Someone I met in Vilnius suggested I take a drive down to the Belarus border. To hear him tell it, people can be seen just across the other side, and a lot of them apparently ride around in horse-drawn carts with hangdog expressions on their faces. It seemed a shame to get so close to Belarus and not at least take a peek over. I’m not sure what seeing mopey people riding on hay-carts would have done for me, but I was interested all the same.
On the way down, I had to contend with a fog so thick that I had flashbacks to when I stared into the mist for hours in Khor Virap, Armenia, trying in vain to catch a glimpse of Mt Ararat over on the Turkish side. Straight south from Trakai, the bumpy road steadily worsened, and for a while was entirely unpaved gravel. I wasn’t exactly flying along, and when I got to a bridge near Verseka I chanced to pull over at one of the most peaceful spots I have ever experienced.
Several years ago, during a brief visit to the west coast, I was driving along Highway 1 south of Monterey when I saw the Big Sur mountain range for the first time. This was in May, a time when the hills out there are still an Irishman’s dream of lush green, the day was sun-warmed and the view somehow made continued driving seem utterly pointless. I got out, shut the car off and sat in the cool breeze. It was early in the day during the work-week, so the road maintained a respectful silence behind me as I sat staring out at the amazing vista.
The Verseka bridge in the southern Lithuanian forest had an eerily similar effect on me as I was cruising along in the gloom. I had spent the previous 45 minutes or so passing battalions upon battalions of gray alder trees on either side of the road, when suddenly a bridge came into view, with an opening on either side of it. I don’t know exactly why, but the last thing I wanted to do was to continue on driving past. Some call it ‘gut instinct’, others some type of sense, and I am certain there are a variety of other names for the little voice in one’s ear. I heeded mine and pulled over.
I walked to the rusty bridge, climbed up to a perch and sat looking out over the peaceful river for some length of time. I remember clearly thinking about how tranquil the setting was. For a while I snapped pictures which I chased with murmured wishes that at least some of them would turn out presentable. Once I put the camera down is when the confusing part happened. I sat there for quite a stretch, as my watch and the vehicle’s clock would later confirm. Somehow, although it was a chilly day, the stillness around me settled into me as well. Not a single vehicle or pedestrian came through. Not one. My mind just seemed to have switched off, and I just was.
At some point, something – probably the damp chill – brought me out of my reverie and pulled everything back into focus. I clambered off of the bridge and shivered my way back to the car. I couldn’t tell you what happened back at the bridge, and I have no great revelations to put out here for your reading consumption. But I drove on with the thought (no, with the conviction) that something important had occurred, all the same. I wonder when this episode will make sense, although I am certain that at some point it will.