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14 Meeting Dersu A Camp in the Woods. The Nighttime Guest. A Sleepless Night. Dawn. After a break, the detachment set off again. We were in a section of forest with many wind-fallen trees, and this slowed our pace considerably. We reached a peak of some kind by about four o’clock. Leaving the men and horses behind, I ascended it alone to get my bearings. It’s best to climb trees for yourself. This is not the kind of task that a rifleman can be charged with, as you need to assess the lay of the land with your own eyes. No matter how sensibly or accurately a rifleman can explainwhathesees,it’shardtonavigatebasedonanother’sdescription. What I saw from up there immediately dispelled any doubts. We were at that moment on a domed mountain, the very one we had been looking for. A high ridge stretched to the west of our position, the north face of which was defined by steep cliffs. On the other side of the watershed the valleys sloped to the northwest. This was likely the source of the Lefu River. I scaled down the tree and rejoined the detachment. The sun was already low on the horizon, and we had to hurry to find water, which was needed by both the men and the horses. The descent from the domed mountain was initially mild but then became steep. The horses went down almost squatting on their hind legs with packs thrust awkwardly forward. If the saddles didn’t have flank cinches they would have slid 2 Meeting Dersu 15 onto their heads. We had to descend using long switchbacks, which, given all the wind-fallen trees, was far from easy. After the pass we dropped into a ravine of extremely rough terrain. Its deep gullies were littered with roots, trickling water, and moss-covered rocks—all of which created an atmosphere that vividly reminded me of a scene from Walpurgis Night.1 It was difficult to imagine a place more wild or inhospitable than this. Mountains or forests sometimes have an attractive or friendly quality —you can almost see yourself staying there indefinitely. But sometimes it’s the opposite: the mountains seem sullen and savage. It’s a strange thing! This feeling isn’t individual or subjective; it’s always the same for everyone in the group. This is something I have verified many times and am always spot on, and this case was no different. There was something depressing about this place, something eerie and unpleasant, and everyone could feel it. “It doesn’t matter,” said the riflemen; “we’ll make it through the night somehow. It’s not like we have to live here for a year. We’ll find a cheerier place tomorrow.” I did not want to spend the night in that place but there was no other option. Twilight was approaching and we had to hurry. I could hear a stream at the bottom of the gorge, and we made our way to it. I selected a relatively flat spot and gave the order to make camp. All at once, the majestic silence of the forest resounded with the sounds of axes and human voices. The riflemen hauled firewood, unsaddled the horses, and prepared dinner. The poor horses. With only stones and wind-fallen trees, they were sure to go hungry. But tomorrow, if we could make it to some farming fanzas, we would feed them properly. Twilight always comes early in the forest. There were still some patches of pale sky visible to the west through the dense foliage, but the shadows of night had already enveloped the ground below. As the camp1 . Made famous by Goethe’s Faust, Walpurgis Night straddles April 30th–May 1st. It is traditionally a gathering of witches and sorcerers in a dark, foreboding forest to celebrate impending spring (Raedisch 2011). 16 The 1902 Expedition fire raged, it brightly illuminated the nearby bushes and tree trunks. A northern pika, awakened by us and calling among the talus rock, suddenly spooked and dove into its burrow and did not reappear. Activity around camp finally subsided. After tea everyone did their own chores: some cleaned rifles, others adjusted saddles or mended clothes. There is always plenty of such work. When they had finished what they were doing, the riflemen started getting ready for bed. They squeezed in very close to one another and, covering themselves with coats, slept like the dead. The horses, unable to find...


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