Freezing rain splashed off the massive stone walls of Belozersky Monastery, pelted my face, and trickled down my neck. I pulled my hood closer and surveyed the leaden surroundings. On my left, the monastery loomed dense and gray, threatening to tip the earth. Ahead of me lay a gray corpse of a lake. The only relief from the monotonous landscape was a stand of birch trees to my right, rising white and stately from a luxurious patch of grass.
“Beautiful, are they not?” remarked my tour guide. “Every spring and summer, we tap the trees for their sap, which is used to make a drink that has curative properties. Some of the sap is even frozen, so we have a supply throughout the winter.”
I had seen dense stands of white Birch trees earlier on my voyage down the Volga-Baltic waterway between Moscow and St. Petersburg. At one point I braved teeth-chattering temperatures to capture photos of flame tipped birches in the setting autumn sun. But as I would discover, to Russians, birches are more than just a pretty picture. Read More