Kazakh Pastoral Cycles

From Winter Pasture, by 李娟 (Astra Publishing, 2021), Kindle pp. 31-32:

IN FABLES, THE FINEST pastures are the ones where “milk flows like a river and skylarks build nests to warm their eggs atop the sheep’s woolly backs”—a promise of peace and plenty. The reality, however, is more one of desolation, loneliness, and helplessness. In reality, year after year, everyone must submit to nature’s will, oscillating endlessly between south and north. In spring, the herders follow the melting of the snow northward, and come autumn, they are driven slowly back to the south. They are forever departing, forever saying goodbye. In spring, lambs are delivered; in summer, they are fattened; in autumn, they breed; in winter, they are pregnant again. The lifetime of a sheep is but a year in the lifetime of a herder, but what about the lifetime of a herder? In this homeland stretching over six hundred miles, in every secret wrinkle on the earth’s surface, every nook and cranny in which shelter can be sought … youth, wealth, love, and hope, everything is swallowed up.

In the end, this wilderness will be left behind. The herders will no longer be its keepers. The cattle and sheep will no longer tread its every surface. The grass seeds that drift onto the earth in autumn will no longer feel the force of stomping hooves that bury them deep into the soil. The masses of manure that fertilized their growth will no longer fall on them. This land will remain forever open, majestically alone in its vastness. The wilderness will be left behind.

While to the north, along the banks of the Ulungur, vast tracts of badlands will be cultivated into farmland. Crops will greedily suck on the solitary river. Chemical fertilizers will engorge luxuriant grasses with fats and juices, more than enough to nourish the livestock over the long and cold winters. What better option is there?

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Filed under Central Asia, China, economics, labor, migration

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