Alexei Panshin's The Abyss of Wonder
days later, five Red Army Cossacks
came riding into the monastery from Batalpashinsk. The old
and his wife were quickly spirited out the back to higher ground.
When the Cossacks arrived, the three men -- Dad, Kyril and Ivan -- were still recovering in the infirmary. And there would be one tense moment when the leader of the detachment spied my father's boots -- the felt boots of a White Army officer.
But Dad told the man the truth. A nurse in the hospital at Ekatarinodar had given him the boots because his had gotten worn out walking south from Voronezh. So far, he'd only been able to get a foot into one of them, and he'd carried the other along with him.
Perhaps because my father looked too young to be an officer, his story was accepted, and he wasn't shot on the spot.
Before the Cossack left, he told them that as soon as the road was clear of snow and ice, a wagon would be sent along to pick them up. But the wagon never came.
Dad wasn't sure whether this was because the mountains around held too many White Army stragglers, or because they'd somehow been forgotten.
After three weeks, my
father had recovered sufficiently
to leave the infirmary. He moved into a shed in the orchard.
| Each year toward the end of May, when
had melted in the high meadows, a few of the old monks would set forth
from the monastery with a couple of herd dogs and drive a dozen cows
a flock of goats up the mountain to summer pasture. The monks
live in rude huts in the alpine meadow until snow came again, milking
animals twice a day and making cheese.
This year, it was thought prudent for Ivan, Kyril and Dad to go with them.
So up the mountain they went after the monks, the dogs, the cows and the goats, not to come down again until the first snow fell in the middle of September. All around them, Russia might be in flames and turmoil, but the three soldiers would pass this summer as though they were on a long vacation in a world apart.
They went swimming in a cold mountain stream. They fished for trout and then cooked their catch over an open fire. They drank fresh milk and ate new-made cheese, and they poked fun at the monks, telling them what an easy life they had and how lazy they were.
Once or twice a week, with the aid of the donkeys that Dad and Kyril had ridden from Batalpashinsk, novices would bring food up the mountain. They would cook a meal for the men, and then go back down with a load of cheese to be ripened in the monastery's cave.
The only work the soldiers did that summer was to cut hay during two intense weeks of effort at the end of June, and then several more in the middle of August. Ivan and Kyril, who were experienced at this, wielded the scythes. My father had the job of raking the long grass they cut and stacking it.
The most vivid memory Dad would retain from this summer would be the experience of standing high on a mountainside, with blue skies above them, looking down at thunderstorms raging below. They could see black clouds lit here and there by lightning, and they could hear the sound of distant thunder. But they were above it all, unaffected.
Storms like these were even more striking at night -- the stars overhead calm and remote, the storm flaring below. At a moment like that, Dad felt tiny and insignificant.
In September, with the
cheese and hay all moved to
the monastery, they followed the cows and goats down the mountain
newly fallen snow.
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