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A GREAT CURRENT IC. W. Gusewelle A Note: The author was the American organizer of a joint U.S.Soviet expedition last summer from the source to the mouth of Siberia's most magnificent river, the Lena. The journey began in June, in the Siberian mountain spring, and ended 2,824 miles and two months later, with autumn snow showers on the coast of the Arctic Ocean. The American party returned to Moscow on the night the August coup began. THE ONLY TREES in this high cleft of mountains are stunted cedars, their branches tough as iron. Our fire is smoky and small. We bend over it, wet to our hides, exhausted from the climb. The tent is for three, or four with crowding. But we are six— three Russians, three Americans. By mistake, the larger tent has gone ahead with the three men carrying cargo to the place a full day farther on where the stream will be large enough to float our rafts. It doesn't matter, Victor says, because the rain is finished now. The clouds have rushed away to the north, leaving a pale speckle of stars across a sky that in this season never quite goes dark. A cold wind comes raking down the barren valley. A cuckoo calls from the facing hill. Shuddering, we finish a pot of tea. Victor Gulevich and his son, Alyosha, unroll their bags beside the last of the embers. Alyosha is a slight boy, only sixteen years old, but he has carried a massive pack and climbed without complaint. The closeness of the tent fills up with the warmth of the others of us sleeping. I haven't rested well for several nights. Too many vain questions came crowding in: What if my legs would not take me up to the ridge? Or I could not carry my share, or even had to turn back? What if I failed there on the mountain at the very start? Those doubts are answered now, and it isn't a dream that wakes me, but a peal of thunder rattling among the peaks, and rain beating on the tent. I throw back the fly and can see that a new cloudmass has poured into the valley. Driven by the mounting wind, it passes low overhead in the two a.m. twilight, alive with lightning pulses. Victor is sitting against a cedar bush, his arms around Alyosha, one plastic poncho over the two of them. "Come in," I call to him. 96 · The Missouri Review "Too many there," he answers. "Is O.K." He means to sit the night through that way, holding the boy. His nature, we will learn, is both tender and unyielding. And he likes hardship. He likes the testing. There is nothing in him of complaint. "Damn it," I shout into the deluge. "Come in!" Four pairs of legs are drawn up fetally to make a place, and the two of them lie crossways at the bottom. At the edge of sleep again, I can hear infant river thirty yards below, its bends still banked with snow, tumbling over stones as it hurries to gather its thousand tributaries and race the short, short summer to the polar sea. Ten years I had imagined the river before I saw it. That long it took just to persuade the Russians to seriously talk. The ones who finally came to the table in April two years ago were creatures of the corrupt and failed establishment, brazen and venal men. The cost of the venture, they said, would be one-quarter million dollars, not including any of the equipment or food, which I would have to bring. Just for their cooperation, the price would be fifty thousand dollars more. Was I prepared to write a check? What was planned as a week of discussions effectively ended with that one conversation. I stumbled from the room and out into the chilly Moscow morning, feeling foolish and defeated. Then luck led me to Valéry Tishkov, upon whom everything would depend. Valéry is a historian, and had just been elected by his colleagues to the directorship of the Institute of Ethnography and Anthropology of...


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