I don’t know the reason why but wherever my travels take me I often find myself on the bank of a river, flowing through a city. It happened in Rome, Florence, London, Bern, Vienna, St. Petersburg, and Washington D. C. All of the rivers in these beautiful cities remind me of the river in my home town Arkhangelsk. I think of this river as my river. Whenever I see a beautiful river I look for something familiar, something that would remind me of my river. The Thames is cheerful and busy. The Arno River in Florence has a romantic embankment lined with old leafy trees and lights and benches underneath. The Tiber has picturesque bridges crossing the swift and sometimes turbulent current. There is a walking path along the Potomac River, lined with slender maple trees and old, curly willows.
There are many beautiful and mighty rivers in the world but only one has such a strong and unbreakable attraction, which doesn’t go away with time and distance. Sometimes I wonder if it is like the connection between a mother and her child. Maybe it’s because the soft sound of waves reminds me of my grandma’s lullaby, which I heard many times in my childhood. Maybe it’s because of the rows of rowan trees, all covered with orange bitter-sweet berries in the fall, a time when we ran track in school, gasping for cold air at the finish line. Maybe it’s because of dashing downhill from the steep bank of the river in winter and breaking the last pair of skies that my mother recently bought. Maybe it’s because of cross-country skiing along the embankment, lined with trees covered in frost. It was a time when skis were gliding, spirits rising, cheeks pink from frost bite and cold air burning your throat. Maybe it’s because of swimming in summer to the wooden logs, which served as a chain of buoys, climbing on the top of them and dangling my feet in the water. All these childhood memories were awakened at the first sight of my beloved river.
After a long time of not seeing my river, my heart was singing a joyful song in a rhythm of tapping train wheels. When our train approached the railroad bridge a magnificent view of the Northern Dvina River unfolded in the train’s window. This time it was late November and the Northern Dvina River was partly covered by a thin layer of ice. Cold air built an icy shield closer to the banks, leaving the middle of the river, rippled by current, clear. Rarely a barge or large motor boat pulled cargo to the cranes in port on the left bank of the river. Across the river the white walls of Archangel Michael Cathedral appeared. The afternoon sun was shining on the golden domes of the Cathedral and they were reflected in the river and ice.
The breathtaking first sight of the Northern Dvina River was preceded by a flight across the Atlantic and a long train ride from Saint Petersburg, sharing a compartment with three other fellow travelers. I was lucky to have good company. The leisurely talk, laughs, and stories we shared were interrupted by tea breaks. When I listened to my fellow travelers talking I enjoyed a melody of native northern dialects so dear to me and almost forgotten. Views from a window awakened forgotten memories. There was a working railroad crew standing with their shovels surrounded by newly fallen fluffy snow. There was countryside with wooden houses, wells, snow laden fir trees, and creeks which were partly covered by ice with dark, still, almost frozen water in the middle. We passed a hut with a husky dog lying on the front porch, stacks of wood for heating next to barns, and wooden fences, propped up to keep them standing. Some houses were abandoned with lonely, orphaned window frames without glass. Other houses were neat, cheerfully painted and decorated with wood carved features.
At first, I was hesitant to tell strangers that I live in the U.S. but when I did I was surprised by friendly and calm comments. Of course people were curious about how Russians are treated in the U.S. When I assured my fellow passengers that Russians are treated as nicely as any other nationality in America, they told me to send their warm regards to my American husband. One other small talk with an acquaintance turned into open and friendly discussion about the current situation in the world. We talked and talked about it and I enjoyed our conversation so much that I did not want to leave. In the end she told me: “We stand with America for democracy, integrity and humanity!” I am so proud for my people from Arkhangelsk for their support, openness, courage, and just being outspoken.
I was lucky to catch a glimpse of a gorgeous sunset from another bridge that crossed the river. It connects the island Solombala with the city. The bridge crosses the right arm of the Northern Dvina River, called Kuznechikha. Kuznechikha was covered by ice and had just a few pools of unfrozen water under the bridge. The declining golden disc of the sun sent its last radiant rays across the icy surface from the horizon to the bridge. The color of molten gold at the horizon spilled across the icy surface of the river. The rays faded into warm shades of scarlet flame on the frozen river surface. A little golden cloud was lit by the sunset, which spilled over onto half of the horizon. The greatness of the sunset and ice was irresistible to watch. However, the cold was taking over and I headed on to visit my friend. At her hospitable home I was received with a warm reception, hot tea, and a pair of valenki (high felt boots) to warm up my feet. We had a blast laughing and talking!
When my friend asked me “What do you like best about Arkhangelsk,” I answered without hesitation that I loved its people.