We spent much of day 2 near Nevyansk, digging for phantom crystals in a place Nicolay discovered when he was a teenager.
The digging is hard work, and when we break for lunch and dinner we eat heartily.
Nicolay and Tanya pitch our tents as the sun goes down at 10pm, and I curl up in one sleeping bag with another on top me (I have learned recently how much I hate sleeping bags – they are so constraining!). I am almost asleep when I hear branches cracking outside. Something is approaching. Maybe more than one. I hear snorting around my tent, loud snorting inches from my head on the other side of the thin plastic material. I realize there are wild hogs, perhaps large boar, with razor sharp tusks. I tell myself I must stay awake, to fight the boars if they attack. But I am too tired and I fall asleep with my hands in my coat pockets.
And I dream of wild pigs rustling around my tent, pushing against it, smelling me, biting down on each wrist and holding me, I struggle to free my wrists and cannot. I shout “No!” and wake myself. And I realize wild hogs do not have my hands – my coat pockets have my hands. I fall back to sleep and the spirit of the wild pigs mixes with my fatigue, and I am swept away to the phantom world between waking and dreams, and I speak with my father’s spirit in Dallas and my mother long dead. And I realize this visitation of the pigs has been some kind of blessing.
The next morning a heavy mist lies over the fields of wild cotton I have named ghost soldiers. For they remind me, as they weep their white fluff, of all the soldiers, Russian and German, lost in Russia in World War II, and all the French soldiers lost with Napoleon’s attempt to conquer Moscow before that. They were fighting men, husbands, fathers, and now they are blossoming white weeds in the Russian fields.
Day 3 – we move on, to search for tourmaline in quartz, and gold citrine crystals, and scepters of amethyst atop black citrine.
Nicolay will tackle any road, any puddle, with his truck – twice we tip and I fear we will dump over. I hope I am strong enough to right a 4×4 truck.
Near our last mine we spot a black adder. Tanya imitates its hissing sound as she follows carefully behind it. The snake is poisonous but not aggressive (thank goodness!).
Finally we call it a day. We are all exhausted. They drop me at a new nicer hotel, the Green Park, and I give Nicolay and Tanya a heartful thank you. I sleep hard, pack my treasures in paper the next day, and ask the hotel porter to take me to the bus station and get me on the right bus to Chelyabinsk. The ticket for me, for the 4 hour trip, is 500 rubles ($16), the ticket for my suitcase is 250!
As we sit waiting for the bus, porter Ivan tells me he has worked 5 years at the hotel. Before that he went to University and 1 year in the military – all Russian men are required to do a year in the military. He works 24 hours on, then has 3 days off. His wife works at a pet store. I tell him about my father who was in the military in the Vietnam war, and my brother John who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan. We both agree that war is horrible. I sleep most of the way to Chelyabinsk, where I look to recover from my adventures over the weekend, and prepare for my software presentations the following week.