Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 86.djvu/22

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from Tver to Astrakhan. Scientific laboratories maintained by the government for the study of the zoological and biological life of the river have been established at the principal fishing centers. Even in winter fishing is kept up. The fish bury their heads in the mud, their bodies rising upwards in the water. Holes are cut in the ice and the fish are speared, a catch averaging from 6 to 12 fish per spear. The caviar, of which there is the red and black variety, also comes chiefly from this region. The roe is separated from the tissue, beaten through a sieve, and salted for export or home consumption.

In its lower course the Volga enters the great depression once covered by the waters of the Caspian sea. It flows sluggishly past Tsaritsin through the great saline basin and finally loses itself in the Caspian at Astrakhan. This great inland sea, despite the fact that it is only a relic of its former self, is still the largest inland sea in the world, Notwithstanding the fact that it has no outlet, and receives the inflow of the Volga and the Ural, it is constantly declining in level. It is already over 90 feet below the level of the Black Sea. Nor is this all. Sudden and irregular fluctuations in the level have occurred so frequently in recent years that geographers have the theory that there are volcanic disturbances in the sea bed itself.

But despite the wealth of the Volga, the Baku and other regions, the Black Earth Belt is still much the most important. Upon the success or failure of its crops depends in a large measure the prosperity of the nation. Unfortunately the methods of agriculture, in most cases, are still very primitive, but in this as in other matters of Russian economic history rapid progress is being made and generalizations are dangerous. A visit to the fields of the sickle agriculture shows the small narrow strips of medieval times separated not by fences, wood is too scarce in the steppe region for that, but by a furrow or two left clear. A great many of these side by side give the impression of large, very large, fields of wheat, but the grain on each strip, small though it be, has a different owner. Land tenure in many parts of Russia since the emancipation of the serf by Alexander II. has been communal. The title to all rural land belonging to the peasantry was vested in the village community. Hence the Russian peasant was bound to his village which he could not leave save with the consent of the elders; he could not get his land in his own right and farm it as he would; he could not even get his land together in one piece. Instead it was scattered about in different parts of the communal land making him waste much time going from one strip to another. The village community was the absolute master and in its assembly of elders it allotted the strips of land each member was to have as his for cultivation. The result was inevitable. Not only did indifferent farming follow, but with the increase in the population the land had to be constantly re-divided, the strips becoming always