Postcard from the Sea Library: Reindeer Antlers and Baltic Ancestors

Dear friend,

What strikes me when I look upon water, is how ageless it seems. You can’t count the annual rings as you do on a tree stump. There is no patina of time on the surface of a moving water, no dust, no moss, no lichen. Yes, you can observe how water level rises and falls like lungs, feel how temperature changes and notice algae bloom in green. If you have a gear or gills, you can comb the bed for lost boats, bones and old coins. If you have a spade or strong fingers, you can dig on the shore. But water itself is almost abstract, timeless, traceless. Restless.

Sun slowly setting over lake Lubāns in Latvia. Photo by Beach Books.

I was standing by a very old lake a few days ago, 400 kilometres from the Sea Library. Lake Lubāns is largest in Latvia, it covers area of almost 100 square kilometres when water level is at its highest. Today its shores are modified, they are surrounded by dikes and canals. Lubāns is the largest diked lake in Europe. It is also very shallow. All around it stretches Lubāns Wetlands, covering more than 500 square kilometres of land, a dream place for many migrating birds.

It was here that the first inhabitants appeared in the territory of Latvia 12 thousand years ago after the glacier had receded to the North and a lake formed. Around 25 settlements have been found by the lake Lubāns. They were hunters, who followed the reindeer herds camped along the rivers and shore of the Baltic Ice Lake, one of the various predecessors of the Baltic Sea.

Standing there I was thinking about books I had read and re-read this week in the Sea Library. Robert Macfarlane’s “Underland” invites to become aware of deep time, and in both directions – past and future. He encourages to ask ourselves “Are we good ancestors?” Charlie Connelly’s “The Channel” traces stories that one body of water can hide. A poem by Jennifer Edgecombe in her pamphlet “The Grief of the Sea” is a meditation on a landscape that changes over just a couple of decades.

In a book for kids “Town is by the Sea” by Joanne Schwartz and Syndey Smith there’s a drawing of a cemetery right by the sea . There is one at my beach too. I once wandered old cemetery’s tiny paths, reading names on the headstones and imagining lives lived. Also trying to imagine that one particular storm many years ago when sea gnawed at the coast in big bites and coffins were said to be floating away in waves. Many writers say that water is time.

Thanks to reindeer one can research human history, as their antlers and bones were used to make harpoons and arrowheads. The largest antler finds in Latvia have been here at lake Lubāns.

When I waded out in the lake on the evening of my birthday I tried to imagine my ancestors living by this same lake thousands of years ago. Fishing, hunting, getting splinters, kissing their kids goodnight, making love and dreaming in their sleep. My legs left the soft ground and I floated. With eyes closed and ears submerged I heard reindeer antlers growing on lake bed like corals. Am I a good ancestor? A prayer rippled in rings around me.

Now tell me, how was your week? What did you read? Where did you swim? What did you think about?

I’ll send a new postcard next Sunday.

Love,
Anna

2 Comments

  1. I forgot to provide the title of a book I am reading at the moment.
    THE NIGHT SWIMMERS BY PETER ROCK
    A beautifully written book where water is a major character.

    Liked by 1 person

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