Saturday, October 23, 2010

Journey to Latvia—Part 11 (Solitude on the Sea)

by Zinta Aistars

Water splashed from the eaves, resounding on the bricks below. Raindrops kissed, then dripped down the windows, and the world outside was a blur of deep green … and a pale gray horizon over the sea that beckoned.

I padded in bare feet across the cool hardwood floor, chose two logs from the wood pile beneath the stairway, padded back to the living room, and stoked the fire. It sprang into immediate and cheery flame. Oh, I love a rainy day … and oh, how I love a crackling fire. And oh, oh my, how I love this morning, alone in Jūrkalne, a day stretching before me, a house on the sea to myself, and nothing, nothing to hold me …

I was utterly and completely unplugged from the world. For all I knew, humanity had been wiped out overnight, and I had awoken as Empress of the Universe, ruling over my own life. How often does that happen? No technology coiling its cables and wires around me. No Internet, no computers, no television, no radio, not even a clock to tell the time … I soon realized my borrowed international cell phone was so basic, it didn’t even display the time. Oh, maybe it did. But did I care?

I pondered this freedom as I stood at the window, steaming coffee mug in hand, watching the rain. Back in the States, my life could become almost unbearably busy. I was often asked, when did I sleep? How could I manage to do all I do? A full time job with a daily commute of 110 miles, writing freelance for several publications, and managing the literary magazine I had founded five years ago, The Smoking Poet. That, and keeping up a household on my own, keeping an eye on aging parents, and nourishing a network of family and friends of which I was very fond. Attending artistic and literary events, participating in a book club, writing book reviews near weekly, and somewhere in there, working on my novel, and a poetry manuscript, this blog, and … and the list went on, and on, and on.

I would mostly shrug in answer. I don’t know how I keep up. I just do. I never really take time off. Always something. Most of the time, I didn’t feel it as a burden, because I enjoy all of it. I feel blessed to have this work in my life; it gives back to me as I give to it.

But, okay. Yeah, okay. There are moments …

And then there are moments like this. I sipped my coffee, padded over to the coffee pot to pour another, padded back to the window. When suddenly free of all demands, all tugs at my attention and time, the sense of lightness was intoxicating.

I took a deep breath. I took another.

I sipped. I stared out the window. I counted raindrops.

This had been the first night since arriving in Latvia that I had slept soundly from dark to light. I didn’t know the hours, the hours did not matter. But I had woken in the morning, and I had awoken rested. I was rested in body, in mind, in spirit.

And I was hungry for breakfast. What pleasure, these simple things, the preparations of a meal when not rushed, not needing to eat over a sink and already ticking off in my mind the coming duties of the work day. No. All I had to do was crack a brown egg, crack another, oh heck, let’s do a bunch, and warm up country-churned butter on the pan. The eggs even had a couple tiny chicken feathers pasted to their smooth sides.

I set my breakfast on the table facing the window, found a cheese grater to sprinkle a bit of the cheese I’d bought yesterday on top of the creamy yellow mound of scrambled eggs. Andris had been right … this stuff was just to my taste. But then, this entire day was to my taste, including the soft patter of rain, and the low, gray sky with its tumbling clouds looking as soft as a gray kitten’s underbelly. I could see the ripples moving out in concentric circles on the pond just out back of the house. It was raining hard. Oh, heaven.

So what else does a literary woman do on a day alone in the country on a rainy day? Where is that little moleskin journal I’d bought just for this journey? The size of my hand, slim but holding 192 lined pages, it was so wonderfully … non-techie. When was the last time I’d written in long hand?

Breakfast dishes washed, I sat down to write. The fire sputtered and chattered in the fireplace, warming the room. The rain poured and poured, splashing out of the gutters. So I wrote, and I wrote, and I kept on writing, until my hand started to cramp a little, and then I wrote a bit more. I fed the fire. I sat down to write, just a bit more. Now and then, I rose, walked over to the window, then to the other window, and gazed out at the world, alone, blissfully alone.

I would write for I do not know how many hours, but I would write unconstrained, and the words that had been locked inside unspoken, unnamed, poured like rain on the pages. I’d nearly filled half the notebook before I felt a pang of longing for fresh air, for movement.

Still raining? Yes, but since I was Empress of the Universe today, it slowed to a light patter so that I could go outside without melting. The rippling circles on the pond attested to a few less raindrops. I pulled on jeans, sweater, sneakers, a warm coat hanging by the door, perhaps my cousin’s or her husband’s, and headed outside.

Kissed by the rain!

Light touches like the fluttering wings of spirits, brushed my upraised face. The air was cool, only the slightest breeze moved the wet grasses, like an invisible hand brushing over their tips in passing. The house was its own sunshine, butter yellow in the rain with its blue roof, windows toward the sea, and around it my cousin’s gardens … I walked around them, enjoying the early autumn flowers, the remaining herbs and purple cabbage leaves, and here, in the grass by the little sauna out back, a bunch of tall, spindly mushrooms had sprung up.

What would it be like to live here? My cousin was here in the summer, during the academic year working in Budapest, Hungary, with her husband, both at the university. She was finishing up her doctoral degree in environmental sciences, had done research on Latvia’s ecology, from what I knew … and I admired her living her beliefs, this simple but bountiful life. I could tell her love for the natural world just walking through her property. Rich, rich young woman … and so wise…

The choices we make … and I felt with a quick pang the choices ahead of me. Every day was a choice. Every moment, a myriad of choices, seemingly small, but cumulatively resoundingly immense. How we live, with or without whom beside us, what work we do, yes, all these things, big things. But also, how we brewed our tea, what cheese we chose for our breakfast eggs, to stay inside or go out in the rain, to check the time or not to check it, to live our lives fully aware or in constant escapism …

All my life, I was beginning to see, more and more, I had been driven by a search for Home. The theme reoccurred in all my writing. It drove my wanderlust, traveling here and there, looking, searching … for what exactly? Would I ever find it? Checking out other people’s homes and trying them on for size? Wasn’t that what I was forever doing?

I crossed a tiny wooden bridge on the edge of the property, nearly hidden between the trees, a small creek bubbling beneath. A thin path led toward the sea, and I followed it. My feet swished through the tall grass of the field, my jeans quickly wet to the knee. I headed for the tree line of tall pines, then just behind, where the sea called, as gray as the sky.

I turned back for a moment, looking at the house, shrunk tiny on the horizon, a yellow cottage like a dream, someone else’s dream, but so like mine … a borrowed dream, for but a day or so, before I had to give it back. Still, I could try it on for size, and the fit was good.

I hardly dared imagine any further. One had to dare to dream.

There … the sea! The air felt a few degrees cooler, fresher, a sweet caress, a shiver along the opening of my coat, sneaking around my neck and touching my skin. Sea air … and I stood on the edge of the bluff, the very edge, high up over the sea and the horizon out, out, far away, an impossible distance, something like forever, and for a moment I thought of one of my favorite books, and the film with Meryl Streep .. A French Lieutenant’s Woman by John Knowles… a woman standing on the bluff on a gray and wet day, staring out at the sea, simply staring… and waiting, waiting … for that dream to sail in and take her in its arms again …

I grinned a bit. Silly romantic, faded rose, staring out to sea and wondering, on which side of it did I belong. What place could hold me? Where would I find myself safe, and on sure ground, and deeply rooted? Where was that oasis where I could stand and touch the underbellies of clouds and not long for another place …

Northern Michigan, the Keweenaw Peninsula, flashed before my eyes for a moment. Had I yet realized? How much that place resembled this? Lake Superior was the mirror image of the Baltic Sea. Rocky shores, high bluffs, tall pines, long winters, and a culture among the inhabitants, sparse as they were, that was somewhat removed from the rest of the world. Something of an island in the global storm. I realized why I’d fallen in love with the Keweenaw and longed to return. It spoke to me of both shores, of both of my homes, but was the nearer one to my children. Grown as they were, spending time with them was still the inner core of my being.

“Yes, but how often do you see them? It’s a psychological thing, you know. You might even see them more often living here, who knows, it’s just the realization, the distance, the numbers in your mind … “

I blinked. That was Jānis’ voice in my head. My friend back in Rīga. He’d sat me down with stunning seriousness, and promised to sit me down again when I returned to Rīga, to talk this thing through. I was amused. I hardly needed his or anyone’s opinion. I’d been making the decisions for my own life too long to give credence to … but I did listen. And I did hear his voice in my head again, standing here.

Was he right?

Everyone here was so kind to me. So warm, my welcome, everywhere I went. But what was that saying … about a welcome guest being like a fish and starting to smell after the third day …

Unless life threw me for yet another loop, my future stretched out before me as a life lived alone, and I was comfortable with that. As time passed, I found it was not a consolation prize, but a choice I’d come to make, a preference. Sure, there were costs. That unshared sunrise. That lusty tumble. That gentle touch.

All things cost. There is a price on everything, and faded rose that I am, I knew that well enough. Whatever my choices, I would always have to give something up, make some sacrifice, and a life up north in the wilderness would surely be fertile ground for an artist exploring her art. I longed for that uninterrupted time, that silence, that solitude, where all other voices would grow quiet, and distant, and I could at last fully allow my own to rise.

“Z… give yourself the gift of time …”

Ah, there you are. Another voice in my head. This one more distant, from longer ago, a wise woman who had pulled me aside when I was in the throes of decision, more forks in the road. So much for listening to only myself. There was a damned chorus inside. Yet, I had to admit, hers was a wise voice, and her lesson applied. The gift of time. Not all decisions had to be made in the moment. Time could be a soft unfolding. An untied ribbon. An unwrapped gift. Time would reveal what I needed to know, and then, I would know.

Stop churning, my own voice said. Just be. Just … be. In this day. In this hour, and in this moment, standing high on the bluff, face to the sea, kissed by rain, open, open to the gift of the universe, the soft blessing alighting on my shoulders.

When it was time, I would know.

(To be continued...)


  1. I'm following your story with such interest. It sounds so familiar,even the photos look similar to my own experiences of escape and rejoining. Thank you for sharing it all so beautifully.

  2. How kind of you, Sue, thank you. This was surely one of my favorite days on that shore...