Category Archives: Travel

SUN RAYS

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. . . the little mice began to gather corn and nuts and wheat and straw. They all worked day and night. All—except Frederick.
“Frederick, why don’t you work? They asked.
“I do work,” said Frederick.
“I gather sun rays for the cold dark winter days.”

—Frederick by Leo Lionni

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EVERGREEN

DSCF0423When russet beech leaves coat the ground
And bark is bare in field and wood
An evergreen to tease the eye
As winter’s symbol should.

Sprig of holly at the door
To ward off lightning, poison, war
Druid staff, Witch’s brew
Sword forger’s friend
Dreamcatcher, too—
nine sharp leaves bound in cloth
with nine tight knots
will conjure truth,
according to the old belief.

Holly King rules his natural realm
And never far from his side
From summer’s height to winter’s chill
Fidelity, his ivy bride.

Sprig of ivy up the wall
Keeps home safe from beast and squall
Lover’s bind, Good luck plea
A poet’s crown
Fertility—
bridal wreath intertwined
carried by a blushing maid
will ensure a fruitful match,
according to the old belief.

Pagan totem, Christian sign
No matter what it cares to mean
The holly and the ivy’s gift—
The ever present, Evergreen.

Whatever holiday you celebrate, may you find moments of peace and joy.
Best wishes, Melissa
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IRELAND AT THE OPENING AND CLOSING OF DAY

DSCF9888At this time of year in Ireland there’s a scant eight hours of daylight. The sun rolls lazily over the horizon at 8.30 am, and is already slipping away by 4.30 pm, leaving sixteen hours of darkness.

DSCF9917Of course the reverse is true in the summer with close to seventeen hours of daylight. On Midsummer’s night on June 21st, you can still be leaping the St. John’s Day bonfire in twilight at 11pm. But you’ll need to be up by 4am to milk the cows at dawn.

DSCF9900This is not surprising, given it’s latitude, (roughly 53˚North) which it shares with southern Alaska, Canada’s Hudson bay, and Russia’s Kamchatka Peninsula. The Gulf Stream’s North Atlantic Drift, however, sweeps warm water up from the Gulf of Mexico, giving Ireland a much more temperate climate, thankfully.DSCF9881

No matter how grey and wet the day, at dusk, a little magic happens.DSCF9688

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IRISH THANKSGIVING

DSCF9559I step from one world into another
Like a bather setting my toe in the icy Atlantic on a June day.
It is a painful transition
And yet once the gut is sucked in with a sharp inhale of breath
My horizon shifts and it is palatable.

I step into the damp air of an Irish morning,
Tang of salt and mud off the Shannon estuary,
Strong whiff of cow manure. I know I’m home.

The navy suit and general greyness of the men at the passport desks is expected.
One takes my passport and in a soft Galway accent—
you would be forgiven for thinking the fella had a marble rolling around in his mouth
says to me, Ah you must be David and Sally’s daughter. Tell your parents I was asking for them.

I am at once comfortable with the scale of things:
Four steps to the luggage belt, a few more and you’re out the door
into the waving arms and hurrying faces and cries of delight.

I drive the Shannon to Galway road
Sun at my right elbow shuddering into existence over the horizon to the east.
I think of Dublin 200 kilometers away, my birthplace and rooting of my soul.
Haven’t been there in years,
And like the thought of meeting a childhood friend
it fills me with pangs of horror and awe—
how could you change so much, and not at all?

But back to the driving. In the stone-walled fields along the road
Sheep and cattle, already on the move,
search for the first dollop of creamy winter sunlight to caress them,
stroke the night’s chill out of their bones, and who can blame them.
The long November grass is bowed down with a rime of hoar frost.

Heading north, smoke rises from the odd chimney,
a few cars on the road this Sunday, off to early mass,
but mostly I’m on my own.
Sleeping towns left to the rooks and grey crows, scavenging on the verge.
A pair of swans fit for a ballet, necks kissing reflections on the surface of a lake.
Sheep, and more sheep,
And piebald, shaggy-hoofed horses in rough fields, more marsh than grass.
I have the radio tuned to the local requests show,
still playing the horrendous hits from my 80’s teenage years.
I am a traveler through a strange land of rebuilt memories.
Before my eyes the landscape, the smells, the sounds – that jackdaw-
Are a time lapse photograph.

A scene plays out—corner of my eye—a nativity:
under a bare beech tree the cow stands with her calf and attendants,
burnished like some godlike being, fit to be kneeled in front of.
The old abbey is draped in pearly morning fog,
awash with a light that would do Monet proud.
I remember why this is a fairytale land.

My parents are out on the gravel to greet me before I’ve gathered up my wits,
dogs barking like the half-witted maniacs they are.
We gush through the front door all bags and whisking tails and exclamations.
I step into the bright kitchen, moments of calm reign sipping tea
—ah the taste of a great lump of yellow butter sliding across a piece of toast—
and talking of the journey and the weather and the latest gossip.
My eyes follow the birds fluttering around the feeders,
At once alien and yet ordinary
The greenfinch, blue tit, bullfinch; still remember the names.
My father has the usual complaint,
Bloody magpies, always bullying the others.

My feet crunch the brittle grass and leave dark footprints
On the path to the lake.
I brush past brambles burred with frost,
dried seed heads, orbs of frozen dew, lit up like Christmas baubles by Herself.
Ducks explode out of the reeds with raucous quacking,
beating at the water in panic.
A flash of iridescent blue is the kingfisher
perched in the alder at the end of the pier for a second
before torpedoing on up the bay.

I draw in cold, moss scented air. Re-acquainting myself.

Tomorrow I’ll start the work of clearing out the attic—
blowing dust and dead flies off forty years of family stuff.
But until then, I’ll revel in the familiar, and give thanks.

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ODE TO ONIONS

DSCF6345No smell announces the preparation of a meal better than the rich, sweet aroma of sautéing onions. It’s a humble staple of my pantry that I couldn’t do without. Luckily, I live in an area famous for its onions. I keep a special pair of blue swim goggles in my kitchen drawer for chopping the extremely pungent variety that grow in our region of New York State. Known as the Black Dirt, the fertile soil—a result of an ancient glacial lake—is rich in organic matter and sulfur. DSCF5037The latter gives our local onions their intense flavor and earns them a spot in farmer’s markets and supermarkets all over the Northeast.

IMG_8688IMG_8684Starting in April armies of bright green shoots march across the black dirt. By July, they’re standing tall. And in August the stalks wilt, their purpose served.DSCF6369 In September the heady scent of onions pervades the air and the onion crates are stacked high in the fields, waiting to be stored or transported to market.DSCF6366DSCF6357 DSCF6333

Ode To The Onion by Pablo Neruda
Onion,
luminous flask,
your beauty formed
petal by petal,
crystal scales expanded you
and in the secrecy of the dark earth
your belly grew round with dew.
Under the earth
the miracle
happened
and when your clumsy
green stem appeared,
and your leaves were born
like swords
in the garden,
the earth heaped up her power
showing your naked transparency,
and as the remote sea
in lifting the breasts of Aphrodite
duplicating the magnolia,
so did the earth
make you,
onion
clear as a planet
and destined
to shine,
constant constellation,
round rose of water,
upon
the table
of the poor.

You make us cry without hurting us.
I have praised everything that exists,
but to me, onion, you are
more beautiful than a bird
of dazzling feathers,
heavenly globe, platinum goblet,
unmoving dance
of the snowy anemone

and the fragrance of the earth lives
in your crystalline nature.

BEACH PICNIC, WEST OF IRELAND

IMG_9982Cardboard box lunch on the beach:
Limp sandwiches, bruised apples, melted chocolate bars.
Fine grit lodged between our teeth at every bite,
Seagulls swooping in for the crusts.
A backdrop of frenzied whitecaps,
Larksong tossed skyward,
And a ripe aroma
Of dead crab and fermenting seaweed
Wafted our way.
The culprit?
Tugging at our shirts,
Slapping strands of hair against our cheeks,
Raising goose bumps on our legs,
Hurling sand in our eyes,
Encrusting us with a film of sea salt,
Wind—ever present picnic friend.IMG_0152

CLOUDBURST

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Curtains of rain
Sweeping across the bay,
The first tell-tale spots on the slate.
Then all in a rush
Cloudburst!
Mini water bombs hurtling against the roof
Snare drum on the windowpane.
Sixty seconds later
Nothing but drip, drip, drip.

 One of the first things that comes to mind when I think of Ireland is rain. It is after all what earns the country its distinctive reputation as a land of fifty shades of green. And there are nearly as many kinds of rain, from the “soft day” mizzle that gently coats you in a film of moisture, to the driving curtains of water that sweep across the landscape and drench you in seconds. While in November a wet day can be an unrelenting downpour, in July a cloudburst often lasts less than a minute. As the familiar saying in Ireland goes, If you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes.

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