Gambling Rulers, Climate Change, and Dark Necessities: Friendship of Nikolai Machulyak and Maria Mikhailovna

May 10th, 2019
Back Gambling Rulers, Climate Change, and Dark Necessities: Friendship of Nikolai Machulyak and Maria Mikhailovna

Way often we moan and groan how gambling treats us. We say, it rarely provides what we seek for, right where and when we need it. Yes, it’s entertaining, funny, exciting, and at the same time tormenting, cruel, unforgiving. It’s elegant, opulent, alluring, but can be restrictive, demanding, even condescending. We whine about luck. More we flirt, more it seduces us; more we give, more it takes away. We say we deserve better. At times, we think what’s rarely said out loud — gambling is nasty.

Yet again…

Gambling is one of our oldest companions and pinnacle of our most intimate desires.

For, when it gives us the attention, it gives a world. When luck caresses we melt. Even the smaller gains can provide a rare rush. Anyone who’s ever experienced huge win will say — it is an event always to be remembered.

Thus, with or without jackpots we get back to gambling looking for the unique treat. So typical of a love-hate relationship.

One might wonder, though, who’s doing the treatment here, really? Do our gains depend on the way gambling treats us or our wins depend on the way we treat games?

Frankly, more often than not, we just don’t care to learn the answer. Nor we’re interested into getting all too philosophical or introspective about it. We just want to win in a way we already play.

This may sound harsh. Our intention is not to be offensive or hurt anyone’s feelings, but to openly speak nothing more than an opinion.

The same question on treatment can be asked about a number of endeavors in our careers, relationships, friendships, leisure.

Including, for instance, climate change. Curiously enough, the answer would be the same. Much more often than not, we just don’t care enough to get factual about the issue. Nor we are interested in getting all too scientific about it. We just want to live in a way we already do.

The simple truth, on the other hand — and this goes for every walk of life — is a bit more complicated.

If we are not to be dismantled by gambling, or climate, we need to treat it right. When we do so, it’s not severe at all. But, to treat it right is also infinitely harder — and where is the fun in that? This is why we don’t do it in the first place, which is why we struggle when bad choices deconstruct us.

The whole situation resembles catch-22, creating conundrum out of nothing. Only, it’s not.

“If we want things to stay as they are, things will have to change.”

To put a foothold in this literary exploration and rain of thoughts not at all new to mankind, as the quote from Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa shows…

The challenge is not a gambling or climate change for that matter. We are.

To illustrate the notion, seeking meaningful inspiration, we will have to go back in time and visit a man who needed only the unbelievable level of high-mindedness to take maybe the craziest straight up bet you’ve ever seen, with one of the most dangerous hypercarnivorous animals on Earth.

The stake? Life.

You might have seen the picture online. On YouTube, it is accompanied with appropriate caption — “rare and compelling photo you must see before you die.”

Same goes for the story behind it.

Man and the Beast: Strong Offerings

On the shores of the Chukchi Sea, a marginal sea of the Arctic Ocean that caps Bering Strait and Alaskan coast from the north, lays Cape Schmidt, a small fishing settlement in Chukotka, Russia. In the early 1970s, the community sustained itself by marine animals fishing and provisions paid by pelt trade.

Close to the seashore, in a house with canopy almost completely destroyed by ice that piled up to the roof lived Nikolai Machulyak with his wife.

A brave and prickly guy, on occasions even thorny, Nikolai joined the company of fishermen to earn for living. Instead of taking his share in valued skins of sea mammals, he often took almost unnecessary seal meat.

See, in December 1974, when a Chukchi hunter killed a polar bear and orphaned cub that was yet to learn how to hunt, Nikolai fed it for five months. He named her Masha. At the beginning of the spring in 1975, Masha was gone.

Almost a year later, in February 1976, Nikolai saw her again. He was out and about in icy wilderness when he felt something. He turned around and saw polar bear staring, right before it charged. As Nikolai describes experience during the interview…

Often a person cannot solve the intentions of the beast but here I felt that this was not an attack. I stopped the bear with my stick — I always take it with me, light, sixty centimeters [1’11”] long — and then I realized it was Masha. I recognized her by white fur and coal eyes. She obviously recognized me too and was in disbelief; it was clear from her face and optional bypass of the stick trying to get closer. I was frightened. I immediately gave her a trap of meat that she willingly ate.”

From that day on Nikolai fed Masha on a daily basis. Again.

Being moderately little polar bear — Nikolai recorded her weight at approximately 330lbs — he used to bring her up to 20 pounds of seal meat and 10 cans of condensed milk, which he would open with his knife.

Nikolai understood the order of nature quite well.

He realized, with no violation of their space or security the polar bear would rarely attack humans. “Stories of aggression are largely fabricated by the hunters”.

He never crossed the safety line bear set and respected natural “chain of command,” recognizing polar bears as “the rulers of the ice”.

Coming to the lair to feed Masha on March 14, 1976, Nikolai was to meet another occupant.

The Friendship Begins

According to notes from his journal, out of the den came out the yellow bear, hefty, some 660lbs in weight, though ragged, shaking, and skinny for her size.

The polar bear ran straight at him and Nikolai barely drove it off with his stick, immediately giving it meat to eat.

Suspecting that new tenant had cubs and thus more right to living space, Nikolai gathered that being older and stronger she kicked Masha out.

He named her Maria Mikhailovna.

It is unknown what drove Nikolai to give her that name. It is the name of Grand Duchess of Russia, the firstborn child of Grand Duke Michael Pavlovich and Princess Charlotte of Württemberg (recognized as Grand Duchess Elena Pavlovna upon converting to Russian Orthodoxy).

Grand Duchess Maria Mikhailovna was introduced to the cavalry and infantry signals on the bulge and drum at the behest of her father who very much wanted a son from which he could raise a soldier. (No luck there; he had five daughters). Maria is also known for her fragile health; she died suddenly at the age of 21, in 1846.

Nikolai was not scared by the initial charge as he offered food but rather surprised, even offended.

“I say, I come to you with the good, with meet, and you stood on your hind legs with brutalized eyes. I observed her left hand which was about to blow a hit. I battered her couple of times, Maria moved backward, begun to eat and I went back home.”

Nikolai believed that beast “feels the shades of human relations,” and returned tomorrow.

Maria Mikhailovna was starving. She ate moss meat although, according to Nikolai, polar bears do not eat any beef or venison but sea animals only.

At first, Maria didn’t allow him to get closer than twenty feet. After meeting Nikolai every day for a week, she took the meat out of his hand.

Two weeks later she was already waiting for him in front of the den. It was then that Nikolai saw her cubs for the first time. He had to leave the food far away since she would not let him come closer.

A month later, Maria Mikhailovna allowed him to approach cubs.

Nikolai introduced himself to male extending his hand, having the cub “climbs to indulge,” while the other, probably female, clung to mother.

As he continued to feed Maria with seals, condensed milk, sugar and proteins, Nikolai witnessed quite a few developments.

He had people from the village coming with carbines in jeeps to observe. He had hunters firing pistol, “spent cartridges,” while bringing dogs and, according to his journal, making Maria dissatisfied.

He had photographers taking pictures. He had authorities noting the development through a telescope from the safe distance, half a mile away.

He had his wife jealous, who swore that nothing good will ever come of it. He even had “Maria Mikhailovna jealous,” when she let him into the den where he found a litter of white wool and had one of the cubs “climbs on his back, on his head”.

Nikolai Machulyak fed Maria Mikhailovna for months. Alone. On his own.

In an article written by Russian journalist M. Filimonov, Nikolai explains his approach.

“If the bear does not want to join me in any relationship, I digress once but do not hurry. I make sure to face him and do my best to stay calm. The beast has a beast. Every time I tune before the meeting, I mentally say to bear, ‘I ask for your friendship. Here, in advance, is my hand with an open palm, no weapons, and a bank of condensed milk you love. You are a beautiful, strong, and kind beast to me. I want to have a friend in you, and in a friendship, I will not be more faithful’.

The final entry in Nikolai’s journal suggests that “once we had to say goodbye but I still did not go away”. There is no further finite information about the fate of Maria Mikhailovna, two of her cubs, or Masha.

Moreover, we know nothing about the life path of Nikolai Machulyak.

He became a rather prominent figure at Cape Schmidt during the whole episode, which triggered Filimonov to check on rumors and do the interview which is the original account of events, published in 1977.

Treatment of Dark Necessities

In the mass of contemporary viewers’ comments on various platforms regarding the photo, few stand out and probably sum up collective notions.

‘Fake! If this was real, his balls would crack the ice’.

‘Missing from the photo… the wheelbarrow that holds his balls’.

‘How does this guy walk all the way up north with those huge balls’?

Indeed, Nikolai’s feat is almost unfathomable nowadays. But the astonishing tale of human character, the amazing trust and gratitude of an apex predator, and story of their friendship delivers timeless context…

On treatment.

Often the gambler cannot solve the intentions of casino games. The solution might be in strategies, cleverness, surely in luck, but it can also be in the intuition or in any feeling we might experience as we play. We can choose to act upon it just as Nikolai did.

Sometimes gamblers forget the order of gambling nature, what we can or can’t do. We get carried away, violate game space, and jeopardize our security, risking the attack in return. We cross the safety line.

We can say whatever we want, but in gambling — games are the rulers. We’re just visitors looking for gains. When we respect this chain of command and recognize it, we usually win. The hardest part for us, then, is not gambling itself but to learn what respect and recognition are all about. Right, the treatment.

On occasion, patrons visit the games with goodies while a game is about to blow a hit. Now, we might consider it silly, but the game does feel shades of human relation, be it intelligence, responsibility, tactfulness, even love. This is not imagination but the question of belief. When we believe in things we cannot see, we get to see things we believe in. Exactly, the treatment.

Each beast has a beast. The ultimate apex predator on Earth, the biggest badass in the world is the man. We can, again, say whatever we want but all of us have an inner beast, our dark side.

“Dark necessities are part of my design… darkness helps us all to shine.”

Anthony Kiedis is right. Any person or gambler for that matter, that embraced its darkness and the beast inside with sheer determination to use it exclusively and completely for the utter good will not only testify to this but will…

Vow never to leave it astray no matter what.

It takes an insurmountable amount of courage to do such a thing, to reach the other side. Best way to do so is to ask for its friendship and provide the right treatment. Just like Nikolai asked Maria — weaponless, with open arms and offerings.

Full disclosure? The dark side is a beautiful, strong, and kind beast.

To experience it, one has to be faithful in that friendship. This is a necessary prerequisite. Otherwise, brace for the ultimate implosive blow.

(Just to be very, very clear on this, and on the record — the concept works only if we’re willing to use our dark side exclusively for goodness. People using their dark side for any other purposes are thugs, plain wrong, and always end up that way.)

If You Lose, Don’t Lose the Lesson

Consequentially, once we open ourselves for the possibility of meaningful coexistence with the dark side, the next logical question is — if everyone has its other side, does anything has it too?

Do games have them?

What if games were to be treated as part of such friendship? What if we were to give them something we’ll be rewarded for in return?

Make no mistake, it’s not the money. It is knowledge, responsibility, patience, dedication, or anything we do in order to be better players and gamblers. That is the way, the path we can use games — as well as climate and life itself — to climb and indulge.

So, who is doing the treatment now, really? We are. Not gambling.

It has always been us; it will always be us, and never the other way around.

Yes, it’s infinitely harder. We have to unhabit ourselves from a myriad of things. (Editor’s note: unhabit is the word in our dictionary.)

The ultimate jackpot?

We don’t get to be severely dismantled by anything. Instead, we get relief and that is where the whole fun begins. Even in the hardest challenges, including gambling.

Of course…

All of this is unquantifiable. It comes down to buying the concept on the basis of belief much more than on numbers proving the case.

Then again, the way we handle climate change — quite quantifiable and visible degradation of our habitat with undisputable scientific data to back it up — suggest that we won’t buy-in something even when it’s supported by figures. Nope. We usually buy-in things when they hit us in the head.

The challenge is not gambling. Nor climate change. The challenge is us.

It is not about the way we have been treated. It is about the way we treat.

Nikolai Machulyak proved out to be a person ready to do the right thing and treat Maria in a way she needed. Forty years later, his countryman fed the polar bear with explosives. The incomprehensible sensation of detonation in the animal’s mouth — “crawling, somersaulting and writhing in agony” — can be very remotely compared to discharge of heavy baccarat loss. Only, we get to live.

We leave polar bears with no hunting grounds and without snow in places where it should have been. The incomprehensible sensation of their starvation can be very remotely compared to gambling losing streak. Only, we get at least peanuts while we’re at it.

We even consider melting of northern ice cap as new economic opportunities for trade at “the forefront of abundance,” deeming Arctic lanes as “21st century Suez and Panama Canals”. The incomprehensible illiteracy and ignorance of reality can be very remotely compared to raising online slot bets and going with it all the way, ending up broke. Only, we can earn money again soon enough whereas it takes ages to reinstate ice caps.

More Than Just Gambling

While one might argue that ending of Nikolai Machulyak story is quite open — for all we know, he could have been eaten by another polar bear couple of years later — it can also be argued that he won.

Nikolai won over his fears, inhibitions, pushed his boundaries. Big time. The reward? If nothing else, forty years later, here we are remembering him and learning from his experience, which is to say, he exists. His deed echoes in history.

When it comes to climate change, if we want things to stay as they are, we will have to change.

The existential demand to have 100% clean and renewable energy by the end of 2035 — in sixteen years’ time — will dictate a significant cost. It’s an almost impossible task from this standpoint; it will require a considerable financial boost to succeed. Who is to say that efficient taxing of legalized and well-regulated, wide-spread gambling beneficial to all parties involved cannot contribute to the cause?

In order to transform and prevail, we will have to win over our fears, inhibitions, and to push our boundaries. Otherwise, there just might not be much to be talked about. Then, we’ll moan and groan how nature treats us.

More importantly…

Of what use will then any gambling be? To what end are we supposed to keep improving our gaming skills and posterity if there will be no places to play games at?

We sure ain’t ready to be left without gambling so soon! Hell no.

Therefore, the story of gambling, like the story of Nikolai Machulyak and Maria Mikhailovna, has to remain with an open end, open as we are in the belief that…

There has to be something more to gambling than just chasing wins and losses, checks and balances.

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