In August 1974, I went to the village of Khujigou Commune in Guyang County, Inner Mongolia. The village was located in the alpine mountains, surrounded by rolling, overlapping hillsides like waves of the sea. Those bare slopes are not high, look very similar, can not be identified, can barely remember the hills in the sky under the reflection of various shapes. In addition to taking the river channel road, climbing was a common occurrence, sometimes over the mountains.
The first thing I dreaded after going to the countryside was walking on the mountain roads, and I had a few scary experiences walking on the mountain roads. Lost in the fog in the mountains, is the most I can not forget a Time. When I think about it, those images still appear clearly in front of my eyes, and I can still feel the tension and fear at that time.
In the early spring of 1975, I had to go to Guyang County to do some work. There was an elementary school and junior high school in the village of Jianghan, and the principal of the school, Yang, came to me and asked if I could bring his niece back to the village of Jianghan from Guyang County by the way. Principal Yang and his wife were both teaching. The girl, who was about a teenager, sometimes came to her uncle’s house to watch the children and do housework. The girl was honest and smart, but congenitally deaf, the Family did not feel comfortable letting her ride alone, I immediately agreed.
The day I came back, I left early in the morning from Guyang very smoothly, and got off at 10:00 a.m. at the Sanjiakou. We both carried our bags and each carried some things. We first walked along the River Cao Road, the sandy land was very soft, one shallow pit at a time, and it was hard to walk. In early spring, the sky was a bit cloudy, I was afraid of rain and wanted to hurry back to the village. So I suggested a different road to go, climbing halfway up the hill, far away you can see the village of Erhegong, and then go about 3 miles ahead to the village of Factory Han. The girl stared at my mouth, along with my hand gestures, she read and understood, and agreed to change the road.
Just climbed halfway up the slope to walk a little way, I saw a clean site on the side of the road, I was curious to see, there is an old kiln, open door it. When I heard someone outside, an older woman came out of the kiln, and she was very enthusiastic and wanted us to go in and have some water. Once we talked, she had relatives in the nearby village. I didn’t think there were people living in such a remote place, and the kiln was empty. I thought to myself, digging a hole in the earth slope to live, people are poor to this point or to live.
I was thinking about the rain, so I said goodbye later. However, I didn’t pay attention when I left the door of the kiln, and I turned sideways and walked up a small road to the northwest, while the village should be heading due west. We both just looked down at the mountain road under our feet and walked for a long time. How come we didn’t see Erhe Gong? I thought we must have gone too fast and passed by. But looking ahead, there was no signposted bald hill from the village of Factoryhan. Instead of being on the slope, we both walked down into the depression at the bottom, like a corridor, only to see high rolling hills on either side, sometimes appearing as a fork into another depression. The road would have been unfamiliar, can not remember exactly what it should be like, so I had to figure out to go forward towards the west.
After walking for another half hour or so, I figured it was time to get to the factory. But the ravine is getting narrower and narrower, turn around and take a look, no wonder, all the mountains on all sides, looking up, a narrow sky overhead. Turn around and look, there are several ravines in all directions, I do not know which one to take. I asked the girl to guard the backpack and bag at the bottom of the slope, and I climbed to a small hill to look out.
When I climbed to the top of the hill panting, I immediately panicked, a mountain in front of me like a big sea of waves, infinite! Turn around and look, there are hillsides on all sides, and we are both in the middle of a sea of hillsides. I was stunned, and despite everything, I went up several hills in a row, but I couldn’t see the village. I knew I was lost. What to do?
I know that in this region, often look up the deserted ditch will have a small village, or a sheep herding family living in the deep mountains, like the kiln just passed. Back do not know the way, stay here can not, can only continue to walk. With a lucky chance, I estimated the direction towards the west, may encounter the service Liu Gou village, that small village not far north of the factory Han.
With this hope, I walked while pulling my voice and shouting hard: “Anyone! “Hello”! The ravine echoed with my shout. I stopped to listen carefully, but there was no answer. Walk again, and then shout, and then listen, or no sound, quiet and frightening, I was a burst of cold.
I don’t know when it started, the fog gradually descended, the view was blocked. I saw a white fog in the narrow ravine. Just like when a fire burns, the smoke rushes in and fills the entire ravine. Perhaps it is easy to form fog in deep mountains. I pulled the girl while walking to find a place to hide. Gradually, the fog filled the ravine, and the sky could not be seen. I stretched out an arm invisible palm, the girl was so scared that she clung to my clothes and looked at me with two panicked eyes. Later I could not even see her face.
At this point I was very nervous and regretful. I thought I must remain calm, I have the responsibility to take the girl out, the girl to rely on me, in case something happens, I can not carry her. The girl and I walked next to each other, holding arms together, tired, we both stood for a while holding each other’s shoulders. The ravine is silent, not even the sound of birds chirping, only to hear the sound of our footsteps and breathing. Walking, walking, stumbling and groping along the ravine.
Gradually, I got tired and couldn’t walk anymore. The girl was also tired, and our breathing became more and more rapid. A burst of fear came over me, I was so scared that I felt like I was going to go limp. I kept thinking in my head, this does not work, to protect the physical strength, not too tired, not around with water and Food, hungry to walk how to do? We slowed down our pace, walking a section, sitting down on the ground to rest, holding each other’s arms tightly. Still white fog around, like being locked in a huge steam cage, only to see the white fog in front of you, just feel the face, hair on the fog in the dazzling. There was still not a sound around, it was like a dead silence, creepy.
My watch told me that more than two hours had passed, and we were dazed and confused about how far we had gone. Somehow the fog was receding and we could slowly make out a bit of the road ahead and the shadows of the mountains around us, and we both perked up. I still hope that there will be no one living nearby, and it would be good to find a kiln. As we walked along, we saw two or three very small caves with some broken things on the ground inside. It may have been used by sheep herders a long time ago, and we both dared not stay inside, in case we met wild animals or something, we couldn’t even escape. I calmly thought for a moment, or have to walk down, while looking for the village.
At this time, I vaguely heard a distant “snap” in the air, as if the sound of a whip, and seems to be an illusion, I immediately stopped to listen, but only a silence. Continue walking for a while, it seems to hear another whip, although very far away and very light, I heard the whip. I immediately shouted “who – in – that – side -” no answer. I shouted a few more, we held our breath, standing and waiting for the echo, looking up towards the four sides of the high slope, or no sound, so we had to continue walking again.
So walking and stopping, suddenly I heard a very long, pulling a long tune of yelling, followed by a crisp whip sound. I immediately concluded that someone was herding sheep around here! Where is it? I dropped my backpack, estimated the direction the sound came from, and immediately climbed up the hill to go, except that the blanket of countless hills, like the waves in the sea, nothing else could be seen, I quickly ran downhill.
The girl is deaf, see me climbing up and down, I do not know what is going on, hold the face to cry, I do not care to explain more, and climb another hill, a series of climbing several, still can not see people. I knew I must not let go of this opportunity, and kept shouting loudly, and finally I climbed a relatively high hill, standing on the top of the hill, put his hands into a trumpet shape, and shouted loudly: “There – people -?
After a while, across a few hills, in the direction of the west, a man appeared, far away, is a sheep herding countryman, probably he heard my shout, came towards me, hand and ring the whip. I was so excited that I was like a man in the water who saw a boat and immediately waved and shouted: “Hey! I’m from the factory, how to go to the factory Han ah?” The sheep herder slowly approached, wearing a sheepskin jacket, and also shouted towards me: “Where to each come to”? At this point, I was about to cry out.
When the sheep herder came over, he stood on the hill opposite to me, pointed his hand in the direction of the south and shouted: “Factory Han is over there”! It turned out that the village of Factoryhan was on our left. Across the ravine, I shouted and carefully asked the old man how to get out. He pointed out to me how to go out, and then he said: “You go each wow, I understand you.” I hurriedly pulled the girls, according to the direction he said to turn to the left of the ravine, he has been far to look at us, from time to time to make a loud whip, a gesture, said to go right, or said there to turn into which ditch. After a while, I noticed that he drove the sheep with us, maintaining a distance that was visible to us. Finally he waved his arm, signaling for us to keep going, heading straight south over the mountain and onto the trail toward the village of Factory Han.
I was relieved when we crossed the last beam and saw the familiar winding mountain road leading to the village. When I turned my head to look back at the mountainside behind me, I took a breath of cold air, behind us the mountains like the waves of the sea, I am afraid that we will never go to the end. Later, I heard the villagers say that we had gone far out of the north of the village, lost in the deep mountains of the northwest, to take our chances, a short time is not out.
From this experience, I understand why people in the mountains greeting, talk must be slow, word by word, say, pull a long tune, the sound to carry far, the other side to hear. If you say it quickly, the sound will be drowned out immediately, the other party simply can not hear. No wonder the northwest mountain songs are long.
Back to the factory Han village is already more than 3 p.m., Yang principal family is anxious. The sky was overcast, it had rained for a while, the ground was wet, but there was no fog. Later I realized that there is often fog in the deep mountains, and we walked into areas where there was fog and came out again. It was the biggest fog I had ever seen in my Life, and the silence in the deep mountains was the most terrible silence I had ever experienced in my life.
I fell asleep on the bed and could not get up. I had no energy for many days, and often had the same nightmare: I couldn’t find my way in the darkness of the mountains. In the days that followed, whenever I sat outside my house and looked out, I would see the distant mountains hidden in clouds of smoke from the three forks in the east to the north, and the rocky, overlapping peaks, and I would shudder, wondering if I would have disappeared into those mountains without that old man who was herding sheep.
In Briarcliff New York
August 2, 2018