We will meet again...
Zvezda Altaya (Gorno-Altaisk, Russia)
Posted on December 7, 2005
By Evgeny Veselovsky
(excerpt from the article “Russians in Colorado, or Reminiscences of the Future”)
For Bud and Linda Cromwell
May your moccasins leave footprints in the snow,
and may the rainbow touch your shoulders
A Cherokee blessing
May your moccasins leave footprints in the snow,
and may the rainbow touch your shoulders
A Cherokee blessing
It was early winter twilight. The mountains on the far side of the Teletzky Lake were almost completely obscured by the frosty fog. Maggie(1) and Chubais (2) had for some time been circling around, loudly meowing and rubbing against my ankles, thus very pointedly expressing their unfailing loyalty to their master and his house – if only he could remember to splash some milk into their bowl. Cucaracha (3) , too, began to make noises, reminding me of her presence. It was time to give the “little critters” their grub and then, before it got too dark, get some more wood, make the tea and fill up the oil lamp: it was the second week without electricity in Yayliu (4) (for some reason the suppliers failed to deliver the diesel oil).
The night was coming into its own. The stormy south wind on the lake died down, and a deep hush fell all around. The water stood motionless, and the still air promised a good, heavy snowfall. And sure enough, quantities of large, downy snowflakes soon began to float down, quickly and softly covering the vast expanse. All sound died, save the faint crackling of the flame, and I found myself drifting into the recent past…
In the international airport of Denver, the capital city of Colorado, a small bunch of îlder Americans, holding up small posters with our names, was patiently waiting for us to collect our luggage and finally meet the host families that would become our own for the ten short days of the visit. In the very center of the group I saw a petite and slender lady who vaguely reminded me of my mom. She was holding the poster with my name. Her name was Linda Cromwell, and beside her I saw a sturdily built older gentleman – Bud. These two became my “host parents” while I remained in Colorado. It was their first experience hosting an Open World delegate, and they were slightly anxious. Looking back at that first meeting, I still feel a little guilty for not fully giving myself to the joy of the occasion: I was trying to do my duty as a cameraman and faithfully recorded the first minutes of our arrival to Colorado, which from the air strongly reminded me of Highland Altai.
Finally, as the luggage was retrieved, and we all posed for the first picture together right there in the airport arrivals hall, our host families sorted us out, put us into Cadillacs, Citroens and Jaguars and took us to their homes. I saw America flitting by: neat beautiful houses, large billboards and road signs along the smooth highway. Suddenly the landscape changed: on the left, in some distance, as far as the eye could see, rose the mighty walls of the Rockies, and on the right we saw the wide spread of lowlands, neatly divided into fenced lots. Mountain peaks and valleys, sharply fringed by the woods – all of it brought back the sweet nostalgia for my dear Altai: the valleys of Chulyshman (5) and Argut, the primeval wilderness of the Ukok steppes, the white-gleaming peaks of the rugged North Chuisk ridge and Belukha, the dwelling place of our gods.
During the car ride (which took more than an hour) we tried to communicate through facial expressions, gestures and drawings, and each time we managed to get through to each other, there was a moment of childlike joy. Incidentally, our Cadillac had to make three stops at toll booths: the highway was really nice but, apparently, expensive.
The Cromwells’ house is in Littleton, one of Denver’s suburbs, right next to a beautiful pond with 100 yards of water protection zone around it. At the time of my visit the pond was full of activity, with Canadian geese, ducks and cranes preparing for their yearly passage to Mexico. One morning I saw a coyote, and there were always a lot of squirrels whisking about. The house itself is a two-storied cottage with an indoor garage for two cars. Bud is 65 and retired; he used to work as an inspector for the Colorado State Department of Education. Linda is 60; she still teaches elementary school and twice a week spends her entire day at work. They have two grown-up children, living separately, and one granddaughter. They also own a little terrier named Penny, for whose sake, according to Linda, she still continues to work. Looking at the life of the Cromwells, I was rejoicing for this dear sweet couple. People may have different opinions of the United States of America, but I think that any country, that provides such a high living standard for its retired education workers, is worthy of respect.
I was put in a first floor suite with a large and comfortable living room, a bedroom and my own bathroom. On the day of arrival (Saturday, October 1st), right after lunch, Linda asked if I would like to see Red Rocks Nature Park. On the way there we stopped at the Old Fort Restaurant, a true historic landmark: in mid-1990-s Bill Clinton and Boris Yeltsin, our very own “democracy maker,” had lunch there. We did not stay long, however, as we couldn’t wait to see the Red Rocks and the large open-air Red Rocks Amphitheater, which was built in the late 1930s and hosted concerts of such celebrities as Elvis Presley and the Beatles during their second USA tour, although the famous foursome’s Colorado concert was not what you would call a success: only about 100 people showed up to hear them. It must have been because of John Lennon’s comment, “We're more popular than Jesus Christ now.” Ah, pride!.. Those words of Lennon boomeranged into the lives of all the Beatles with a vengeance – which again confirms that each and every minute we are creating our own future. Life provides us with multiple examples of this truth.
However Linda and I were not thinking of that at the time. My “host Mom” happily pointed out to me the beauties of her home country, and I was trying very hard to remind myself that I was indeed in the very heart of the North American continent, in the “Red-Colored Centennial State.” May my American friends forgive me this liberty in using the two names of Colorado. In Spanish
”Colorado” means “colored in red.” The second name was given to Colorado in 1876, as it received the status of an American state in the year of the centennial anniversary of the Declaration of Independence.
Visiting Red Rocks Park, I was primarily impressed not even with its unusual kind of beauty, reflected in the name, but with the way Americans treat their wild natural environment. I was amazed (and the amazement has not worn off yet!) at the very well regulated maintenance and control of public places and at the law-abiding American citizens. A week later, as our group was riding the cog train up to the 14,110 foot summit of Pikes Peak, the highest mountain of the Rockies, I was impressed with the conspicuous absence of trash and cleanliness of the railroad itself, even with crowds of visitors. I guess, when everything around is clean and neat, littering somehow seems out of the question.
We did not stay long in Red Rocks, as Bud was waiting for us at home. In the evening my kind hosts gave me a special dinner, and then we all pulled out photo albums. I “introduced” Bud and Linda to my large family. As an experienced diver, Bud was interested to see the pictures of our diving training for kids – and especially winter diving on the Teletzky Lake. Looking at the picture of my son Kyril standing among massive blocks of ice in his wet diving gear, he visibly shivered and confessed that he had never done anything like that. Linda and Bud were fascinated to see the views of the Teletzky Lake and other famous spots of Highland Altai that I had been fortunate to visit. In my turn I was “introduced” to the extended family of the Cromwells and the favorite hobby of Bud and Linda, diving. I was especially impressed with their last trip to Belize, when they had a chance to dive down to some sunken ships – we even watched the video together, oohing and aahing over the fantastic beauty of the southern seas.
The next day, Linda again took initiative: we went shopping, and I finally got myself a genuine Stetson hat, something I had dreamed of for a long time. In our Altai weather it is truly indispensable, as it protects one from the sun, the rain and the snow. I might as well tell you now that later the male half of our group followed my example, and soon we all looked like very presentable cowboys.
As for that Sunday afternoon, it was all about American football. As Bud and I sat down in front of a huge TV, Linda liberally supplied us with chips, Coke and other American goodies. To be honest, I understood the hallowed ritual of the game not a whit more than I understand American English, but it felt great to sit there with Bud, watching television and munching away. About 40 years ago my stepdad, my brother and I in the very same way sat together in front of a TV, watching the USSR hockey championship, drinking strong and sweet tea, with Mom bringing us piping hot cabbage pies from the kitchen.
On Sunday evening we were invited to a special dinner with the Parsons family. Bob Parsons was the leader of our host team and, to give him credit, due to his efforts our stay in Colorado went without a single hitch. All the scheduled meetings took place according to the program, and everybody had a chance to say what they wanted to say. However Bob would probably have found his task much more difficult had it not been for his wife, Sally Parsons, who has an extensive experience of public work and even held the position of the mayor of Littleton for two years. She was the first woman mayor of their town.
The dinner at the Parsons’ was more like an informal reception for all the delegates and their host families. The kitchen was buzzing with activity, the ladies were setting up tables in the garden, and the men helped them by pouring out drinks in a very dignified manner. We toasted our friendship, Russia and America, and the evening proceeded quietly and sedately enough, until everyone moved into the house, and people took up their guitars. Andrei Zinoviev from Chita and Larry Brown from Colorado even sang together as a duet. I don’t want to bore my readers with detailed descriptions of all the guests, but cannot help saying a few words about Larry. He is a 75-old man, with a strong, open and peaceful presence, a former Air Force pilot who had been in active combat in South-East Asia. He learned to play the guitar in New Mexico and before retirement worked in the social services for family and children. At present he is the leader of a music band which plays at concerts, organized by The Friendship Force of Greater Denver.
The party did not go on until the wee small hours of the morning, as it often happens in Russia. Our disciplined hosts began to wrap things up around 9 p.m. No one wanted to leave, but we knew that we had a very busy week ahead of us and needed the rest.
The large bed in my bedroom was somewhat like my own bed in Yayliu. I closed my eyes and saw the Koldor Valley (6) …
My back was stiff after a long and still reverie, but I did not move, not wanting to wake Chubais, who had fallen asleep on my lap. The oil lamp cast its dim light on the kitchen walls, the white-washed brick stove gave off pleasant warmth, and it was still snowing outside. Yayliu was settling down to rest after the long day of work and cares, and the warm blanket of silence enveloped our little taiga village.
No, I knew I had to get up, however hard I tried not to stir. Softly putting Chubais down, I got up, stretched the stiff arms and legs and went outside “to look and see how the moss grows.” Because of the falling snow the night was unnaturally light. Leaving my footprints on the fresh snow, I walked down toward the shore. Squatting at the very edge of the sleeping lake, I dipped my hands into the icy water and rubbed my face. Snowflakes slowly floated down and noiselessly melted in the water.
Back inside, I shoved a couple of logs into the stove – not because I was cold, but because the fire made me feel so cozy, – put the kettle on and sank back into the armchair. Chubais immediately jumped on my chest, and Maggie curled up at my feet. The pensive flame of the oil lamp drew my eyes, and, lulled by the crackling of the fire and purring of the cats, I allowed myself to drift off again, dreaming of the future reunion…
(1) Maggie – a three-color fluffy cat
(2) Chubais – a large and obnoxious ginger tom-cat
(3) Cucaracha – a very happy dog - half collie and half husky - a favorite of the children
(4) Yayliu – a small village on the Teletzky Lake
(5) Chulashman – the largest tributary of the Teletzky Lake.
(6) Koldor – a tributary of the Teletzky Lake.
The Environmental Center of Highland Altai University,
“Lake Keepers Club” public organization
The full text of “Russians in Colorado, or Reminiscences of the Future” was published in the republican newspaper The Star of Altai and can be viewed on the Open World Alumni Outreach web-site http://www.openworld.gov/article/print.php?id=191&lang=2
[Reprinted with Permission]