Chamisso’s Shadow: A Journey to the Bering Sea in Three Chapters. Chapter 3: Kamchatka and Bering Island
In the final chapter of Chamisso’s Shadow, Ottinger travels south along the Chukotka coast to the Kamchatka peninsula, stopping at Bering Island, where Vitus Bering’s ship ran aground and the captain perished “from hunger, thirst, cold, hardship, and grief,” in the words of ship’s naturalist and physician Georg Wilhelm Steller. Ottinger follows Steller’s route back to the mainland, where a spectacular landscape of steaming snow-capped volcanoes, otherworldly ash fields, and lush birch forests was witness to the Cossacks’ conquest and enslavement of the indigenous population. In contemporary towns where fish is industrially processed for sale in supermarkets, developers build high-rises and hatch Bering-themed tourism schemes, and corrupt officials hold local fishermen in a gangsterish grip, Ottinger shows us a land long held in tension between continuity and displacement, beauty and exploitation.