I mentioned we went on a trip.
One of the places we went was the Hill of Crosses. It’s in Šiauliai, in Lithuania.
We’d gone to the Museum of Genocide Victims, in Vilnius, in the morning. We’d been on a train, for maybe three hours.
It was winter. This was January. Four o’clock had come, and it was going quick. And the light was going with it. We left our bags at the train station, a tiny place with one room of shelves for storage in a closet beside the ticket counter.
There were taxis waiting in the parking lot, bored men chatting, or smoking.
My sister strode up to one, a heavy-set man with dark hair and dark eyes. She talked to him. We got in the cab, with this sense of isolation. I’d been here before, but only once, years ago, in the summer. And I’d never taken a cab.
My sister sat in the front, talking to this man we’d never met in a language we didn’t speak. (Where are you from? Are you Lithuanian-Americans? It’s cold out there, you won’t be longer then half an hour. I’ll wait for you.) We stared out the windows at the fading view, past a mall, past dirty snow and towering old brick buildings built as if the only shape in the world was a long rectangle. Past people bundled, unsmiling and bent against the cold.
The view grew darker.
The car grew warmer.
The city left us. In moments we were surrounded by snowy fields, with the occasional telephone pole to remind us of the way.
The Hill of Crosses is actually two hills. And they’re small, maybe not deserving of ‘hill’. On the other hand, Lithuania is pretty flat, so maybe ‘hill’ means ‘small bump’ there, instead of ‘kind of a hike’.
It’s not a monument, not really. Or, if it is, it’s a monument that means a different thing to every person that comes there.
Maybe a place of faith.
Maybe a place of defiance.
Maybe something else again.
It was dark when we stepped out of the car. The sun had set, and the light was fleeing. It starts with just one cross, and then two, then a cluster, and then there is a line of them, going from the paved road to the hills.
For a moment, I thought it was silent.
No talking, just us, no road noise but the low hum of the idling taxi.
But it wasn’t.
The wind was blowing. Winter wind, small and fast, and sharp.
The crosses rattle. Like a thousand different wind chimes without the space to ring. They beat against each other.
Jangle of metal, thunk of wood on wood.
Big ones, huge lurking shapes in the dark. And little ones, not even visible from far away. Crosses piled on crosses, hung from crosses, leaning on crosses.
All covered in snow.
All covered in silence.
We spent maybe half an hour there, wandering in the dark. Alone.
It was a place to be alone. One of those places where the silence is filled, and will fill you, if you sit still long enough to breathe it in. (Or at least, sit still in your heart. It was too cold to actually sit still.)
As if solitude is a solid thing.
There were ducks. They made funny noises.
There are two hills here, both covered in crosses, linked by a
tight path. There are paths among the wood, marked out by ragged edges and handrails.
Eventually, in the darkness, we gathered and, noses chilled, left.
One short drive later, through a pair of lighted doors-
And we were in a bustling super market, solitude and silence spent, and darkness scattered by florescent light.