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Ways of Seeing: First comes April, then September

“First comes Nadaam, then comes autumn” is an expression in Mongolia. Nadaam is a festival and holiday from July 11-14 for the country’s competitive games of archery, wrestling, and horseracing. The expression reflects the short Mongolian summer. And summer means sun in this desert country. Autumn means rain and cooler weather. The expression reminds Mongolians to live their short summer fully.
This year in Vermont, we don’t need to be reminded. With not a warm day until the third week in April, we are very aware of the need to fully appreciate sun and warmth. When I go to Mongolia, as I have for the past twenty-five years, I leave this beautiful place of Vermont just as it’s getting warm and return six to eight weeks later. I go as the yellow-green leaves unfold and get back when the green is dusty brown.
Still, going to Mongolia is as much a part of my yearly cycle as the seasons. In February I get prodded from inside to book a flight and after that to hone in on my mission to support and preserve Mongolia’s traditional nomadic culture. I listen to dreams and meditations to understand how the mission will play out. How can I further it?
Then I begin to dream about Mongolia. Traveling. My nomadic friends. I am in trains or vans or planes. I am hearing Mongolian language. I am buying cheese at the market. I am walking in the streets in the city and climbing long staircases. I am riding horses or reindeer through vast open grassland with snowcapped mountains in the distance, then over mountains, and through taiga forest. I hear strains of Mongolian songs — about mother or land or horses.
This year the plan is to make a fourth feature documentary with the working title, “Transition: Nomads at Risk.” Khongoroo (pronounced Hungera) is a twenty-seven year old woman who grew up in a Dukha nomadic reindeer herding family and is now a medical doctor. The film will document how she creates a new life. Will she serve as the village doctor or move to the capital city of Ulaanbaatar with its 1.3 million people? Even she doesn’t yet know. How does she step into the modern world with its very different rhythms? What of her indigenous cycles and traditions does she retain? We will follow her for six weeks to find out.
As I begin to visualize the movie, I check our archive and find footage of her family. From 2003, we have clips of her grandmother Punsil smoking and playing the mouth harp. We view her singing, playing cards, and leading her reindeer from the pasture. From 2014, we have shots of her father telling how he met her mother — and his wife blushing as she puts wood on the fire in the stove. In another clip, we see Khongoroo’s mother visiting a shaman to ask for help to heal her husband. These may later become part of the new movie.
In April, I’m already partly in Mongolia — by June I will be there fully. The months between April and September seem to evaporate.
Nomads have a rhythm to their lives. Every season they move to find pasture for their animals. They love the “fresh start” with each move. We will explore how a former nomad creates a rhythm in her modern life.
And don’t I have my own nomadic rhythm as I follow her? To me, first comes April, then comes September.
Sas Carey lives in Middlebury. She founded and directs the non-profit Nomadicare (nomadicare.org) to support and preserve traditional Mongolian nomadic culture through healthcare, documentaries, and stories. Her vision is to honor and preserve our world’s diversity.

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