After a day of working, our hosts Jurgita and Tomas pack their car with food, bottled water and picnic supplies. Then, we all ride together, fourteen kilometers down the road to Tomas' parents' weekend cabin. As we step out of the car, we enter a world that feels resoundingly familiar. So much so in fact, that we both have an almost tactile sensation of having stepped into the future.
We've entered a real, physical manifestation of our plans and dreams. This is it! This place is almost exactly what we want to build when we return home. Even with all of our detailed lists, colorful photo collages, and the beginnings of research, we've always had trouble visualizing what we want our homestead to actually be like.
Suddenly, our dreams are three-dimensional, manifest before our very eyes, coalesced into this one piece of land in the middle of Lithuania. It feels to me like "Field of Dreams" and I keep thinking of that great line, only changing it a bit: "Is this heaven?", "No, it's Lithuania."
Tyler and I look around, marveling at the large garden, the hand-made greenhouses, the pond, the barn, the little cabin, the woods. Everything about it echoes a resounding "YES" in our minds. This is it. This will be us in a few years. The grass begs for bare feet, the pond for moonlit swims and refreshing dips after long, hot, days working in the garden.
Jurgita puts Tyler to work immediately with a very important task: strawberry picking. I watch as he walks to the garden barefoot, basket in hand, huge grin plastered to his face. He squats by neatly-tended rows of berries, lifts the protective cloth gingerly from them, and parts the leaves carefully in search of perfectly ripe crimson fruits. His eyes light up with each success.
As he gathers, I can't help but marvel at how different he is now, from when we first met. How much he's grown and changed. How it feels like the two of us have deep roots that have inexorably grown together. He has become the embodiment of every single attribute I have ever wished for in a partner, and many I never imagined wanting, but which I no longer wish to live without.
I can tell that this simple act of picking berries is somehow affirming that our next goal in life is a worthy one, that it is the right choice, and that the countless hours of hard work it will demand of us will be repaid with the world's abundance. From his position squatting amongst the berries, Tyler looks up at me and smiles knowingly. Yep, this is it.
After Tyler is finished gathering our dessert, we walk back to the porch of the cabin, where a wooden table is decorated with a simple vase of flowers from the garden. He sets the hand-woven basket down, and we wander off, truly feeling like we are home.
We tour the small cabin, envisioning ourselves in our own little cob house. We love the upstairs loft area—maybe we'll have our offices there, with many orange trees in pots growing in the windows. Our bed will be downstairs, though, where it is less hot. Dreaming, envisioning, cataloging this place in our minds, we plan.
We will have a swimming hole just like this one. Full of fish, natural and beautiful. Our friends will come and swim with us.
There will be picnic tables:
We will have beehives buzzing with life and activity:
…and we will collect an abundance of thick, flowery liquid gold:
There will be a place for bonfires in the woods:
As we wander, in a daze of happiness, Jurgita grabs her camera for picture-taking sessions of her own. It is so nice to be around people who share our many interests, documentary photography included!
Then, Jurgita lays a beautiful table, first setting out a colorful cloth purchased during their time in Peru.
On top of this, she brings a myriad of foods we didn't even know she'd packed. There are sausages reminiscent of salami milano. There is plain white cheese, and another coated in spices.
A plate of sliced kohlrabi, freshly pulled from the garden. A dish of sliced cucumbers, crisp and cool. A jar of fat, homemade pickles. A large jug of apple juice made from fruits grown right here on this land. The basket of strawberries Tyler collected. Bit by bit, a veritable feast of fresh, local food is prepared.
To add to this bounty, Jurgita gives Tyler and I the task of making a salad. Back to the garden we go, baskets in hand, picking whatever we deem to be ready: salad greens, spring onions, and a few peas make up most of the mix. A handful of dill at Jurgita's request tops off our creation.
A simple sprinkle of salt, shake of pepper, squeeze of a lemon, and drizzle of olive oil dress the salad.
While Jurgita, Tyler, and I prepare food, Tomas is busy as well. He splits wood, brings it to the cabin, and lights a fire in the ajoining sauna.
The sauna will take quite some time to heat up, so he starts early. While it grows ever hotter, he prepares a grill with charcoal. When the fire turns to embers, he starts to cook sausages. When those are ready, spiced chicken breasts and fresh, seasoned mushrooms follow.
The table artfully laid, the feast prepared, we all sit down in a spirit of thanksgiving.
Tomas opens a bottle of Argentinian wine; Jurgita looks at the back label and smiles, telling us that they went through this particular town when they were on their bicycle tour of South America! After a toast, we begin the feast.
We drizzle honey on the locally crafted cheese. Then, in a tradition I've never heard of, we dip our cucumbers in the amber nectar as well. It is a strange combination at first, but quickly proves to be a delicious one. With our pocketknives, we cut through the sausages, juice running onto our plates.
As we eat, we consciously note how tranquil our surroundings are. Save for the songs of birds and our own engaging conversation, all is quiet. Soon, dark clouds roll in, and the skies overhead begin to drizzle. Under the shelter of the cabin's roof we stay dry, watching the peaceful falling of droplets and the reverberations they make across the pond's surface.
I could spend many an evening here, watching rain fall on the pond. I could eat my breakfast on this wooden table on the porch, drinking tea and listening to the birds. I could write my novels here. I could shell peas and slice vegetables and prepare the strawberries for jam-making and canning.
After an hour or two of eating, talking, and laughing, the time comes for us to try out to a traditional Lithuanian sauna. We change into our swimming suits (or in our case, our scant riding gear), and don thin wool hats that will protect our hair from overheating and drying.
Tomas opens the wooden door and a wave of heat hits my body. Having experienced a Tunisian hammam, I am doubtful I will enjoy the uncomfortably broiling experience. We enter the wooden room, and choose seats on three-tiered benches. I start out at the top, knowing I can always work my way down. To my surprise, I quite enjoy the heat, once the initial shock has passed.
Then Tomas takes a hand carved ladle, dips it into a wooden bucket filled with beer and water, and tosses the mixture over the piping-hot rocks.
The stones change color before our eyes, darkening with patterns of evaporating moisture, dancing and shimmering like flames for the briefest of moments. A subsequent wave of scalding steam rushes into my face, searing the insides of my nose and mouth. It smells headily of hops. I scoop a handful of cold water from one of the many buckets, and splash myself, breathing into my hand to tame the scorching sensation. By the time the cold water reaches my face, it is already warm.
When the sauna is no longer tolerable, we escape one by one through the wooden door. The darkening evening is chilling in comparison. I fill my lungs with the refreshing air, and then we make our way to the pond. Feet sinking into the soft, muddy bank, I slip into the water. In this moment, I am complete. We paddle around, free as the tiny minnows darting from place to place in their watery universe.
A few minutes in the pond, and we are chilly again, so we scramble out of the water, and begin the process anew. This time, Tomas splashes a shot glass full of homemade brandy over the stones; the resulting steam smells sweetly of the fruity alcohol. As we sit, sweating, I feel the tingling sensation of heat in a way I never have before. It is pleasant! We talk and laugh, alternately enjoying and enduring the heat together.
Next, there are birch branches, tied at their base, which we use to thwack ourselves repeatedly. This is supposed to be good for circulation, but mostly it just feels good. Once more, the heat overwhelms us, and once more we retreat to the water. After another round of cool swimming, it is time to bathe.
Tyler and I use soap and shampoo to clean ourselves while Jurgita and Tomas wait outside. This is, perhaps, the most sensuous washing experience I have ever had. There are scrubby brushes, and my favorite: a plethora of bath products at our disposal. Traditionally there might be a body scrub made of honey and salt, but not this time. Completely clean, we dump giant buckets of warm water over our heads to rinse.
While Jurgita and Tomas take their turn, I tell Tyler that I could really get used to this sauna thing—after an evening spent in this way, my skin glows, my allergies are temporarily relieved, and I can breathe through my nose. I add 'sauna' to our list of things to have at our home someday, already imagining starry winter nights spent getting warm and then frolicking in the snow.
Once everyone is clean, we re-enter the sauna one last time for a short, final heating. Feeling revitalized, as if we spent the day at a luxurious spa, we come back into the night. We are happy and relaxed and quiet as we get dressed in long sleeves to protect ourselves from the rapidly descending mosquitoes. Tyler and I wash dishes in scalding hot water from the sauna, while Tomas and Jurgita pack everything away.
Silently, we drive home, utterly at peace. There has been nothing particularly rich about this evening, but I have never felt wealthier. My cup runneth over, this is heaven on earth. Thank you, thank you, Jurgita and Tomas, for bringing us here.