While standing on a rooftop two nights ago at the stroke of midnight and looking out at the city of Tartu with my 360-degree panorama of the fireworks, I was suddenly overwhelmed with thoughts of Estonia. That happens, sometimes, when I’m not expecting it – when something beautiful or memorable happens or even when nothing is really happening at all. Estonia, I’ll think. Home.
And standing there, looking out at bursts of colored fire and light, I realized that this could potentially be my last New Year’s celebration in Estonia. That was a sobering thought, because there is something about places and their effects on writers. There is something about the way they latch onto us—something about the way they make us feel.
As I mentioned in my previous blog post, the year 2013 was a prolific writing year for me. I worked, and I worked hard. I didn’t necessarily complete anything, but I think I was more creatively active last year than in the past three or four years combined. And in some ways, I feel that I owe my creative inspirations, musings, and ideas to this country—to Estonia, to the Estonian winter, and to the Estonians I’ve met along the way.
The Estonia I see is not necessarily going to be the Estonia anybody else sees. But when I find myself reviewing the last two and a half years here, I always think, first and foremost, of winter. And although this winter has thus far been too warm for my tastes and utterly lacking snow, this country still enchants me—even in the darkness.
Estonia is a quiet place. A cold place. A dark place. And though it is all of these things and much more, most importantly Estonia is alive. It is alive in its quietness—in the soft falling of snow, the rustle of wind through golden-red trees, the way chimney smoke drifts upwards six months out of the year, the footfalls of quiet nighttime wanderers. It is beautiful, even in the cold, seen in the way one might observe the frozen river or the hanging rime crystals. And even in the darkness, there is still the life of the faintly glowing, yellow streetlamps or the moonlit gleam of snow on a clear night.
Wintery Estonia is a haven for me—a creative haven. And just as Estonia itself seems so alive to me (even on the darkest of winter nights), I too come alive here. I see my novels playing out in my head as I walk the streets. I hear the poetry as I look out over the city. I feel this place more than I see it, and it shows in my writing.
Every story takes place somewhere. I’d like to think that one chooses his/her setting with great care and consideration. In that sense, I often think that travel is a writer’s greatest inspiration. However, taking root in a foreign place also opens the creative floodgates. You’re forced to observe things in finer detail. You make comparisons. You adapt. You grow. And when you truly love a place, there is magic in its transcription. You become its champion and its voice. You immortalize it.
And so, while watching the fireworks, I realized that Estonia is a place like any other, and yet it is a place entirely its own. It is a place worthy of words and love. It is a place of rooftop fireworks, alight and burning, a place of cold darkness, of long winter nights. It is a place of quiet, strong people, and even stronger tradition. A place of conquered struggles, singing, and resilient pride. It is a place, and it is my home.
And even should I one day have to leave, I will carry it with me forever.