When I realized my story STAND ON THE SKY needed to be set in Mongolia, I scratched out a couple of sample chapters so I could beg for a grant. I got the grant – and I stopped writing. I really wanted to find the shape of the story after I’d been. (Turned out that I found it while I was there.)
Naturally many of the things in the sample chapters turned out to be a little off, because I’d only done book research. But I’d written the bit where Aisulu rides up to an outcrop of shale to seek the eagle nest and rescue the orphaned baby eagle. And when I finally got to Western Mongolia, there it was, just as I’d pictured it, the shale outcrop.
It was almost eerie. I wanted to put a blue scarf and a good stone at its base, to thank the universe.
One of the things I want readers to take from my STAND ON THE SKY is the realization that the culture of Kazakh nomads is not a museum piece: it's a living culture that exists in today's world.
Many of the traditions are old -- the art of eagle hunting, for instance, is at least 4000 years old -- but that does not mean they're unchanged. Traditional elements and modern innovations exist side by side, and the culture is in the middle of many changes.
Here, Kazakh kids watch cartoons inside their ger.
Alimbai, the eagle hunter, on his cellphone.
Photo yanked from Pintrest, but we did encounter a young man transporting his eagle on a motorcycle.
(Motorcycles are widely used in Olgii. I can't drive one but did learn the art of riding pinion while hanging onto the driver for dear life.)
One of the changes sweeping Kazakh eagle hunting culture is that the newest generation of children training with eagles includes a few girls, which is a shift fro...