EUROPEAN RUSSIA 396. The largest country of Europe.— Russia is so much the largest country in Europe that it is larger than all the rest of Europe put together. Before the World War it was two-thirds as large as the United States. It is a good country too. There is less land too dry for farming than in the United States, so that Russia has as much farm land as we have here. Russia has very few cities and is not as densely peopled as the countries of western Europe, but before the World War it had more people than the whole United States and all of its possessions.
In no other large country does the level land cover so much of the surface as it does in Russia. There is not one high mountain in all Russia.
The Valdai Hills, where many of the rivers rise, are not mountains at all. The great central plain of Europe reaches from the Baltic Sea to the Urals, which are very low mountains. Parts of this plain are so flat that the water does not run away to the streams, but makes large marshes where few people live, but where there are many mosquitoes. Along the Caspian Sea Russia has some land that is even below the level of the Atlantic Ocean. (Fig. 355.) The Caspian has no outlet except by evaporation, but this evaporation takes the water away a little faster than it comes in, so the sea is not as large or deep as it once was.
From south to north, the Russian plain reaches from the Black Sea to the White Sea, and canals have been built connecting the rivers flowing into all the four seas that touch Russia. What are these four seas? Name a large river flowing into each one.
The level surface of the country makes the rivers navigable, so that boats carry much of the freight. Railroads connect all the large cities. Although the land is level, the country roads in Russia are very bad. They are so poorly made and cared for that wagons often stick in the mud puddles, and have to be unloaded before they can be pulled out. Because the roads are so bad in summer, much of the hauling in the country districts is done in winter on sleighs.
The Volga river is the great thorough fare through the eastern part of the coun try, where railroads are very few in num ber. One of the most striking of the popular songs of Russia is the "Volga boatman's song" which, with its plaintive air, describes the weary, almost endless, strain of the poor native with a rope over his shoulder, trudging along a path by the river, pulling away at the dead load of a boat against the current.
397. The tundras of Northern Northwestern Russia is a part of Lapland. (Sec. 349.) This land near the Arctic Ocean is like Eskimo land—treeless, frozen most of the year, covered with grass and moss. In summer the ground thaws for a few inches, or perhaps a foot or two, and then some grass and flowers grow during the long, sunshiny days. Such level, tree less, frozen plains are called tundras. On them the reindeer is at home. Nearly all of the land north of the arctic circle is tundra, the land of the reindeer people.
398. Forests of Russia.—South of the tundras is a wide belt of evergreen forest country like the Indians' great north woods in Canada. It reaches from the arctic circle to Petrograd, and from the Gulf of Bothnia to the Ural Mountains. Much lumber is cut there, and each year the lumber ships from other lands go to the Gulf of Bothnia and to the White Sea to secure cargoes of lumber for the countries of western Europe.
399. The farming belt.—At the Gulf of Finland, the farming belt begins. From there to the Black Sea the great Russian plain is dotted with villages scattered among the endless fields of potatoes, grain, and hay. If you tried to cross it in a sleigh or in an automobile you would think that it would never end. Mile after mile, day after day, from Poland to the boundary of Asia, it is the same flat, bitter cold expanse of snow, dotted all over with sleepy little villages. If you crossed it in summer you would think that there was no end to the fields of rye, oats, barley, and potatoes. Russia is a big country.