the age of exploration

AFTER MY FRIEND FINISHED URINATING on a young tree in the parking lot of a major shopping center, I pushed him into the passenger’s side of a black sedan, shut the door, and the driver sped off into the blood-orange sunrise.

I began the walk home in the company of a woman I had only just met, and whose surname I never learned, telling her my life story. Across the street, a provincial scene played out in front of a ruined garage, where a group of men stood around several cars with arms folded, lights on, engines running.

“Maybe it’s a mechanic’s shop,” the woman whispered to me.

It was 4 AM.

There was something about the night’s events and the peculiar scene that appealed to my nomadic nature. And it reminded me that after all these years, nothing had changed. I had remained the same person I had always been, fully intact, given equally to melancholia, euphoria, and travel. I had wandered early morning streets in a similar haze, from San Francisco to Beijing, past blooming trees, earthy fragrances, glorious sunrises, singing birds. Life’s delicious dream. It was the same, for I had not changed. The idea that we progressed through life in steps or stages had been flawed. Our spirits, our souls were constant. The only difference was that I at last recognized this truth. It had all been part of the same long voyage. It was a kind of awakening for me.

A day later, with my hangover from Viljandi’s orgiastic Hanseatic Days fading, I took a train to Tallinn and walked the distance from the Baltic Station to Lennusadam to present from the publishing house that bears my name a set of books to a certain Mr. Pruuli, who was about to christen a sailing ship called the Bellingshausen before the vessel’s departure to Antarctica.

I came down Valgevase Street, passed the house I had once called home for a few months in a frosted, long-ago winter when I was a first-time father. In the backyard, a woman was watering the garden. She didn’t notice me when I stared up at our old window. I stood there and looked up into it a while, sighed, and continued on my way, turning left on Tööstuse, right on Kalju. Years ago this neighborhood was a real pommiauk, as they say, a “bomb hole,” but now it’s gone soft, gentrified. There are new buildings, the old ones have been refitted. Fine cars line driveways, some houses have swank address signs — 37B — as if they were hotels. The feral cats have diminished in number. Even the armies of the zombie drunks have fallen.

This time, I counted only two.

At Lennusadam, the land gave way to the port and the smell of the sea. A crowd had gathered around the spry adventurer Mr. Pruuli with his spectacles and seafarer’s earring. He would lead the expedition to the great white south, recreating the voyage of Saaremaa-born explorer von Bellingshausen two centuries ago. There was a priest, a choir, a broken bottle of champagne. Grave men with names like Tarand, Vähi, Kuuskemaa, Rumm, and Ratas were in attendance. Guests milled about silently. I got to board the vessel, feel its rise and fall.

I stared out at the expanse of water, the water over which I had first arrived to this country many years ago. For too long, I had tried to figure out the mechanics of how it had happened. What had brought me here of all places? This little remote country. I had tried to understand it, to pick it apart. At last, I gave up and surrendered to the odyssey of life, the sea drift. I looked around. Somehow I had wound up on the deck of an Estonian ship bound for Antarctica. Then it occurred to me. I could go with them!

“Huh. Loomulikult,” I thought. Naturally. How could it be any other way?

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