Indian Summer

Indian Summer


September 10, 2017

Atvasara is the Latvian word for a day like today. It was cold all this week. I even wore gloves, a coat, and hat while riding to school. Then, suddenly, it warmed up to a balmy (for Latvia) 23 degrees Celsius, which turns out to be just 73 American degrees. So after a productive day of fixing this and that and the other thing, I wanted to ride my bike.

Let me preface this ride by pointing out that my bike has been my mode of transportation since moving to Riga. It has not been a pleasurable way to spend the day, but instead, a grinding commute through Riga with boxes, bags, and heavy house-fixing equipment in tow. There was no rain today, and I avoided traffic by simply crossing Krasta iela to the river trail that follows the Daugava up and down through Riga.

I want to take just a moment to say that Riga citizens are spoiled. I told my students how much I enjoyed cycling through Riga on a nice day, and they rolled their eyes and suggested that the infrastructure for biking wasn’t very good. Yesterday, Rita and I rode across town to a glass shop (to order a new mirror to replace the one I broke while carrying it on my bike the other day), and it was fine. I pointed out that most of the sidewalks are wide enough to ride on, and some of the main streets have designated bike lanes. Latvia has very few hills, and in Riga, the streets are almost perfectly flat. It has not been very windy at all since I have been here (not even close to the blistering blast furnace of a Nebraska summer. There are paths through parks and cemeteries, and today’s ride on the Daugava sealed it for me—Riga is a cycling city.

In spite of the gnats that seemed to feel like little rocks just hanging in the September air, this was one of the most glorious days that I have had since I have moved. It was overcast, but the sun could be seen peeking through the thing layer of clouds. Everyone was outside walking or riding or skating on the path. Energy and enthusiasm filled the Latvian air, and best of all, I felt no pain in my hip, back or knee. I was riding free and full of life! I felt, again, like I was in a movie.

As I rode along the lovely river, I listened to Cake. I was going to measure my ride in Cake songs instead of miles, but I realized that I started skipping a few songs, so that didn’t work. But I was just totally jamming to “Meanwhile, Rick James” on the path, arms stretched like a bird, just feeling the air flowing around me and my bike. I’m sure the people I passed enjoyed the show… singing and dancing on my bike through pedestrians and passed the other cyclists on my journey.

I used the Television Tower that we can see from our apartment window as my azimuth, pointing the way toward Krasta iela.

The ride started off as pretty normal. I rode along the busy highway as the trail left the river promenade and took me past a supermarket, Hesburger, and McDonalds. Then, I turned under the bridge and found myself in a familiar neighborhood on a familiar path. When I presented at L.A.T.E. (Latvian Association of Teachers of English), our conference was right on the river, and I thought then that this was a wonderful path for cycling. It did not prove me wrong.

Once I hit this shady stretch along the river, I saw so many beautiful people doing their beautiful things. Parents were walking with their children, old men on roller skates; one woman was roller blading with her friend in an electric wheelchair, and I was just touched by all the beauty around me. I came around the bend, past a row of benches and some wonderful graffitied walls and saw a spit jutting into the river with groups of people feeding swans. I was overcome with such a feeling of perfect joy that I literally started to cry. I thought about how lucky I am to be alive, in this place, right now. How lucky all of us are to have this gift of life. I know, it is cheesy and a bit sentimental, but when the Truth hits you on a Latvian summer’s day, there isn’t much else to do but embrace it.

So I rode on with a new sense of wonder and joy. I came a small lookout tower on the river, an I climbed with my mentor, Doctor Robert Brooke, in mind who has a fear of heights, and every fall at Platte River State Park, he comes face to face with that fear as he ponders at the towers. I climbed the three flights of stairs, and as I did, I realized that for the first time in months, my hip didn’t hurt. I felt so good, I jumped up and down at the top like a madman.

Then I continued down the path along the river and came to some ancient ruins. I wasn’t sure what they were at the time, and the only sign I could see was one that said, “No climbing” (but in Latvian). As I stood there and rode around the stones jutting up from the ground, I just kept thinking, “I would never see something like this in Nebraska.” I know, it’s a snobbish thing to say, but it was honestly what I was thinking. How incredible is it to just wander upon some structure built centuries ago, and it’s so common here that no one really cares that much to even put a sign on it. It turns out that it’s Mazjumprava Manor. There is a Vikipedia page about it (and no, that is not a typo).

The next interesting feature was a string of gardens and houses that Rita called “Dārziņi” or “little gardens” where people grow food and sometimes even live year round. Along with the gardens and huts were these strange tunnels with grass growing on top. I have no idea what they are, and if you can identify them, please let me know. I couldn’t resist taking a photo of this guy burning some debris, the smell of the smoke was piny and wonderful.


The trail came to an abrupt end with no sort of connection. On one side was the river, and the other side, a steep bank leading literally to nothing and nowhere except for this wonderful cat. Riga is full of stray cats. We keep thinking about adopting one, and we likely will once we are settled. For now, I consider this cat my reward for riding to the end of the trail and climbing up the hill to see what I could see. He posed for a few photos and then ran away. But he let me pet him and was playful and another reminder of the beauty that surrounds us, even if it is hidden in shadows.

The ride home was uneventful, but extremely pleasant. I reflected on everything that I had seen, and saw the future unfold before me as I listened to Latvian folksongs and watched Gaismas Pils and other Riga landmarks appear. The familiar television tower was once again behind me, as it should be, and everything was in its proper place.








Side Note: As I rode, there was some dude flying around on his ultralight aircraft. I have always wanted one of those, and I get the feeling that here in Latvia, they do not really care if you have one. In the United States, I’m sure there are all sorts of rules and regulations and lawsuits and such. But here, I bet they let you fly one, and if you die, it is your own stupid fault. I appreciate a bit of that old-school mentality. Too many lawsuits makes you soft!


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