Last week, during a particularly sunny and warm morning, I laced up my sneakers and headed out on a long training run. I was still feeling the joy of completing my first half-marathon a few days before, and in the heat of the moment, I signed myself up for another half-marathon, in mid-June.
As I quickly scanned the website for the registration page of the Mozart 100 event, some of the race’s info permeated and sank into my consciousness. First off, this was not going to be a road race, but rather a race on trails – more specifically mountain trails. That, in and of itself shouldn’t pose a problem. Except for the ‘mountain’ part.
Secondly, I would be running from point A, a village called Koppl, to point B, the centre of Salzburg. This would be new for me. There is a psychological moment when you round the loop at the half-way point and start heading back. Running in a straight line….hhhmmmm……we’ll see.
My race, the Half-marathon, was one of about 7 other races of a multi-day event. The crown jewel race of the event, of course, is the 100 km Ultra Trail run. The Ultra marathon makes my 21 kms look silly…..
As I completed the registration and pressed send, a small detail caught my eye. The Half-Marathon includes 800+ m of elevation. So, over 21 km, we will climb almost a kilometer of elevation. It was this piece of info that made me immediately reach for my trainers, and head out the door.
I was warming up by jogging on the back gravel lane that leads to the paved serpentine road that begins to climb Ucka Massif all the way to the top, where Vojak meets the sky at 1460 m. My goal for this day was a more modest run up to Vela Ucka at 950 m, so a climb of some 320 m or so.
The gravel lane is a 4 km long, pleasant warm up, with several undulations to get the heart rate going, with a burbling brook criss-crossing under the road several times, with colourful mountain spring flowers courageously growing along the roadside. While some spring flowers were familiar to me, others, while beautiful, were not. As I ran, with a faint mountain breeze keeping me cool, I would stop every now and again to sniff some of the flowers. Every so often, I would catch a vague scent of something familiar on the breeze. But with each stop to sniff anew, I was not able to match the scent with the flower. As I continued to run, the scent seemed to ruminate within, and was tugging at some memory, long since lost.
I ran up the inside curve of a serpentine turn and found myself on a small plateau, with a gorgeous little pasture lined by an old stone wall. A small stone Istrian mountain house stood off to the side, flanked by two stately Cyprus trees. And behind the house, off in the distance, with a small white cloud near its peak, stood Vojak – my ultimate goal.
Growing alongside the stone wall was a cluster of flowers that I recognized. As I ran towards them, I could already discern their scent and it was a match. The scent of hyacinths flooded my nostrils as something in my memory fought to reach the surface of consciousness. I reached the wall, bent down and inhaled….and like silky, gossamer filaments, fragments of a memory started breaking forth and weaving an image in my mind. Another inhale. And another, and suddenly there it was, in vivid technicolour.
I was sitting in my usual chair at the dining table of my parents’ house. It was a special occasion I knew, because the table was set with my Mother’s best bone china, underneath which she had laid her good linen table cloth, from the homeland. Her unique glass coffee percolator was set on the table on a hand woven straw mat, also from the homeland. The brewing coffee smelled aromatic and strong. Six place settings were placed in front of six chairs, and on each plate stood a traditionally coloured Easter egg, in a ceramic egg holder. Six golden brown and white eggs (the effect created by boiling eggs wrapped in onion skins and some bits of grain). On the right side of each plate was a small plate with half of a pink grapefruit on it – a small spoon resting next to the grapefruit. A nearby plate of siļķes or herring was a necessity as eggs and herring go together like white on rice -at least in Latvian food culture. Next to the siļķes, was a basket of sweet-and-sour Latvian bread – a cherished and delicious treat to this day. Another hand-woven basket from the homeland was overflowing with bulciņi or bread rolls, from a really great German deli not far from my parents’ house. On a wooden cutting board, my Mother had placed various salamis and smoked hams and cheeses – from the same German deli. At either end of the oval table stood a clay vase – in one purple hyacinths and in the other white hyacinths – which my Mom had picked from her garden a moment ago. A plate of butter, and a coffee cream and sugar set completed the table.
It was Easter morning and my Mom and I had just returned from sunrise church service. The rest of the family was slow to wake. I could make out the sounds from the kitchen, as my Mom made the final preparations for Easter breakfast.
As I looked around the dining room, the memory started to fade. I inhaled deeply, and on the scent of the hyacinth next to the stone wall, the memory strengthened. I could hear other family members slowly making their way to the kitchen and then to the dining table. And I could hear the dog snuffling contentedly under the table. And for the first time, in a very long time, I felt peace.
In fact, that very moment might have been the last time that I felt that type of peace.
Again, the edges of the memory started dissipating. I inhaled another breath of the hyacinth. And the scene became clear again.
Glancing at the table again, I realized that something was missing. My very favourite Easter tradition – that was what was missing – paska. This traditional Latvian dessert made of cream cheese, butter, eggs, sugar signified Easter breakfast to me. I could hear some murmuring from the kitchen, and the soft thud of the fridge door closing. My Dad’s heavy footfall was followed by my Mom’s delicate one, as they made their way from the kichen to the dining table. I could feel my Dad pass behind my chair and make his way to the far end of the dining table.
I turned my head to look at him.
At the same moment, I could feel my Mom stand next to my chair, and I could see her hand holding the heavy crystal serving plate with the mound of paska on it – placing it it slowly on the table, near me.
The memory was starting to fade – quickly.
With closed eyes, I inhaled again, this time urgently, as if the scent itself could reach back over the decades and restore this moment. ‘Please, just one more second,’ I whispered, to no one. ‘I just want to see them one more time…’
I inhaled again. As I swerved my head to look to the right, the whole scene faded. The last I saw was the platter of paska being set on the table. The last vestiges of the memory were punctuated by the soft thunk of the heavy crystal serving platter of the paska being placed on the linen covered wooden dining table.
And just like that – I was left alone. On Ucka Massif. Nose to nose with a flower.
That was indeed a memory of Easter morning breakfast. It was the last Easter morning breakfast that I would share with my parents, before they passed away. And if my poor memory serves, that was twenty-five years ago. An almost forgotten memory brought back by the power of a flower.