Agape: In Search of Universal Love
from the novel, The Lodging for the Rose
Rolf. A. F. Witzsche
Story 16 - Horizons of Snow.
Story 16 - Horizons of Snow.
The sky turned dark after our departure. The weather was even colder and foggy when we descended into Bratsk. Bratsk is a typical Siberian city. Its backbone is the country itself. It is also the site of Russia's second largest hydroelectric station. From Bratsk onward, Rostislav would be our official guide, one of Koldunov's men. He met us as we arrived, even though we arrived late at night. He was a man bound to protocol. Also, Rostislav was the strictest soul on social conduct, as strict as the land was cold.
Bratsk was his city. He was proud of it. He told us, that as a boy, he had worked on the construction of the great dam that feeds the generating plants. However, there was no time for him to give us a tour. As far as he was concerned, we were on a mission, a piece of inventory of the Russian state to be used as needed and precisely in the prescribed manner. No deviation was allowed. This attitude was left over from a time, which he called the golden days.
By noon the next day we flew further north in a twin engine Antonov 24 turbo-prop that had seen better days. Beneath us, the rolling hills, covered with forests, occasionally gave way to the open taiga. The flight that we were on was the milk-run, the only air service that extended civilization into the great northern wasteland that had once been under intense development. Pioneering had been the watchword.
The airports along the way consisted mostly of snow covered fields and primitive wooden buildings covered with plump pillows of snow four feet thick. At most of the airports bush planes were standing by, mounted on skis, parked near the 'terminal.'
Occasionally one could see a river from the air, stone frozen, brilliantly white, with boats pulled out unto the banks until spring. But mostly there was nothing to see except the endless horizon of a white landscape that blended into the sky in the far distance. Vast spaces rolled by beneath us without the slightest sign of habitation. Nicolai's description of the Nutcracker Suite came to mind as a perfect description of what we saw.
We were on the "Northern Service," as they called this flight. The aircraft was an old twin engine tin goose that vibrated and rattled as loudly as she was cold inside. We were told before boarding that one of the heating systems for the cabin was defective, and that it would be repaired later, along the way. For the meantime, they had handed each passenger a gigantic fur-lined coat in which Anton almost disappeared.
Beneath us, soon, lay nothing but snow, snow that blinded the eye, that reflected the sunlight which had come through the clouds again. In the sunlight the landscape became painted in deep patterns of blue whenever shadows where created by the low sun that barely stood above the horizon.
Rostislav had been a high ranking officer in the Communist Party in earlier days. He was polite, but devoid of personal feelings. The personal life in Russia had been suppressed. It had ended with the revolution. The state had defined the people's feelings according to the needs of the state. The state was God, the party the mediator, the people mere followers; a perfect order for a population with a peasant mentality. He allowed no cuddling, not even when we were bundled up in our heavy fur coats crossing the icy plateau of northern Siberia, shivering in an inadequately heated plane. However, he wasn't sharp enough to catch our looks. Maybe looks hadn't been covered in the rule-book. In all other matters, however, he was forceful and precise.
(c) Copyright 1998 -
Published by Cygni Communications Ltd. North Vancouver, Canada