I realized I was very far from home on the very first morning there, in a suburb of Toronto, when I woke up (which had happened several times already because my internal clock read midday) and heard the birds singing outside. Why they should sing in August, I didn’t know, but they were. The birdsong was familiar and yet, it was entirely foreign. As if familiar birds weren’t singing right. As if they’d suffered some kind of a stroke and had forgotten how to sing. Or had studied under the wrong masters. Or had studied under some kind of bizarre masters—the type who want to do everything differently, to pursue something new. Modernists of some sort. For the birds were singing backwards—that was the first word that came to mind when I heard them. I’ve grown a little used to it by now. It no longer shocks me, and neither do they really sing much anymore. Now, it’s mainly the chittering of red squirrels coming from the forest. At first, I couldn’t even figure out whether it was a bird or a beast making the noise. These American red squirrels are chipper little animals. The first time I saw them scurrying after one another, I thought they were babies. Mini-squirrels. Then, there are the darling tiny chipmunks that are like stuffed animals forgotten in the woods and come to life. Riina mentioned that she’s spotted a flying squirrel a few times here, too (which the expatriate Estonians curiously call lendavad oravad instead of simply lendoravad), and even fed it from the palm of her hand. Riina spent her childhood summers here by the lakes but now lives far away in Tallinn. Tallinn lies at an immeasurable distance from this place, at any rate. In another world.

The one bird in Canada’s forests (leaving waterbirds aside) that is the same from here to Iceland—and even to England, Hiiumaa, Moscow, and Irkutsk—is the raven. A pan-boreal species. Its cries echo across the belt of northern forests and tundra circling the entire globe. To the Indians, at least to a few (those in the forest, of course), it was a mythical bird, creator of the world.

Yet on the whole, America is wrong. You feel it here with every step and all the time. I’m amazed that visitors to America never mention it. They talk as if what’s here is almost something ordinary, even something European. But it’s not. Not in the very least. Of course, you do encounter European-style people who speak nearly the same language, and the British Queen is the country’s formal ruler. The Bible is read in churches and Shakespeare is played in theaters. But it’s all false. Just as false and misplaced as expatriate Estonian folk dance and the way they recite the poems of Juhan Liiv. Sincere, absolutely sincere, sincere and cute, but inevitably false. Out of place. America as a whole is set in the wrong place. Modern America, I mean. I know nothing about the ancient America of the Indians. That one was certainly different. Yet this new one—it’s still unsettled, to tell the truth. It’s settled only temporarily. Not settled but colonized. Huge, ugly cities; huge, ugly highways and the malls that line them – it’s all incidental, shapeless (for all its angularity), aimless. It all exists for some reason, but why, I do not understand. That remains elusive.

I’ve always been amazed by the dirtiness and disorder of America. Everything is a little grimy and broken-down. That is why Americans are so fond of disinfecting, sterilizing, preserving, heat- and chemical processing, washing the clothes on their backs every single day, and bathing themselves multiple times per day. Because everything is dirty. They are afraid of the land they inhabit. It soils them. They are temporary occupants here and there’s not the slightest hope that the land will become their own anytime in the foreseeable future. One comes across this type of penchant for cleanliness in the Third World; in India. I once watched as a man there furiously scrubbed his head with frothy shampoo in a stream of wastewater (in a reeking stream of genuine sewage!). His head had to be washed clean, just as Indians’ white clothes must be clean as they walk through the unimaginable filth and disarray of their cities. Pretending as if it doesn’t concern them. America has something similar, though it doesn’t come from poverty. Nevertheless, America oddly comes across as a very poor land. The air-conditioned skyscrapers towering above the cities and the endless rivers of monstrous vehicles on the highways (identically pumped full of air-conditioned air) are a denial, a rejection of this primary poverty. ‘Moneymaking’ is an obsession of the poor—of the poor who already possess a fortune and still cannot stop; for whom stopping is made that much more impossible because as soon as they’re no longer accruing massive wealth, their poorness will immediately show. Pills are one of Americans’ greatest loves. Money is also a pill that must be taken daily in increasing doses because poorness is a chronic and untreatable disease (though pills are somehow able to keep it in check). All of America’s super-wealthy die of complications from poorness, but later than the poor themselves.

            For wealth does extend one’s lifespan—that’s a fact. You can see physical signs of it. Regularly administered wealth changes the tone and texture of skin. It’s fascinating. You can recognize wealthy old men not by their clothing, but by their skin. Wealthy old men’s skin has a golden-brown sheen to it and seems tauter. His figure does still transform with age, his body buckling a little and the proportions distorting (it happens to the rich as well), but his skin stays taut over the bones and the muscles, albeit stiff, are discernable even at an elderly age. Wealthy old men are elderliness in a package of youth. I have to say it is endearing, in a way. It’s proof that wealth really does have an effect—that the pill works; that it isn’t merely a placebo.

An evening sauna fire is being stoked in the neighboring cabin. Voices echo, the children’s most of all—their bright pitches reverberate the farthest through nature. The children always shout in English, though their father can occasionally be heard yelling out a sentence in expatriate Estonian. If the expatriate Estonians had formed somewhere a community as large as the Québéquois French did, then they would have been speaking an entirely unique language before long—one that would certainly sound like Estonian, though if a member of that community were to come to Estonia and go to the store asking for something in their native language, the seller might apologize and say: Sorry, I don’t speak English. Just like I’ve heard the Québéquois French constantly experience in France. Something that offends them to the core every time.

The full moon will rise soon. I’m expectantly waiting. Currently, I’m reading a book on the local history of Port Sydney. The perseverance and industriousness of the settlers fresh off the boat (1870—everything here began so recently!) always astonishes me. A new land and a new location seemed to brace them with double the stamina. The intensity diminished in the following generations, but perhaps there are some remnants of it here, all the same—preserved in Americans’ naiveté, for one. There is always power in naiveté.

I went to the big lake to watch the full moon rise. The expatriate Estonians call the lake Kotkajärv, but what it actually is on Canadian maps remains somewhat indeterminate. It’s known as Fleming Lake to some, Montgomery Lake to others. It appears that Canadians aren’t too seriously concerned with the topography of their new land. The full moon was reddish as it rose over that nameless lake and reflected on the water. Night here is filled with strange chirring and footfalls in the forest. The chirring and chirping comes from the crickets and is steady and mellow. The cracking of twigs is mainly caused by small animals, though I have no idea what kinds. A mighty splash also rang out from somewhere along the opposite shoreline, maybe from a beaver dam, and maybe it was indeed a beaver. Or a deer, or a moose. It’s somewhat unnerving to walk through unfamiliar woods in the dark, though the feeling abated as the moon rose. The moon is like a companion and a fellow traveler.