Mirror Magazine  

20th July, 1997

A close call over the Taiga

In the autumn, at the time when the roads were at their most impassable, Sasha, a pilot, was asked to deliver mail, provisions and a young horse named Dubok to the distant Taiga river in Lada.

Delivering provisions and mail are all in a day’s work for Sasha. But taking horses up in a light plane is a very dangerous business. If the horse becomes frightened in midair it can break up a plane with a few blows from its hooves. But the only way to get to the thickest part of the forest, beyond the mountains and the swamps, is by plane. And without a good horse in this kind of weather a geologist just would not get along.

That is why taking horses to the Lada was nothing new to Sasha.

As usual, Sasha got a handful of lump sugar at the cafeteria and went to the plane where the brown, sinewy horse was already standing. At first Dubok timidly cast sideways glances at the ramp and resisted being led up it. The geologist, who pulled at the end of its bridle, only swore at the horse in vain.

But when Sasha put a lump of sugar under Dubok’s muzzle the horse stretched out its lips, and allready for the second piece it walked up the ramp towards the door. Sasha got behind the controls and looked around. The most dangerous part lay ahead

The plane sped down the runway and began to gain altitude. Dubok started to quiver. He cast his eyes from side to side and his pupils grew large and dark with fear. Although he could not see it, he sensed that an abyss was opening up beneath his legs. But the horse behaved well. Soon this was like any other flight. A village flashed by below. A group of boys waved at the familiar plane. Finally, a crimson forest blazed up below and there, in the middle, glittered a little river—the Lada.

Soon to the right of it appeared the geologists’ hut and a small landing strip.

“Well, that’s that. Looks like the worst is over,” said Sasha. He landed the plane and led the shaking Dubok out into the clearing.

Then he helped the geologists unload the provisions, turned their newspapers and letters over to them, gave the horse another lump of sugar in parting and began to get ready for the return trip. Suddenly two hunters ran into the clearing, the well-known trapper Fomich and his partner. They carried an enormous sack in their arms.

“Whew, barely made it!” Fomich said, panting, and then added: “Please take me with you, back to town, Sasha.”

“With the animal?” Sasha asked.

“A lynx! Just bagged it today,” Fomich boasted as he shook the pine needles soul of his beard .

Sasha was wary: a lynx would be some passenger! But Fomich reassured him: “She’s quiet now.

I didn’t have time to build a cage but she’s bound with straps. And I have something else, just in case.” He shrugged the shoulder from which an old double-barrelled shotgun hung .

“Well, all right,” said Sasha.

Fomich dragged the sack into the plane, and, unslinging his gun, opened it. A spotted head, grey tufts sprouting from its ears, looked out.

“A fine beast,” Sasha said and got behind the controls.

Light clouds floated towards the plane. Far off, blue bands of rain stretched down from dark stormclouds. Now and again between the plane and the ground flocks of birds flew southwards over the autumnal forest.

Fomich smoked and, clutching the gun between his legs, sighed. How lovely it was! The motor purred. Calm lay over everything.

“You should keep an eye on that sack!” Sasha yelled, but the hunter just dismissed his advice with a wave of his hand: everything was fine, the lynx wasn’t going anywhere.

And, nodding, he again admired the autumn scenery.

“Beautiful ! “

“Beautiful!” Sasha nodded in agreement.

Suddenly he looked around, as if sensing that something was amiss. And at that moment two green eyes flashed at him.

The lynx was preparing to spring.” The lynx!” Sasha shouted to Fomich.

The hunter lost his head for a second, but then raised his gun and was about to press the trigger when over the noise of the motor he heard Sasha yell, “Hold on”. He grabbed the door; the plane shot upwards. The lynx hung suspended in the air for a moment and then tumbled backwards. Fomich lost his grip and toppled after the cat, dropping his gun.

“It’ll tear him apart,” thought Sasha, and just as quickly threw the plane into a dive. He recalled how horses freeze in terror when a plane drops into an air pocket.

The lynx was pressed up against the side of the plane. Fomich lay alongside her. He held on to the beast’s back with one hand and with the other he fumbled for his gun.

“Too bad if we had to shoot it,” Sasha thought. “Such a beautiful beast!” And he turned the plane on its side. Animal and hunter tumbled to the right. Right, left, right, left....

Sasha glanced back. The lynx looked towards the cabin, at him. But now its eyes did not burn. They had become dull and were slowly closing.

“Aha, you’re being rocked to sleep, my little passenger,” he thought and once again began to turn the plane from side to side.

He was already flying over the village where the boys he knew lived. They thought the pilot was dipping the wings so energetically for them and they ran after him for a long time.

But Sasha didn’t notice them. His thoughts were entirely on getting to the airport as soon as possible. The plane shuddered and Sasha worried that maybe the old girl wouldn’t withstand all this shaking.

The radio operator felt poorly and leaned back in his seat. Fomich lay beside the Iynx and held onto its head. Now he saw neither the Taiga, nor the ground, nor the approaching airfield .

“All right, we’re almost there,” Sasha said to himself .

At last the plane touched the ground, bounced a few times and came to a stop.

Sasha got out of his seat and looked around: the lynx was sprawled as though its spotted pelt was all that was left of it. On top lay Fomich, shaking his head. Swaying slightly Sasha picked up a belt, helped the hunter bind the predator’s paws and said: “A fine beast. And most importantly, it’s aIive ! “

Then he picked up the gun, extracted the unused cartridges from the barrels, tossed them in the air and then handed them to the moaning Fomich.

The Bird of Prey

Some three hundred years ago Russians were very fond of falconry. They caught a young bird,that is, netted him, or took him out of his nest, and then spent months manning him, or taming the bird and teaching him to catch a particular prey. Finally, the trained falcon was taken out to hunt. When the falconer saw the prey, he cast the bird off by throwing his arm sharply forward. The bird dashed after the prey, rose above it and then pounced, killing the victim with a fierce blow from one of his talons or rear claws.

There are over thirty different kinds of falcons in the world, including some very large ones whose wings span up to 120 centimetres.

The tradition of falconry is still alive in the south of the Soviet Union.

Falcons populate vast expanses from the Arctic to South Asia, and from Greenland to Australia. They never build their own nests, preferring to use other birds’, somewhere on high forbidding rocks.

The photograph shows the royal falcon. Today, like many other rare birds, this species is threatened with extinction and has been included in the Red Data Book. Most European countries do not allow their catching.

(Courtesy Misha)

Man -made Materials

Many of the things we use every day are made of plastics. In your home, you probably have a radio, television set, telephone, clothes, carpets, curtains, bottles, cups, saucers, bowls. pens. and many more things that are completely or partly made of plastics. We use plastics so much for several reasons. Plastics are cheap to manufacture and they can be easily made in any shape. They can be flexible or hard and they do not rust or rot. They don’t conduct electricity so they are useful for electrical fittings like plugs and switches.

Plastics are man-made or artificial materials. Unlike wood, cotton, wool or leather, they do not come from plants or animals. Plastics are made in factories from chemicals. These chemicals are obtained from coal, oil and natural gas and they contain small molecules. To make plastics, the chemicals are heated. This makes the small molecules join together to form very big molecules. By selecting different chemicals, big molecules of all shapes and sizes can be obtained. This gives plastics of many different kinds.

Plastic objects are made in two ways. The plastic may be placed in a mould and heated to make it soft. The plastic then fills the mould and hardens as it cools, taking up the shape of the mould. These plastics go soft or melt if they are heated. They are used to make such things as plastic bowls and bags. Other plastics go hard when they are heated. They are often used to make very strong glues and varnishes and paints for tough coatings

Artificial fibres like nylon are made by forcing plastic through very small holes to produce thread, which is then woven to make cloth.

Plastics are made by a science called chemistry. Other new substances, which can be made from chemicals in similar ways to plastics, have been discovered by chemists. These man made materials include the dyes that colour our clothes, our furniture and many of the things we use every day. Drugs that help to prevent and cure illness, fertilizers and pesticides, and explosives and fuels, can all be made by chemists from chemicals found in natural gas, oil and coal.

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