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One Woman's Opinion

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Baltic Sea Passage, Part 4

by Mary Wakefield Buxton

Urbanna, Va.—Our several days in Russia came to an end and we were off to Helsinki, Finland, in the usual dark clouds of torrential rain. The ocean was grey and rough and it reminded me that we had better be happy that probably all northern Europeans have inherited a shot of Viking blood, because one would have to be nuts or be a Viking to travel on the sea in such weather. The mood of the sea was a perfect match to mine. In spite of great excitement visiting such interesting ports of call, I was struggling through my days.

I had lost my muse and mentor, Dr. Brockett Muir, right in the midst of writing my first novel. For eight years that funny little man had encouraged me to keep working, no matter what. Perhaps of little consequence to those who do not spend their time toiling in lonely pursuit of truth with the pen, it was a serious enough loss for me.

How could I go on without daily inspiration? “Jet fuel this morning!” he would email me with his usual exuberance for life when he knew that I had stumbled upon a block, and my spirit was beginning to lag. Jet fuel, indeed.

Market square in Helsinki
Squeezing through the lock at Keil Canal
It is odd how dependent people become on one another for help in what we do in life. It is both odd and beautiful, the many little ways we offer each other a tiny bit of ourselves in order to encourage another to carry on.

It was odd, too, how I attended the elaborate programs and dinners on the ship and chatted and laughed with friends. On the surface all was well. But underneath, I was as welled up as the rain-splashed decks on the stormy sea.

Dark thoughts hounded me as I made my way through the Baltic Sea passage. I thought of his brilliance and fine education now gone to this world. What was the use of trying to develop our full potential of whatever gifts we had to offer the world during the short time we lived, when we would only die in the end? What was the purpose of our struggles to become good at what we do? And how does one keep on going? How could I possibly face the challenge of every passing day? I stood at the rail on the wind and rainswept decks staring down at the boiling sea, watching the foam explode, die and re-ignite, the endless pattern and energy of the sea.

And here was the answer to my angst. Explode, die and re-ignite. If the ocean could do this, then so could I. It was time for me to grow up; to live my life without that inspiring father figure that I had always seemed to need.

I thought of the great art treasures that I had seen on my journey and those blessed souls who had created them. Life had a purpose, though short-lived as it was. The creative bent must ever shoulder on. I would write while I could. I would never give up in the struggle to tell the story, capture truth, give chase to ever evasive words, express deepest human thoughts, and write what could never be said.

Helsinki was the next port, with no fences or shoddy little cubicles where we were hustled into as in Russia to have passports inspected. The Finnish people actually smiled at us and waved us by without as much as a glance at our papers! Hurrah! We were back into the realm of the living.

 We followed the curving sidewalk along the habor into the center of town. It had stopped raining and, although it was cold and windy and we were bundled in lined windbreakers and gloves, we could still enjoy the walk.

The market offered booths of handcrafted items for sale. There was nothing of plastic or anything imported from China, and Wal-Mart would never make it in Finland. Rather, hand-carved wooden plates, bowls, figures and animals, watercolor paintings of the harbor, jewelry of semi-precious native stones polished to a sheen and set in silver, reindeer pelts for a throw over a bed, mink and fox trimmed hats, hand-knitted or crocheted woolen sweaters, mittens, socks, hats, scarves, hand-painted porcelain faced dolls, Eskimo dolls dressed in reindeer suits, woven rugs and place mats.

Wherever we had visited, everyone spoke English; it has truly become the international language. Everyone accepted American dollars and most everyone held anti-German feelings still left over from World War II. Everyone was concerned that Russia might try to reclaim her previous provinces. Everyone liked Americans, but disapproved of the war in Iraq.

We saw numerous windmills turning in the strong Baltic gales generating electric power and noticed electric trolleys were used rather than underground systems to control automobile congestion. We saw that many people still smoke cigarettes and are much slimmer than Americans.    

The next day we arrived in Marichamn, the capital of an  island  off Finland. As we approached I noticed the rocky coast and spruce studded islands resembled Maine. The weather was the same: cold, foggy and rain either coming down or threatening. I had learned the age-old secret passed down from the Vikings for those who travel through the Baltic Sea. One never leaves ship without an umbrella.

We again walked along the harbor admiring the many ships in port and the local fleet of fishing boats. As if déjà vu, we arrived at the town square with the same market of hand-crafted wares for sale. Everything we had seen in Helsinki was offered in Marichamn. Having already bought everything that we could possibly stuff in our luggage, we headed back to the ship.

We followed the same procedure; up to our stateroom, strip off soaking wet clothes, spread umbrellas out to dry on the verandah, don bathing suits, and head for the Lido heated pool and hot tub.

I noticed we were the only ones on the ship who ever went swimming. I suppose it was because it was cold, rainy and miserable. But what nonsense! Viking blood! It swims whether the sun is in or out! 

To be continued ©2008

posted 10.02.2008

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