We were nearing the end of our Discovery Week in Altai, I was sitting on the bus next to my friend Finn. Neither of us were talking, we were thinking- thinking about the week so far. We had had an amazing week. Right now we were in Altai, a region of Siberia near the Altai mountains. We had flown in with the rest of 8th grade on Saturday night and arrived Monday morning. We had gone rafting in the freezing turquoise waters, hiked up the green mountains full of plant and animal life, and across clear shallow streams. We watched a Mongolian throat singer sing, ridden horses, and had had a great almost a week with our friends. In other words it had been amazing. We were riding the bus to the other camp for the “social” where we would see our friends from group B.
I was not excited about the “social” ,but I was excited about seeing my friend, Logan, who had ended up in group B without any close friends. As it always is in the Russian fall, the orange sun was low in in the crisp blue Siberian sky. I looked out the window and saw its warm light behind the scenic mountains. I noticed that the mountains looked like a smaller version of the Grand Tetons, the image that you always see on postcards. Beautiful, tan, and jagged were the mountains shown against a fresh blue sky. The peaks, highlighted with the last rays of sun, stood somberly and grand behind the slow moving turquoise water. All this added to the slow grand speech of nature, magnificent and powerful full of life and energy, yet somber and quiet and full of an inner stillness and peace.
As we drove through the rural countryside, I felt the thoughtful somberness spread around the bus. I saw some cows, but no sign of any humans— no cars, no houses, nothing outside of the bus, which was for itself, oddly quiet. I could tell not many others felt like talking. Their were, of course, the exceptions who acted like they hadn’t seen their friends in two years and were talking at a volume of over 100 decibels. Everyone was obviously excited to see their friend but, seriously, it had only been 5 days. Don’t misinterpret this, I was definitely excited to see Logan. However this noise in such a peaceful scene was like someone chucking a large muddy stone of into a pool of still clear water. I tried to start a conversation with Finn and failed because neither of us really felt like talking since we were anticipating seeing Logan. Besides that, we had already exhausted many conversation topics earlier in the week.
The sun continued to set, the darkness gradually growing. We pulled into the gravel driveway of camp B. Han and Leonardo were there to greet us but had, predictably, started argueing. Some people found this amusing. Others found a not particularly nice comment amusing, that someone had said, loud enough for most of the bus to here. We waited impatiently for the teachers to open the door. After what seemed like forever the finally teachers opened the door and everyone trooped off the bus.
Everyone crowded and rushed onto the bush rimmed path and then, typically, trudged along, at a pace a snail would scoff at, in front of me, or at least it seemed that way. I walked for a while behind them. I wanted to see Logan, not to walk very slowly behind a dense crowd of people. I thought about what I could do, and then hopped over the bushes and walked alongside the path at a much quicker rate. I caught up to Matt who had evidently had the same idea, as I knew he would have.
“You had the same idea!” I exclaimed.
“Yeah, yea-ah,” he replied in typical Matt fashion, rather awkwardly, as if he knew someone was sneaking up on him with a sledgehammer and didn’t want to be caught by surprise. I grinned at him and kept walking. Matt followed me quickly making use of his long legs, which could outsprint the majority of the grade. We stopped in front of a jumble of people from group B. I scanned the group of people from group B, almost sure Logan would be at the front. To my surprise, he was near the back. I noticed that, oddly, he was wearing a black shirt with some sort of initials or something. It was something that Jacob would wear. My instincts told me something was up, but I told myself that I really only saw Logan in school uniform and had no way of knowing what he normally wore … still he struck me strongly as someone who would wear solid color t-shirts and not much else. When he finally came up, I excitedly said hello and asked what was on his shirt. Gabriella, who had by this time caught up, echoed my query.
“Oh, you wouldn’t know,” he said.
I almost raised my eyebrows, saying that was unlike Logan unless, of course, what he was talking about was something to do with romance novels which I strictly do not read. Anyway I doubted he had ever said that to Gabriella before. I was about to press on, but Logan was bombarded by a barrage of questions by people walking by. Everyone likes Logan, and since he was not a “cool” kid, which at our school translates directly to jerk, he answered all the questions. It was a while before he got away from them. By that time Finn had caught up. Logan wanted to show us his cabin but a teacher wouldn't let us go that way so we decided to talk. Matt walked over too.
“Did you know I was one of the three people who saw Patrick fall?” Logan said.
“Okay,” I said not really wanting to discuss the topic as so many people had been talking about it. Patrick had fallen about 15 ft, off of a ropes course, when a rope attached to his harness had broken. To make matters worse a piece of metal equipment had fallen on him, slicing a massive gash on to his leg. I felt sorry for Patrick,he had been picked up by an ambulance and was on painkillers, and to make matters worse, it had been on the first day of discovery week so he had missed out on everything. Logan, meanwhile explained what he had seen. I listened, because I was his friend, not because I found the conversation particularly interesting. When he finished we talked some, about other things, Matt interjecting once in a while to point out something that was amusing. I noticed that Gabriella hadn’t said anything she just stared at Logan nervously.
The teachers had us go to the campfire. I followed the crowd and got separated from my friends. When I got their the Teachers had us sit down while various people performed to retrieve lost items. I was not interested. I let my thoughts wander and slide, meandering to the corners of my brain; good books; ideas I had had; and other similar things. Finally the performance is over. Gabriella walks up, eyes blazing, to me and says essentially that Logan isn’t acting like himself. It wasn’t like it was something horrible, it just wasn’t like Logan. I follow the crowd going to the bank of the river. I find Logan but before I say anything the teachers command us to look at the sky. Suddenly one of the teachers shoots off a beautiful firework display over the river illuminating it in beautiful glowing lights. It ends with on rocket bursting into golden stars which then fall slowly and suddenly each one explode into cascading golden sparks.
After the display we walk back to the campfire. I continued to talk to Logan some. He was not acting like himself, and is even using slang words! I wonder in a mix of confusion and incredulity why he was acting so differently. The thought still resonates in my head as ten minutes later we are sent back on the bus to return to our own campsite. Gabriella and Finn both have their own theory on why Logan is acting differently. Gabriella thinks he didn’t read enough. I point out I didn’t read much either; however, she counters that I had Finn. There's not much you can say to that. Finn says that he wasn’t around enough intelligent people while he smirks and taps his temple to let us know he is joking. I don’t know what to think. I say that he must have taken too many “Finn pills” trying to lighten the mood, but it doesn’t work.
The next day we fly back to Moscow. I sit next to Logan on the plane. He not completely back to normal but he is close. I still don’t know why he acted the way he did that night but I have a suspicion. Maybe Finn was partly right— but not completely. I think that what Logan needs friends around him, people who can relate to his experiences and emotions, and can show that we see who he actually is not just who he appears to be. Logan though is not the only person that way … everyone is.