Speaking In Tongues
Scribbling In Voices


by Dmitry Mezentsev

Translated by Max Nemtsov
(c) 1992



I have been sitting in my small camouflaged watch-tent for several days in a row, watching the coastline wildlife and learning the spotted deer's schedule of coming out to the sea. The sun has already sunk beyond the hills, yet the light was still enough for me to spot some movement near my small log-cabin at the foot of the slope. It was the tiger treading down softly and gracefully. One moment, and he disappeared in the tall greenery.
The first thing for me to do was to put on my shirt, in order not to look too appetizing for him, and then I reached for my camera and my signal lights. It was far from the first time when I saw tigers close by, but every time you do you are thrilled and your hands slightly shake for he is too beautiful...
I tried to watch his moves looking out the tent windows, but when at last I did, he had already lain down in the rich grasses near the small precipice. He was surrounded by trees and lower, to the fore of him there rose the wall of reeds. There was a distance of about 70 meters between us. He lay like a sphinx, with his head towards me, and studied the environment, overseeing the bay, listening to the forest sounds, feeling the floating smells with his nose. But he was becoming less and less alert, he frequently closed his eyes, napping.
His tail seemed to live its own life, existing independently, it almost beat time, gracefully jumping and diving down now and then.
The tiger had already been resting like that for almost half an hour, and I managed to make some photos of him. But eventually, the lazy cat got up, made a couple of steps and sat down again. His bright-copper striped back stood out on the green background. Presently, he lied down, gracefully licking his paws and sides . . . But suddenly his dreamy serenity dissolved. He instantly approached the reeds and turned all into hearing and attention.
Anticipating something interesting, I kept still in my watch-tent too. But it apparently was a false alarm. The tiger turned indifferently back, lied down again and then lowered to his side. From time to time he raised his head, listening to something only he could hear, but then dropped it back again.
The predators' interrupted sleep is the inevitable consequence of some peculiar sounds and smells of the woods. But that's not all. The tiger apparently is not immune to the small insects. He was slightly bothered by some of them. Sometimes he shook his head and even snapped his jaws at somebody.
His tail jumped up and down like before -- but lazier...
It was getting darker over the bay, and the tiger rested as he had intended to. Only once he got up and changed his position, turning his head to the sea. He looked around less and less often, his tail was hardly moving at all. He was sleeping soundly on his side, and even covered himself with his paw once.
In the warm evening silence only the rivulet was gurgling and the sea tide was softly whispering; sometimes crying sandmartins hurried along overhead. The tiger was sleeping on my path back to the log-cabin, and I was sitting there in the tent and considered my future behavior. The moon was getting brighter in the skies, and I made up my mind to spend that well-illuminated night in the watch-tent, to have an opportunity to make unique shots of the secretive beast the next day with the good light.
The moon-path ran across the waves' crests in the bay and reached the regularly breathing tiger's belly, white and revealing the sleeping cat.
He had been sleeping soundly for about an hour more, and I did not shift my gaze from his outline, or, to be more exact, from the white luminous spot in the dark. But, presently the spot disappeared... All became gray and uniform... Slightly nervous, I stared into the enveloping night. Here -- some movement near the spring. The whitish shadow emerged from the reeds and stopped at the water's edge. After having a drink, the tiger crossed the rivulet. Everything in him was quiet and graceful. Like a noiseless ghost, he glided along the slope, just 25-30 meters from me.
Now something Interesting was at hand. The matter is, I was long going to test the valerian effect on the tiger, and here was the occasion. On the tiger's path there was a rag on the stone, wet with the preparation. Although it had been there for more than two days and probably dried out, it was Interesting to watch anyway.
Once before, I actually tested the potion -- on the house cat. His name was Socrates. He lived on my staircase and one evening I tried my experiment. I went out and kindly beckoned to him, but he was too suspicious and refused to be lured that way... At last, I simply caught him and made him sniff some valerian poured into a saucer. To my surprise, the cat's eyes expressed not the interest but the profound alarm, and he rushed away from me and my potion like all cats' devils were chasing him. My first test failed. Now it was the time for the second attempt...
The tiger's all movements were graceful as if he was but a shadow. He had already passed my test stone by but suddenly coughed softly. Upon turning back, he reached the rag, sniffed it -- and that was all. The beast sailed on as if nothing happened, following the slope curves.
Unexpectedly, all movement ceased. Maybe I was looking into the other window and missed something. Either he shifted round the corner, or lied down -- that was the question...
On the stark slope the rocks stood prominently white In the moonlight, and one of them may be my tiger. I squinted, trying to discern some movement. Something glistened -- the tiger's eyes?.. But there was nothing there. I stared at white shadows for an hour and a half but could not make out any signs of a living being. It seemed evident that the beast had just turned round the corner and all his traces dissipated. It struck midnight, and I did not in the least liked the idea of sitting there till the morning. I made up my mind to return to my log-cabin and spend the rest of the night normally. But to check the tiger out first seemed worth trying.
I opened up my rent's zipper, grasped a piece of rock nearby and threw it in the general direction of the last tiger sighting. The rock heavily thumped down. Nothing seemed to change. I threw another one. It landed further. Something stirred and a shape got up from the dark ground and started towards me with an acute interest...
The tiger appeared to have been sleeping or simply lying in the grass no farther than 25 meters from my tent -- and he did not smell me!
10 meters were left before we had to meet each other, then 8 -- and he still progressed...
I decided to cook up a little entertainment for the beast. I lit the fuse of my blast-packet and threw the banger towards him. He stopped and stared at the point of red light . . . In a couple of seconds the darkness around us was demolished in the glaring and deafening roar of the explosion. When it became dark and quiet again, there was no tiger nearby. He was now standing 20 meters away and dazedly looked around, puzzled as to what had actually happened... Then, suddenly terrified of something, he spurted away and broke into run -- and only the stones loosely clanked down the slope...
I was sorry to let him go like that. "Couldn't do better than throwing stones at tigers in the dark... Now I can as well wave bye-bye to my good pictures In the morning..." I scolded myself. But something stirred again over there -- Is he coning back or what? "He couldn't have liked my fireworks for sure, could he?" But I had no more bangers for him -- and was genuinely pissed.
But the scared master of the wilderness apparently decided to watch from afar. He ascended the slope, shooting cursory glances at the direction of the ill-fated spot. Then the whitish shape stopped and gazed at me more intently -- and then he was gone in a flash, like some noiseless shadow, dissipating in the shrubbery.
I could not sleep till the morning but there were no more tigers to see. It looked like the flash of my banger killed off his keen curiosity to any unidentifiable objects for good.


One early morning in April a well-trodden path led me to the station in the woods. The ground was beat by frost, the foliage did not whisper and I tried to move stealthily. The sun, coming through the thin clouds, softly poured its light on the bare trees. Silence was enveloping everything but for occasional whistling of tomtits.
Almost at the very top of the ridge there were some tigers' tracks on dense snow -- those of a mother and yearlings, apparently. Mostly, they were already encrusted, but some of them were quite fresh. I decided to follow the new ones. Soon they led me to the valley on my left, and I carefully continued down the trail. Eventually, I heard some muffled sound from the back -- "grrrr". I turned around -- a tiger was making it towards me . . . Such a beauty! Bright copper, with enormous head low at the ground. And this one was indeed big, the male with the heel 15 cm wide. He broke his run and went into a fast trot.
With one well-trained movement I reached for my signal fire up the sleeve and got ready to pull the cord. My head was clear -- no fear, no any other feeling...
When only 30 meters remained between us, the trotting tiger started deviating to the left, only once waggling his tail. He was silent again, and his trot got slower. Then he simply walked. After reaching the thicket, he stopped altogether to watch my actions.
Meanwhile, I let go of the signal fire and reached for my photo camera, trying to get the tiger in the focus. In a couple of seconds the tiger started back. I tried to take aim at his copper striped side in the dense underbrush, but that was not so easy. Avoiding the picture being taken, he disappeared In the woods.
Trying to figure out such bravery (he was not even afraid of the man), I followed him, wishing to see his tracks. But the snow was patchy and the tracking turned out to be next to impossible.
When the tiger was leaving, he did not seem so large anymore. The mother-tiger's previous tracks at the ridge top made me think that my tiger was actually not a "he" but a "she" -- and the bright-copper coloring provided additional proof. The mother-tiger was colored the same. Recalling the incident, in my mind's eye I clearly saw the glimpse of something to the back of the tiger running to me. Probably this was a little one, but I could not be sure because I gave all my attention to the big tiger's majestic leaps...
Everything indicated that this was the mother-tiger, and the kittens were somewhere close. The tiger's behavior in this case should be considered as the scaring-away rather than the actual attack. Any mother would try to protect her progeny from a possible danger, and why should we exclude the mother of tigers?
I knew about such cases. Here is one of the hunters' stories.
"We had Just checked the traps and were going back to our winter lodge. It was dusk, and the log-cabin was not very far: Straight across the field, some hundred meters through the grove, and another 300 meters. Here we took notice of four anlmals.
"'No way, said I, 'It can't be the lynxes, them are the goats.'
"My partner leveled his shotgun.
"'Stop it,' I whispered. 'What d'ya need'em for? See the bull to the left In the bush?'
"I could hardly take aim -- and how he roared! Not the bull, and, most certainly, not the goat -- that was a she-tiger! The small ones, whom we mistook for the lynxes, started to the hills -- all four of them, almost of the same size. And she started galloping at us. The partner of mine stuck to his gun -- bang! -- overhead. Usually, he took out the empty shell with his pocket-knife, for the lock was too tight; but now he just grabbed it with his bare fingers, -- and out with it. (I laughed heartily at him afterwards. )
"I shot too, from the knee. To speak the truth, there were no thoughts. Nothing at all -- everything in me just sort of froze. I don't even know if I could shoot or not. I just held my gun and stared ahead. And she was flying at us, grinning, and all her hair stood on ends. Huge as a horse. The head was enormous. My skull could have easily slipped into her jaws.
"My partner told me afterwards, 'l looked down at my boots -- she doesn't eat rubber, they'll eventually find what would be left of us.'
"50 meters remained between us and the she-tiger slowed down to a trot, then walked. The fields were all around us. We crept backwards, to the shelter of the nearest two-meter stump. We started to yell in Korean, in Russian, in Chinese, 'Amba, go away!' Really tried our best.
"I shot a glance at my partner -- he was roaring at the top of his voice, and I strained my lungs and vocal cords even better.
"The she-tiger slowed down, and stopped completely when only about 25 meters were left. She turned her side to us -- great, her tail rocked steadily, she made a roar and slowly started back. Now and then she would stand still, turn her head, roar -- and then continued walking away. Then she made one enormous leap and disappeared. We grabbed our shotguns and ran for the car. Took the water, started it up, shut the doors -- and only after that began relaxing and laughing."
It is not hard to imagine the feelings of anyone with this kind of experience. But as you can see it -- there is nothing to fear. She scared the people away and left . . . So if any one of you finds himself in a similar situation, don't panic. Just remember that she scares you away, that's all...


The vessels called on the Uspenye Bay rather frequently. They took their fresh water there supplied by the small river. At the time I was doing my field research in the area and gladly spent some nights at the friendly location.
After having made it to the familiar cabin at nightfall, I took off my load and walked towards the camp kitchen. The guys from the new shift were having their supper and after greeting them I joined the conversation. The cuisine of Auntie Nina, the local cook, was superb, and at last, as good as my word, I reached for my photographs at the bottom of my pack. The guys took a great interest in the pictures and started reminiscing too.
"I saw him once," said Andrey, "as we were rowing along the river bank, and he was a-lookin at us from above. We were so scared that near sank our oars."
"And I was walking the bridge to the station, deep in my thoughts," recollected Vasya, "and suddenly some roes scattered from the thicket... I figured it was the tiger immediately -- and was ready to jump Into the river..."
Studying the picture of a tiger's muzzle, Andrey wondered, "What's their attitude to the black bears?"
"To the black ones?" said I with a wise air and important look of an expert. "Normally they eat the black ones if they can."
"And what about the brown bears?"
"The tigers are more tolerant to the browns," I informed him with a straight face. "And besides, each tiger has got his own peculiar character and is able to change his behavior, depending on the situation. Also, the size of tiger, the size of bear, the appetite and so on, are important."
Andrey's colleague, himself a huge man, explained, "When your wife doesn't give you anything for dinner at home, do you scorn her?"

"Sure," was Andrey's indignant answer.
"Well now, if you're stuck with her on some desert island In the ocean, you'd definitely eat her, eh? It's a shame to spoil such good meat."
"Has anyone seen any brown bears around recently?" I asked the excited company.
Yeah, they had the story ready and rendered it to me with gusto.
"We were gathering pine cones once, and one of us suddenly noticed an enormous bear, huge as a horse, just five steps from himself. The guy tried to scare the beast away but failed: instead of the mighty roar he produced only tiny squeak... But on the second try his whisper was at last heard by the bear, and he was left alone..."
Auntie Nina came up and decided to join the conversation saying that the tiger who lives nearby is a nuisance -- he's already eaten three of their dogs.
I told the company that the bay area is visited not by one but at least by three or four tigers, and suggested that the taiga cats repeatedly watch the watering place crew, including Auntie Nina herself.
She was horrified, "You mean that I gather strawberries or . . . and he peeks!.. Why hasn't he eaten me yet? Is he waiting for me to grow fatter, or what?"
The bulky colleague was prompt with an explanation again, "They just look at us as if we are some kind of self-preserving canned food and leave us for emergency cases. When they kill off all deer population they'll start working on us..."
"I'm afraid that it might be true," said I, being the leading tiger specialist, but immediately calmed everyone down, telling them some of the most amazing stories of my own encounters with the master of taiga...
The guys' conclusion was laconic and sincere, "This is all interesting but weird."
"And what firearms do you usually carry?" asked Vasya.
"I have the signal lights ready all the time . . . A friend of mine once called the thing a self-destroyer: In danger you pull the cord, and only your boots are left on the ground. A surprised tiger jumps up, as you take off, sniffs the rubber perplexedly and leaves without any dinner . . . Also, I carry some blast-packets, a knife and an axe," I added more seriously.
"Well, they sure must pay you the coffin money, ain't it?" enquired Andrey.
"Yeah, they give me 140 roubles -- and very irregularly at that," I answered sourly, "but frankly speaking, I don't even know what are they -- my wages, my coffin money or my sponger allowance..."
"As for me, a thousand and a half wouldn't have been enough," Andrey was indignant. "You roam God knows where, you sleep alone..."
There was a pause. I broke the silence with a kind of a half-joke. "Nay, boys . . . I reckon you're just plain envious. Maybe we should swap the jobs. What d'you say, Vasya?"
He was ready and willing -- on two small conditions only: to be issued a machine-gun, a couple of hand grenades, and to he paid two thousand roubles in cash for every trip to the woods...