a watch on our movements. These birds have a splendid vocabulary like the magpie robin with their own variations.  If closely observed, these birds calls are very specific for each message they are giving out to their kind.  A breeding pair communicates with various vocalizations and specific messages.


The nesting season is between March and September when there is an abundance of insect larvae. The nesting site varies according to the locality ranging from a " under a rock projection to among rafters of buildings". Their only specification is privacy and peaceful surrounding. The nest is cup shaped with lot of grass roots, sheep hair or cattle hair and dry mosses. Their other requirement for site selection is the closeness to water.


3 or 4 grayish brown or greenish white eggs with blotches or streaks of various brown hues are laid. Both the parents share all domestic chores. They are devout parents and raise the hatchlings enthusiastically and the fledglings can be found hanging around their parents begging for food even after a long time since they leave their nests.


A lovely bird which need all the privacy and space for its own life. Let us be considerate towards this fellow creature.



Did You Know ?

The rose by another name…..


Nature, this weeks carries a report on the blister beetle, which lures the solitary Mojave bee to help its eggs reach a safe and well-provided place


The rose by another name…..


Smell is one of nature's strongest signaling media, says S.Ananthanarayanan.


The olfactory or smelling apparatus of most species is highly developed and sensitive to odours caused by just a few parts of special molecules, in a million molecules or air. Organisms routinely make use of the faculty to move away from danger, or to move towards food.


Mating signal


But the most sensitive use of smell in the natural world seems to be as a mating signal. The females of most species indicate their presence or their readiness to mate with the help of chemicals called  pheromones. And so strong is the signal that certain butterflies and moths can detect a mate 10 km away, simply by a whiff of air that smells right!


Animals, in fact, use pheromones for a large number of purposes – to mark territory,  to mark a trail leading to food, to signal attack or danger. Some grasses even exude an odor when they are grazed upon, to induce the rest of the prairie to produce tannin, and become less appetizing!


And flowers, of course, have their exquisite perfumes, with the sole purpose of advertising their nectar, their cozy interiors, for butterflies, bees and many others to come and repose. With the sole purpose of making use of the insects to transfer pollen from flower to flower and bring fertility to the field. Many orchids also get pollinated by mimicking the smell of female insects, to attract unsuspecting males.




Chemicals that mimic pheromones are also routinely used to lure insects or vermin onto traps, or to mask real mating signals, and hence contain proliferation. There are even odours that announce that an insect tastes horrid, to keep predators away. And even other, quite palatable insects, that mimic these odours, to be mistaken for the bad-tasting original and thus be spared! One species of spider, Mastophora cornigera,  releases a mixture of volatile compounds that mimic the sex pheromone of the moth species it preys upon. Male moths flying upwind in search of a female end up getting eaten instead!


But the instance of deception that takes the cake seems to be that of meloe francicsanus, the blister beetle, whose larvae mimic the scent of a female of the bee, habropoda pallida to hail a male bee and hitch a free ride.        


Hitch hiker


Many species use other species as a means of transport, particularly where the environment is harsh and meager resources occur in clumps. The blister beetle is a native of the deserts in South West United States. The beetle feeds and lays its eggs under plants which can hold aggregates of the eggs but cannot support the development of the larvae. But the beetle arranges for the eggs to be lifted and provided for in the nest of the female bee.

The larvae are found to contain a chemical molecule that is also found in the female bees but not in the males. The scent then attracts the males to alight on the plants, where clumps of the larvae attach themselves to the bee. Facsimiles of the larvae were found not to attract the males, which shows that that it was not the sight of the larvae that drew the males. But the same facsimiles did lure the males when sprayed with the chemical, which shows that the attraction is the smell.

The male bee, which finds no female here, soon sets off and ultimately does mate with a real female. The larvae now detach and take up residence in the female’s nest, well provided with pollen, nectar and bees’ eggs!


[the writer can be contacted at]






On a trail of the Ganga - PART 1V


On a trail of the Ganga - PART 1V


-Saraswati Kavula



I told Gyanji Maharaj  that I went to Gomukh and could see no glacier there. Gyanji replied, “You might not have gone beyond the mountain, if you go there, you could see the glacier, I had been there, two days ago”. “Yes, but it was supposed to be on this side of the mountain. And, I was not in a position to walk any more than that!” Gyanji replied, “Yes, it is true, the Glacier has receded from its original position. I think every year it is receding by 10-20 metres. It is the effect of Global Warming’. I mentioned to him, “I saw so much trash everywhere, even here in Gangotri and all the way up to Gomukh”. Gyanji replied, “You are right, actually, plastic has reached even up to Tapovan”. He then turned to his visitor and remarked, “Every year, the river cuts through the rocks and goes deeper into the earth. They say that earlier the river was flowing on top of those ridges, slowly it has cut through the mountains and today it is in this level. The scriptures say that, by the end of Kalyug, Ganga will disappear into Pataal (the earths’ bowels)”. May be that was what’s happening.



I mentioned this issue to a local tour operator, Vijay Semwal. “If our Government has its way, we may not see the Ganga in the near future, when there is no Ganga, where will the tourists be?” I was a bit surprised, he continued, “See, they had built the Tehri Dam (this dam is about 150 kms down stream on the Ganges) against the advise of many people, today, the reservoir which is 65 kms long, holds 50,000,000 cusecs of water. This is putting a lot of pressure on the already delicate seismic region of the mountains. When this water is going to be released there will be immense pressure and this constant movement of this huge amount of water is going to create trouble. Now Uttaranchal government is planning 75 Tunnel based Hydro Electric Mini projects of 12 – 20 MW and then there is the Loharnag Mega project of 600 MW. For example just a few kilometres from here, in Gangotri is the place called Bhaironghati, the first Tunnel based Hydro Project will start there. The Ganga will be diverted through a tunnel, many kilometres away and let out; the force of the water will be used for generating electricity. This will reduce the flow of the water, and we will not be able to see the River in that area. You can imagine what the effect of the 75 projects will be on this region?’ Vijay Semwal mentioned that while the Uttaranchal government is claiming this is for the development of the region, no local people are being given jobs in these projects. I mentioned that my brother too is working as an engineer in Kerala, thus a non-local. “See, for specific technical jobs, if they bring outsiders it is fine. But even for jobs like clerks, peons, for administrative jobs too they are taking outsiders. In Uttaranchal we have nearly 84% literacy. So, it is not as if, there are no educated people here’. That was true, even in remote villages of the Hills; I found that the minimum education of the people was 10+2, if not a bachelor’s degree. “Our youth is going to the plains looking for jobs, while here they are bringing outsiders, this will surely create problems of regionalism in the future. Already a rift between the locals and non-locals is developing”.

I asked him why the locals were not being employed. “See most of the Contractors are from outside, even your ex-chief minister Chandrababu Naidu’s brother is one of them. Our people are very aware, and of course they have strong unions too. They feel that if they take local people, they might form unions and become a strong force, and even help the anti-dam activists. So, they are bringing their own people to work here.’  I guess as non-locals, in a strange place, people will be less inclined to speak out against the policies of a company. “Tehri Dam was under the government undertaking, there fore, many local people got jobs, but all these new projects are being given to private companies. Can’t say what the future will be like here! Even jobs like drivers are being given to non-locals who come from Bihar, Orissa, Bengal, Rajasthan, UP and Andhra. Tomorrow I might have to come to Hyderabad looking for work!’ This reminded me my mother’s words, who is always complaining that the city is getting congested since people from all over India are landing in Hyderabad.


 ‘It is crazy’, continued Vijay. ‘When Uttaranchal was a part of Uttar Pradesh, these 75 Hydro electric Projects were given to companies from other states and some foreign companies, and the UP State has taken the revenue as lease amount. For example, the 11 MW Phalinda Dam, was leased in 1994 December to Chandra babu Naidu’s brother’s company Swastik Constructions for a period of 40 years. Later when the state got separated from Uttar Pradesh, they demanded Swastik to pay the fees of Rs. 2 Crores. Swastik said that since they had already paid that amount to the UP government, they don’t have to pay once again. So, Uttaranchal Government said, “you increase the capacity of the project for 22 MW, and pay us Rs.2 Crores as part of our share of the fees.’  



 ‘You see the problem with these tunnel based projects is – there is no displacement, hence no compensation, but the local people will lose the water from the river with which they are irrigating their lands. For example, on the banks of Bhilangana, five villages irrigate their lands from the river water. Once the water gets diverted through a tunnel, these villages will hardly have any water left for their use. And the Government is not paying any compensation, since there is no displacement. While in Loharnag Project (600MW) which is being undertaken by the NTPC, nearly 150 villages are being affected. No rehabilitation has happened so far. Under Tehri, nearly 170 villages got displaced, rehabilitation and compensation happened, to what ever extent, but it took place, but here, no such thing is even being talked about.’


I asked Vijay if there was a way of developing eco-tourism the way it is in some villages of Goa, where people stay as house guests with the locals and eat local food and walk or use available transport. ‘In Goa it may be possible, but here, people are too rigid in their traditions. When you stay with a Goanese family, they will offer you a drink on arrival. Here we cannot hope for such a thing. People are very casteist, and wouldn’t accept outsiders as house guests. We will have to build cottages in local style, that blends with the local environment and organise home stay kind of boarding, serving local food and employing local people. It requires a lot of money, but governments don’t think of such things. It is a pity!’


( Photo Credits: Kishan Rao; Remodelled Mountains and Blast Area)


To be Continued

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