The Blue Sky
Then disaster hit our ail, our yurt, me: I fell into the kettle, into the
It happened the evening Grandma rode off to get my future flock and bring it into the hürde for me. Mother had poured the fresh milk into the cast-iron kettle for boiling and, because the fire was burning too high, had taken the kettle off the oshuk and temporarily put it on the three chunks of dung lying next to it.
Then she left the yurt again to tether the calves since the yak herd had just returned from pasture. In the meantime, Father was busy outside with the lambs, along with Brother and Sister. Even though I was not yet changed and prepared for the night, I had, as often before, been overcome by tiredness, had crashed in the middle of playing, and lay now asleep on the low bed. Mother was about to sneak up and catch the last fugitive calf when she heard my screams. She became alarmed but tried to calm herself by reasoning I was crying because I had awakened afraid. Not wanting to run back to the yurt before she had caught all the calves and completed the last task of the day, she held out until she got hold of the straggler and tied it to the dshele. Once that was done, she raced back to the yurt as fast as she could because my screaming not only continued but was now cracking and threatening to choke me. By then the fire in the oshuk had gone out, leaving the yurt in darkness. Mother kindled a light and found me in the kettle, floating on top of the milk, my limbs stretched apart and stiff with fear. My head, arms, and legs were barely recognizable on the surface. But this must have saved me, otherwise I surely would have drowned. The kettle was large enough to submerge an entire wether, and that night the milk reached almost to its brim even though it was early in the year and the milking season was just beginning.
Since Grandma had moved in with us, the old practice of keeping me on the tether had become unnecessary even when I was fidgety. I had grasped that perfectly well and had in fact weaned myself, which became obvious the day after Grandma had left, when Mother tried to return me to the rope and it no longer worked: I fought against it with everything in my power, and won in the end.
Fortunately, I remember nothing about the incident. And fortunately, no one remembers the details of what happened next. Not Mother, who must have fished me out of the milk, nor Father, who must have come running when he heard the two screaming and howling voices, nor Brother or Sister, who showed up soon after but had to dash off to get the other ail people to help--none of them has ever been able to give me the whole story. Or maybe none has been willing to. Maybe something occurred that has remained unspeakable. The first express messenger left the ail right away. He took his message to the next ail, and from there other men rode on to other ails. As a result, very soon the news was flying in all directions at the speed of a horse that is whipped non-stop. It was in my favor that all this happened shortly before the National Holiday, when the race horses had already been caught and were being broken in. That night was their first and possibly hardest trial of strength because they had to run several örtöö under heavy saddles and heavy grown men. Their only breaks came when they reached an ail. Their paths led across mountains, through the steppe, and across rivers to the next sums, where Urianghais and Dörbets as well as Kazakhs, Torguts and other tribes lived, each with their own language and their own body of knowledge. The first of the men returned before midnight. He brought bear fat that had matured for ten years to brush on my burned skin. Others returned with fat from wild horses or wild camels, from badgers or sables, even from marmots, and again and again from bears, all well-matured, much of it almost a human lifespan old.
Galsan Tschinag, The Blue Sky, translated by Katharina Rout. (Minneapolis: Milkweed Editions, 2006). Copyright © 2006 translation by Katharina Rout. Reprinted with permission from Milkweed Editions, www.milkweed.org. All rights reserved.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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