“Taisni laika!” Right on time, Anita called out as the red Passat wagon pulled up on Katolu Iela, directly in front of the house.
I was dressed, had finished breakfast, and had my duffel bag packed and ready to go for a couple nights in Jurkalne, at my cousin’s summer house on the Baltic Sea. Anita had packed a second bag of food for me—an impossible amount to consume in so short a time. Two loaves of dark bread, butter, cheese, slices of baked ham, a pickle jar filled with homemade soup, at least a dozen pears from the tree in her garden, and a large covered dish of mouth-watering and tender strips of pork in a cream sauce with golden potatoes. I could feed a small army at Jurkalne, even as I looked forward to a couple days of silence and solitude.
My connection to nature is essential to me, and this, too, came from my ethnic background. Of all the European nations over the ages, the Latvians had been among the very last to accept Christianity. Some still called us pagans. Our folk songs were laden with songs sung to the spirits of the earth, believing everything to be alive, even the rocks, in their own way. Nature was a living being, and we were dependent on her. What the rest of the civilized world seemed only now to be fully realizing, as our environment suffered a heavy toll from our blatant disregard, was that nature provided us with sustenance not only as physical beings, but also on a spiritual and emotional level. Lost in the wilderness of technology and man-made cities, too many had lost their way, wondering at that inner sense of being lost, of growing depressed, of feeling somehow disassociated from the earth.
Driving north, Andris at the wheel, I took in the thick forest to either side of me. Asphalt road soon turned to gravel and dirt. We rarely saw anyone else on the road. It seemed the day and the countryside belonged entirely to us.
As we drove north, the forest thickened and filled increasingly with tall, straight pines. The clear blue sky wisped with mist, clouds gathered, and after an hour of driving, we entered a deep fog. Near the Point, we parked the Passat and got out to explore.
I felt Andris’ presence always near, occasionally moving to one or the other side, sometimes circling me, sometimes a few steps behind, other times ahead. We talked little, and didn’t need to. This was the comfort and ease I remembered. At times, we could talk hour upon hour, through the night and into dawn, an unstoppable river of words and ideas and thoughts to share. At other times, we walked together in deep silence, not needing words to communicate.
I didn’t need to look around to find him. I could feel him near. We both had cameras in hand, and snapped photo after photo of this mystical world, of forest and seashore sunk into thick fog, at moments revealing itself and then disappearing again. At moments, I looked up to see Andris snapping a photo of me, but his attention did not disturb me. He was as natural a part of this world as the trees and the sand and the rocks and the waves. I saw him disappear into the mist ahead of me, then a moment later appear again somewhere behind me.
Rocks and the detritus of long ago seashore buildings, perhaps an earlier lighthouse, littered the Point. I squatted down to touch the rocks, sea-battered bricks, chunks of mortar, and shells. Cool, damp, rough and then silky smooth.
Not so very long ago, I knew, this area had been all under Soviet military guard. The entire Kurzeme seashore was an open escape route for refugees, including my father’s family, during World War II, and throughout the Soviet occupation of 51 years. These were backwards boundaries, in which a government patrolled its perimeters to keep its population locked in, rather than to keep others from entering from outside. I had many times heard Andris’ story of his grandmother taking him to see the Baltic Sea at age 5, only to be able to look at it from a distance, through barbed wire, strung between Soviet military guard towers. The entire country had been like a prison.
The fog was too thick for us to see the clash of the two currents, sea against gulf. But as we turned east again, just beyond the point, in the direction of Riga, the entire beach was littered with fallen trees. We both stood, still, looking. These fallen giants, pine trees, lay in the sand and some into the water, black figures, dark limbs, branches curled and reaching like hands, grasping for the beyond.
Our hair was dripping with water from the damp sea air. We climbed and moved between the fallen trees, mesmerized. There was a sense of moving into a world of spirits, their damp selves brushing against us, their silky gray skirts slapping against our shins, their cool cheeks glancing across our own, their steps washed away by the waves the moment we turned our backs.
Time evaporated; neither of us had any sense of it, or cared. It did not exist here. We moved through the world of spirits, one of their own, before emerging again into the world of the living.
We followed the trail south again, at least one might guess so, and did it matter? Groundcover was almost entirely moss in a thousand shades of green, and lichen in silver tones. Mushrooms sprang up everywhere, all kinds, and I didn’t dare pick, only a master could … but Andris, like any good Latvian, knew his ‘shrooms and knew my love for them, and picked a prize.
Onward. Still more. The path would wind and fork and weave back in again. The path would break toward shore, and we would emerge from the woods to walk on sand, then lose ourselves in woods once more. It was endless, and I wanted it to be. The day unfolded slowly in its mists and was a soft and cool blessing, a gift, a breath of cool sea air that washed away a lifetime of hurt places and made all new again, wrapped in a balm of ages.
(To be continued ...)