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электронный журнал "Новые исследования Тувы"

The Golden Knot

His house is the Taiga. He is a holder of sports awards in skiing and parachuting. And he has a pistol of the “Nagan” brand.

He is a veteran of work, holder of a memorial medal “300 years of mining-geological service to Russia”. He is an expert prospector of the depths of the earth, who discovered, in Tuva, the Kara-Beldir golden knot.

He is a geologist. For young people, who are coming back to the profession that was once surrounded by romanticism, the profession which suffered a temporary set-back during the post-perestroika times, he is a living legend.

He is Valeriy Serafimovich Gorshkov, and for those that know him, simply Serafimych.

From Heaven to Earth

-Valeriy Serafimovich, was your path into geology direct – a goal from childhood?

-You could not exactly call it direct. I almost became a pilot, but I came down to earth in time. I was born in a little village Aleshka in the Voronezh area. Until seventh grade, I studied by a kerosene lamp; there was no electricity in the village. So, of course, we could see airplanes there, but we hardly even heard of geologists.

I picked my profession on a bet.

-What do you mean – on a bet?

-Like this. When we were already living in the town Lipetsk, I made a bet with a schoolmate that I could pass the admission committee and get into the Lipetsk Aviation training center. In those times, there were many of these centers all over the country. They recruited kids from 10th – 11th grade. We would study theory in evening classes, and have practical flight training in summer in real aerodromes. The goal was to graduate military pilots fro small airplanes. The committee was strict, all the way down to the exact occlusion of your teeth. My friend could not get through, but I did.

That was in 1965. I studied well, and flew for one summer. The summer practical training was serious, the program was a preparation for pilots for higher military aviation training schools. The first year we flew YAK-18A’s. The second year – already reactive airplanes.

I liked flying but I did not want to be a military pilot, because in character and personality traits, I am an extremely un-military person. So in the second year I decided that I won’t fly anymore. I made this decision after finishing eleventh grade, and I had no idea what to do next, what profession to choose.

But my brother Aleksandr – he is one year younger, but finished school at the same time with me- went to Leningrad and entered the mining institute there in the specialty “Survey of deposits of useful mining substances”. He came back, and was telling us with so much excitement about geology and geologists. Then it became clear that his specialty was not the most romantic one in geology, that there was another one, even more romantic “Geologic prospecting and reconnaissance of deposits of useful mining substances”. The geologists of this specialty are the very first people to go into the territory to be searched, and the surveyors come only after them. The Leningrad mining institute did not offer this specialty, it was taught only in Moscow in the geologic reconnaissance school. Again, there was huge competition – 10 applicants for each spot.

So, again on a bet – this time betting with my brother – I went to Moscow and got in.

- And what is your brother, with whom you bet so successfully, doing now?

-He is a geologist. And, I would say, much more successful than me.

Aleksandr Serafimovich Gorshkov now works for “Yuzhmorgeo”. It is a large firm based in Gelenzhik. Earlier they used to work with the geology of the South Seas, but now they work in the North seas. One of their main tasks is the search for oil and gas structures in the continental shelf, and iron and manganese in the oceans of the world. So my brother searches for oil and gas in the continental shelf areas and shallow waters near the outflow of our northern rivers into the ocean. He is a candidate of Geology-mineralogy sciences. We do not see each other often, but when we do, we invariably talk about our respective “geologies”.

When A equals B, but B does not equal A.

-Did you ever have doubts about the profession that you chose on a bet?

-At first- yes, and very large ones. More exactly, the misgivings were not about the profession of a geologist as such, but about the science “geology”.

You see, I finished physico-mathematical school, and that is how my mind works, I am a physicist, not a lyricist. I started to study geology and there were no real hard-and-fast rules, just some foggy relationships! It used to upset me, because I was used to living according to logical laws: if A equals B, then B equals A. And now there was nothing similar, everything was based on some half-empirical relationships. For example: if you see gold grains in a river, it does not necessarily mean that there are also layers of gold ores in the rocks or the river basin. More often there are not.

But then, quietly, gradually, I got used to it.

The institute had an excellent practical field school; as students we traveled much to get experience. I worked in north of Kamchatka, in Yakutia north of the Arctic circle, in Kola peninsula, in Crimea.

And after the institute, at the age of 24, I was assigned to Rudnyi Altai (Note “Ore Altai”, the south-west low-lying part of Altai, which is an area that holds large concentrations of deposits of poly-metallic ores.).

- Weren’t you afraid to be so far from your native home?

- Afraid? At that time, it was USSR, and we could go to any point of the country, and be certain that we’ll have all the necessary social benefits anywhere; there would be work, a cot in a dormitory, and food.

In Rudnyi Altai I worked in a position of a junior specialist, as a geologist in a prospecting team. We searched for poly-metals, copper, lead, and zinc, by drill-sampling. Afterwards I kept working there, but already as a geologist of a specialized geochemical team which belonged to Central Geophysical Trust, (in Moscow), which was based in the town Aleksandrovo in the Vladimir area.

The team was both scientific and industrial; the data were used to formulate the methods of geochemical searches. Geochemical prospecting consists of taking soil samples, followed by lab analysis for practically all the elements of Mendeleyev table, then mathematical work-up of the data, and prediction on that basis the location of ore deposits. The team was half-scientific; about one half consisted of candidates of geo-mineralogic sciences.

I worked like that for three years, then I took off and went to Magadan.

Lateral Move

- Why Magadan?

- At that time we believed that every three years one should either make a step forward in the sense of career advancement, or a lateral move. So I made a move towards Magadan. I decided to go north; I started missing winter romantics.

My friend worked in Magadan region, and he helped by sending in a request for me, without which it would have not been possible to go there to work, because it is a border zone. I got into one of Magadan expeditions. During my last year there, we received an assignment to work up an extremely large amount of very complicated and confused geologic data in four months, and to produce an intelligible explanation in a report. Normally this would take about a year and three or four geologists would be involved. And there were only the two of us.

We had to spend the four months in the office where geologists work up their field materials in winter; we slept right in our chairs, and went hunting only during days off. We made the deadline, and after finishing the report, I asked for a vacation; I had built up tremendous exhaustion. They did not give it to me, and said: ”Take a team and go into the field, start working up a new territory”. Well, there was a way to get a rest, but only by writing a request for a vacation followed by quitting. So that is what I did.

And then I started searching for a place for the next lateral move.

- And you moved to Tuva. Why specifically there, when the map of the USSR was full of places where geologists wanted to go?

- In 1983 I took an atlas, it was such a nice geographical atlas of the country for teachers, and I started picking places where I would like to live for various reasons. I made copies of the map, outlining the territories which appealed to me either because of nature, or geology, or living conditions. Then I superimposed these map copies one on top of another, and the area with a maximal concentration of these positive features fell onto Tuva.

- To what extent were your expectations fulfilled?

- Completely! I never made another lateral move from Tuva. I found myself here – everything worked out with work, and I even started a family.

As Simple as a Teapot

- If I am not mistaken, your main discovery in Tuva was the Kara-Beldir golden knot?

- Yes, you are right. There were other discoveries, but Kara-Beldir was the most important one. I have to explain for those who can’t imagine where Kara-Beldir is. If you go from Sizim to Kungurtuk, it is about halfway, a little to the side, righ on the watershed between Balyktyg-Khem and Shivey, where these two rivers are separated by a mountain ridge.

The Kara-Beldir knot, or as we call it now – Kara-Beldir ore field, got this name after the work, which I was heading, was completed. It was found very fast, already during the second year of work, in 1988.

The interesting part is that the basic method of prospecting was sampling by panning. That is an old, grandfather method, when pebbles and sand from the streams are rinsed in a tray, watching if there is gold in it. Simple as a teapot, but very effective. Jack London describes it in his stories about the “gold fever” in Alaska.

- And have you ever felt the ”gold fever”? What does a contemporary discoverer feel when he sees the glitter of gold in the pan?

- The glitter of gold, by itself, does not excite me, but there is a feeling of satisfaction that I found it. Just like in any other job, when you reach success.

In Honor of a Worker - Ditch Digger

-As far as I know, your discovery happened at that time against the general opinion in Tuvan geology, about how and where to search for gold deposits.

- It was mainly because when I came to Tuva, the main geologist here was Klim Maksimovich Kilchichakov. He discovered the “Tardan” deposits, where gold was in a different type of formation, and he recommended searching for gold in such formations. So everybody was doing that.

In Kara-Beldir, there was gold in those formations also, but that was not the main layer. In 1972, a review team was sent there to make a final determination: there were alluvial deposits in sand, but no ore layers.

Then we came there, and said “The main deposits are in a different type of rock”. And found it. And the Kara-Beldir ore field came to be the second place in the republic – after Tardan.

- Tell us the secret of the name of the main deposit in Kara-Beldir – Gordeevskoe. It can’t be by chance?

- Of course it is not by chance. There was a worker – ditch digger, Vladimir Pavlovich Gordeev. The best ditch cutter I ever met in my whole life, a real professional. We found the first ore channel with Gordeev. I predicted where to start it, and when we got to the place, I said to Volodya: “If there is no ore here, it means that I am a bad geologist.”

And he answered: ”If I don’t dig this channel, that means I am no channel-digger.” Vladimir Pavlovich dug the channel, and there was the ore – it looked good right away, and there was a lot of it.

And I named this deposit Gordeevskoe. It is a good name, it has a certain ring to it, a beautiful, literary name. That is how it happened.

Stayed In Action

- In the 90’s of last century, geology, just like other fields in our country, had undergone some bad times. Many of your colleagues were forced to learn new professions, or even to leave the country. You are one of the few people who stayed faithful to your chosen road.

- Yes, that is what happened – they had to go and do whatever they could – drivers, security guards, etc…. The geologists scattered all over the place. But it was not their fault – there was no work.

At that time, I fell in with the co-operative “Oyna”. It was not by chance. Just before the geology scene fell apart, our team, with which I worked as a senior prospector, was getting ready to survey the Kharal plateau. I worked up all the data and calculated that there should be new alluvial deposits. I went there to take a look and make sure. And there was the geologist from “Oyna” , just sitting there, holding his head in his hands. They gave him an assignment to find the deposit, and he had no idea where to look, it was obvious that he had insufficient information about the area. I pointed out to him on the map where to drill. They started to drill, and hit a deposit right away. The chairman of the co-operative, Anatolii Afanasievich Nevolin, heard about it. The geologist did not hide the facts, he did not take credit for the find, but explained to the boss that a certain Serafimych…. And Nevolin invited me to be a geologist with the co-operative. So I stayed with the work, now working with alluvial deposits.

- With the beginning of the new century, we have seen some degree of recuperation in the field of geology. What kind of geological perspectives and problems can be predicted in the projects of utilization of the ore deposits of the republic?

- Perspectives of geology will be connected with the fact that the utilization of deposits in Tuva will keep growing. And it will keep developing, because there will be a railroad. Even now, without a railroad, the developers are already coming to Tuva. There will always be work for a geologist.

On one hand, the efforts of the geologist are directly connected with the finds, with servicing the ore mines, so-called exploitative survey – to exactly pinpointing the contours of ore layers, on the basis of its analysis, the content levels of the useful substances.

The other is state geology, which at this time practically does not exist as such. State geology, we will see, will also start to grow. At the last convention which took place recently, the situation was evaluated and discussed in many ways. It will be based in scientific research and survey-oriented works.

But the basic problem in Tuva is insufficiency of qualified specialists and a material - technical infrastructure, which was lost in the 90’s.

I Walk Alone

- In the circle of your friends, you are known as an exceptional taiga walker. I have heard about your walking forays, lasting more than a few weeks. Have you ever encountered extreme situations?

- That is a somewhat provocative question. One of the first rules of the technique of safety says: it is prohibited to go alone, so much more if the trip is to take many days.

But as long as I have been working as a geologist, already 36 years, I have been disregarding this rule. More than that, I believe that if you do not ignore the rules at times, the work will never get done. So I walk alone, to different places for various lengths of time. Of course I get into extreme situations. The longest stretch of time that I walked alone was two and a half months. That was when I already was working for the “Oyna” co-operative, there was a question about reviewing the Kharal ore – alluvial deposit area, and I was given the assignment. During that trip, first of all I lost weight – I weighed less that in 10th grade, 62 kg, and, second, I had enough of adventures.

I had plenty of adventures. Kharal (river) got me and carried me one and a half kilometers downstream, before I managed to get out of the water.

Then I got up on Demirzhi, and the first night a bear - the local boss- stomped down my bivouac. Then the whole ten days that I stayed there, the bear followed me around and spied on me. But we separated on good terms, he was not trying to get in my way, and I had no reason to shoot to frighten him off even though I had a pistol with me.

There was another such a moment – I was trudging along some stream with a backpack, and suddenly I started losing consciousness. I do not know why this happened, possibly something with blood circulation. I started falling, and by the corner of my eye I noticed a small bush. At the last moment I fell into the bush instead into the water. Then I regained consciousness, and there I was, lying in the bush, water running beneath me. I could have fallen face down into the water and drowned. But it worked out.

Nagan, Just Like Comrade Sukhov

- A person who spends his whole life in the taiga cannot but be a hunter and a fisherman . Are you an exception?

- I started fishing as a child, as a hobby, and I still keep it up. I started hunting when I became a geologist. At first it was risky, I could lose my way hunting. When I worked in Magadan, I joined a group of hunters who provided the meat for the work team. But later I sort of cooled off. I won’t shoot at a bird if I have a tin of stew with me. Only when it is absolutely necessary. I do not carry a hunting gun for these trips anymore. Over the past few years I have come to prefer my revolver of the “Nagan” brand, just like comrade Sukhov from “The White Sun of the Desert”.

Geologists need to carry firearms for safety, especially on the long marches. But in practice, the main reason is psychological. One feels more confident and calmer. But sometimes I had to shoot – to frighten off a bear, to signal, or even to shoot birds for soup with the Nagan.

- As long as I have known you, you always surprise me. I have never seen you sit doing nothing, you are always working on something. Do you ever rest?

- Rest - only by changing the tasks. If I am tired of analyzing samples, I go and chop wood. If I am tired of writing a report, I go and study rock samples, or I draw a geological map. But I cannot imagine resting lying down. In geology, if you allow yourself to slack off, you will never be successful.

- You are known to be exceptionally systematic and methodical, did your parents bring you up like that?

- Partially. Both my mother and father were systematic and methodical. My mother, Zinaida Fedorovna, worked in the village library. Everything was neatly lined up on the shelves, and the same at home. My father, Serafim Antonovich, was an administrator in the village; he worked as a chairman of the kolkhoz, leader of the fur team, secretary of the village council. He simply had to keep order.

Brother of the Wind and the Sun

- What are your hobbies, not connected with work?

- I rarely have enough time for hobbies. But I used to like photography, and photographed a lot at one time. And now I like sports, I ski, I never miss an opportunity to go to the “Taiga” resort. And, what may seem strange, I like to tinker around at my dacha, and I do it with great pleasure.

-Did your children follow in your footprints?

- No. My older daughter Daria is a psychologist, she lives in Khabarovsk with her husband. But my younger son Artem is here, in Kyzyl. He works as a salesman-consultant of computer technology.

- What was the reaction of your family when you, because of your profession, were always away from home?

- They behaved with total understanding. It is mainly because my wife, Lyudmila Konstantinovna, is also a geologist. But we hardly ever worked together, usually we were in different teams. Even now we are usually separated. I go to the gold fields of Tuva, and she spends the summers in Mongolia, in the expedition of Tuvan Institute of Complex Utilization of Natural Resources.

It seems, Valeriy Serafimovich, that your home life is like in that song about geologists from the Soviet times: “You left for the hot steppes and I went prospecting in the taiga…”

-Yes, exactly like in the song…

Do you remember the refrain?

And the road is long and it is far,

And you can never turn back.

Be strong, geologist, hang on, geologist,

You are a brother of the wind and the sun.

From Center of Asia, interview by Omak Mongush, translated by Heda Jindrak
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