Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 86.djvu/21

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17
GEOGRAPHY IN RUSSIAN HISTORY

To the south of the Black Earth Belt lie rich grazing lands affording pasturage for millions of sheep, horses and cattle. In Bessarabia, on the shores of the Black Sea and the Crimea, are vineyards and fruit farms of great beauty and value. But even this by no means exhausts the unparalleled resources of even European Russia. The great variety of minerals in the Urals, the vast deposits of iron and coal in Poland, the coal and graphite of the Donetz Valley, I can only mention in passing. In the region between the Don and the Caspian Sea is the great saline desert, with its inexhaustible supply of salt and fertilizer. According to recent experiments, the soil can be easily adapted to the growth of the sugar beet. Further to the south are the rich oil beds. The output of petroleum in 1913 for the Baku region alone was 420,000,000 poods from over 4,000 wells, and the importance of this in the economic development of the country is inestimable. All Volga steamers now use mazout or crude oil as fuel.

These economic and geographic areas of Russia are in no case separated by physical barriers as is our Pacific slope from the states east of the Rocky Mountains, or even the Atlantic seaboard from the territory beyond the Alleghenies. Russia is without high relief; the watersheds are almost imperceptible elevations. Indeed European Russia is so flat that the Baltic-Black Sea Canal is to be made available for large ocean going vessels by the construction of only two locks. Naturally therefore the rivers and waterways of Russia have been of unusual importance, especially before the days of the railroad, in binding the different economic areas together, affording magnificent arteries for the movement of internal trade both in winter and summer. The rivers are large and sluggish, owing to their great length and slight fall. The Volga is the longest river in Europe. It is 2,300 miles in length, that is, three times as long as the Rhine, yet its total fall is only a little over 800 feet. The peat bogs in the Valdai Hills where it takes its rise are only 750 feet above sea level, while Astrakhan at the mouth is 65 feet below the level of the sea. The Russian fondly speaks and sings of it as "Matushka Volga" or "Little Mother Volga" in gratitude no doubt for the bounteous supply of fish, caviar and game, as well as comforts and pleasures afforded by this historic stream which plays so important a part in the economic life of the nation. The products of Asia and of Europe are carried on its waters; the 2,000 odd river steamers are always busy, and the huge rafts consisting often of thousands of logs, being floated or pulled down the stream, represent a small portion of the riches of Russia's inexhaustible forest lands.

Equally conspicuous at almost every part of the river are the scenes connected with the fishing industry, ranging from the small boy and the old man with the primitive rod and bait at the landing place, to the groups of queer boats with long nets which dot the bosom of the stream