Drilling wells in the dead of winter

Below the south slope in front of the village, the location of the big well is on the left

Remembering Jiangnan – night battle site

full of sweat.
Take off your hat and forget about the product.
The moon shines for a thousand miles in white snow.
Quiet as the south of Home.
Only ten thousand more mountains.

Written at 2:00 a.m. on February 18, 1976

Two years ago, when I was cleaning up my old books, I found a small piece of paper almost torn up, on which I had scribbled this little lyric and some other scribbles. This lyric immediately took me back to the cold winter of early 1976. I was in the village of Factory Khan in Inner Mongolia, and I used to drill a well late at night. One early morning while digging, I suddenly felt something and a few lines of words came to my mind, which I wrote down after returning to the kiln.

That was in mid-September 1975, the central government held a national conference on agricultural learning from Dazhai, in the country a “big dry fast war on the mountains and rivers” propaganda and encouragement, Inner Mongolia Guyang County also booming call for a big dry fast in winter. Subsequently, Khujigou Commune also held a mobilization meeting. I went to the village of factory Khan brigade to respond to the call, “split the mountain to draw water”, decided to start work immediately after the autumn, while the winter period in the village under the southern slope to dig a large well to irrigate the water.

Inner Mongolia Guyang County, the average altitude of 1500-1700 meters, plant Khan village’s geographic environment is mountainous, located in the high slopes, water is rare. At the end of the year, the climate in the alpine region is very severe and treacherous, and the body cannot resist the cold when working in the field. But the village labor force is small, digging wells difficult, slow progress. The team arranged the laborers into three shifts to dig the wells in rotation, without stopping work or resting during the Spring Festival, which was a typical impractical and radical act of that era.

In Inner Mongolia, the winters were so cold that there was little work to do after the ground froze, and the plowing and planting did not begin until after the spring. In addition, according to local custom, women were mainly responsible for household chores after Marriage, and not many of them worked in the fields. Therefore, most of those who participated in digging the wells were the young and strong male laborers in the village. Most of the youths also participated in digging the wells. At that Time I had little Life experience, so the captain assigned me to do the night shift, that is, from 12:00 midnight to 8:00 in the morning, and I accepted. Who knows that the night temperature plummeted, much lower than during the day, the construction was very difficult and even dangerous.

When it was my turn to work on the night shift, I read a book in the kiln at night and lay down on the bed with my clothes and drifted off for a while, not daring to fall asleep. When it was almost 12 o’clock, I carried a shovel and stepped on the snow with my big shoes and walked downhill, one step at a time, to the construction site on the south slope in front of the village, and my stomach was already growling.

The old folks at the site are wearing big sheepskin jackets and tight leather hats, and the youths are also wearing short cotton coats, wrapped in turbans and hats, and they can’t recognize each other. Because of the cold weather, to the site did not dare not move, and vigorously use iron picks and shovels to shave the soil, digging the frozen hard land. Pickaxe smashed in the frozen soil immediately bounced back, shaking hands raw pain. Use shoes to step hard on the shovel, scraping down a little bit of soil in the frozen soil. So vigorously planing and digging, head sweat, I took off my hat to wipe. The body also sweated.

However, a gust of cold wind blew, the edge of the scarf and hat are soon iced up. If you stop for a while, the body will soon be frozen stiff, shivering, two legs will not bend, shivering when talking unclear, can only quickly and then vigorously plan for a while. The temperature at night during those days was always more than 20 degrees below zero. I felt like a leaf shivering in the cold wind, light and fluttering, will be blown off at any time.

This day is particularly cold, in the early morning, I was so tired that I could not lift the iron pick. Stopped to rest for a while and stood frozen on the site. The bitter cold wind blew through my cotton coat and pants, and my whole body was numb. I said to myself, “I’m probably going to freeze tonight, I won’t make it.

I looked up at the night sky, high and wide, endless. The sky was very clean, no stars, not even a hanging clouds, only a bright moon, the moonlight clear as water, and even see the color of the sky is blue.

I have never seen the moon radiate such a magical light on a cold night, spreading all over the earth. The snow-covered distant mountains and, further away, the peaks of the famous Wudangzhao, the empty river canal leading to the three forks, the snow-capped slopes, the chimneys on the roofs of the village houses, a few dead trees along the river canal road, and all the objects on the ground as clear and visible as in the daytime.

At this time the sky a bright moon in the sky, the ground white crystal clear, in the moonlight yiu yiu flashing light. The sky is so close to the earth, the moonlight and snow reflect each other, what a wonderful spectacle.

Look around, the sleeping village hidden in the snow and ice. Everything between heaven and earth is frozen in the cold air, how quiet, I can’t help but think of my hometown at night is also so silent. But why am I here?

Maybe I was confused by the freezing, maybe I was sleepy in the early morning, maybe this strange scene in front of me gave me an illusion, I couldn’t tell if I was in my hometown or in the Inner Mongolia factory Khanmen Cave, thousands of miles away.

Suddenly, my heart surged with a wave of sadness, my chest held a million aggressions: I want to go home! I want to go home! I really can not hold on! My eyes were burning and my nose was sore. My feet were on the ice, slippery and unstable. I couldn’t help but shake my body. I hurried to stand firmly on my feet with a shovel. That’s when I hit a jolt and sobered up, coming back to reality.

Looking at the rolling, overlapping peaks illuminated by the moonlight, the phrase “only ten thousand mountains” came to my mind again. Yes, these ten thousand mountains were blocking me. I kept repeating these words in my heart, and after I returned to the kiln, I filled in these words I wanted to say in this lyric. In fact, I understood that there were ten thousand mountains that I could not see with my eyes blocking my way home.

At that moment, the mountains overlapped, a warm illusion of home, out of reach.

This early morning moment, the scene on the well-drilling site in the moonlight, never left my memory. During my years in Inner Mongolia, there were often moments when I missed my Parents back home. But rarely did such a strong feeling of homesickness occur, and it seemed to have a crushing sense of foreboding. I repeatedly savored the phrase “only ten thousand more mountains”, which was full of helplessness and sadness.

Many years later, I realized that when a person is on the verge of mental and physical stress and pain, despair will arise and he will instinctively and explosively react to the most urgent real emotions inside. Just as people who are about to pass away, they will say their regrets and wishes without hiding. I have experienced such a scenario many times, and the first thing I thought of was to go home.

For a long time afterwards, this verse became the most representative phrase when I missed my hometown in Inner Mongolia. I often recited it silently in my heart. Many years later, I still think of this verse, and it still brings tears to my eyes.

The man who led the shift that night was a kind young fellow, perhaps he too was freezing and decided to take a break. At about two o’clock, he took us to an old folks’ house near the site. I remember there was a thick cotton blanket hanging outside the door to keep the warm air from leaking out of the house. I don’t remember if it was his own house. We sat by the warm bed, listening to the sound of burning in the stove, and stayed for a long time, no one dared to step out again. We did not return to the construction site until the day dawned with a slight dawn in the east.

In that year, the youth house was not yet built. The 15 young people in the team were scattered in twos and threes and lived temporarily in the homes of old folks, or in the empty houses next to the breeding yard. I lived alone on the hillside behind the village, the village people called the hill head, the brigade deputy secretary of the party branch Kang Yinlock’s backyard kiln. That was the Kang Family‘s early residence, later built a house, the kiln as a drying room that storage room. It was warm in winter and cool in summer, but it was very quiet, and the youth sometimes came to sit and talk. I didn’t expect to get into a lot of trouble for the night shift well drilling.

The beginning of 1976 was a snowy winter, with several consecutive heavy snowfalls that did not melt. When I returned to my cave from the well construction site in the morning, I was often stuck on the road and could not return. I had to walk uphill from the bottom of the ditch to the bifurcation point between the willow ditch and the hill head, after walking from the site to the back of the village.

There are six or seven families on that path. The old folks who live in the hill head shovel snow in front of their homes, the path is full of snow on both sides, more than a meter high. The middle shoveled a very narrow road is also covered with snow and ice, in the night more than -20 degrees Celsius temperature, the road was frozen to the bare. The path was going uphill, I slipped and fell with every step, sometimes even fell several times before moving a step. When I tried to stand up, I slipped and fell again. I had no choice but to kneel on one knee and slowly climb uphill, but I kept slipping.

To the right of the path were the yards of the old folks, one after another. It was just dawn, and there was no movement. I was tired and sleepy, and my hands and feet were numb from the cold. Want to call for help, too embarrassed to alarm them. I had to make a small nest in the snow, step in the pit, huffing and puffing to crawl forward, sometimes rolling and crawling, sometimes holding the left side of the snow pile, sideways slowly move up. This section of the path back to the kiln about 50 meters, climbing for more than half an hour to the courtyard dirt wall door, covered in snow.

Once, the door of the cave was blocked by frozen snow, I used a shovel, and then pick up the snow with my hands, pushing the door open when I pounced into the door with snow, fell on the floor of the cave, snow scattered all over the place.

By the way, I would like to mention the situation of the well later. The well was drilled over the winter without a break, completing the political tasks of the county and the commune. When spring came, the day warmed up, the land thawed, and the sandy soil loosened up. Often, a piece of sand would split open and fall down the well with a clatter, often with rocks. People digging under the well had to be careful not to get hurt. After a few months of digging, the well became deeper and deeper, and water began to come out, but it was said that the water source was not enough, so deeper digging had to continue. People who went down the well had to wear knee-high overalls and tripped through the water to shovel the mud and sand up from the water.

I also went down the well. I knew it was dangerous at the time, but I had no choice but to go down. The groundwater in the well was very cold, and after soaking for a few hours in my high-top rubber shoes, I was cold from my toes to my calves, and I couldn’t feel a thing.

Later, the team got a lift, operated by the village Kang master, the bottom of the well to dig out the mud and sand lift up and pour to the outside. One day the lift broke down and suddenly fell from a height, but fortunately it did not hit the ground.

In the spring, we started planting, so we stopped drilling wells for a while. I heard that the choice of the borehole was less than ideal and the water output was insufficient. When I left the village, the well was not yet completed.

When I packed up my past book items some days ago, I found a diary from 1976 that remained from my visit to the countryside recorded in the computer two years ago, which contained these lines, “Probably this year, the Factory Khan Brigade will be honored by the Commune Party Committee, while the Khujigou Commune will be honored by the Guyang County Party Committee.”

In May 2018, a part of the youth and I went back to the village of Factory Khan. Everyone coincidentally wanted to come to see the big water well and take a picture here. The big well was under my feet. At present, water can still be pumped up, but the water source is not enough to irrigate the land. When I revisited the old place, I naturally remembered that early morning and the scene in front of me was still familiar. This is the project that our village put a lot of labor into. I was quite relieved that the big well was finally completed.

Written on July 30, 2018
Revised on January 15, 2020