Proud to show off my daughter Nyssa’s latest artwork for Woman with Landscape.
In late March I had the great pleasure of staying in a cottage on the edge of Joshua Tree National Park, California. Each day I hiked and explored with my family. Having never spent time in a desert before, the landscape was a totally new environment for me. What made it even more amazing was that we had arrived at the cusp of winter and spring.
Everywhere I looked I could see new life bursting out of seemingly dead plants and shrubs. It was breathtaking to watch the full moon sink behind the snow caps of the San Bernadino mountains as the sun rose, blushing the mountains of the park. My ears soon tuned in to the noisy cactus wren that sang from the top of a telephone pole and the courting of white winged doves. Each morning I watched for the Anna’s humming bird that visited the new blooms of the manzanita tree. My son and I would visit the wash behind the cottage to examine the footprints in the sand–ground squirrel, jack rabbit, lizard. We learned the names of the many cacti in our yard as they came into flower. And chasing him up and over the huge golden granite boulders in the park, I felt like a little kid all over again.
I came home renewed and not a little in love.
Felice and Festus were two bad bedbugs. They came from a long line of bloodsuckers out west. An adventurous pair, they packed their bags and headed to New York City for an all-you-can-eat vacation. Those two bad bedbugs touched down at the airport, itching for a good time. They hitched a ride to their hotel with an unsuspecting businessman.
“Oh, Festus, the honeymoon suite. Isn’t this fancy!”
“Only the best for my love bug.”
“And look at the view!” squeaked Felice.
“Ah, the city that never sleeps! I can’t wait to check out the night life.”
“And I can’t wait to go shopping. Don’t forget your comfortable shoes, Festus!”
The bedbugs hopped onto the New York Nighttime Skyline bus tour. “Whee!” squealed Felice. “Feel the wind in your antennae.”
They zipped past the Empire State building. “Awesome!” cheered Festus, eyeing a large tourist.
At Time Square Felice and Festus jumped off and joined the crowds with their cameras.
“Lights. Cameras. Action!” shouted Festus.
“Festus, I feel like a movie star.”
“Dinner?” asked Festus, licking his lips and scanning the crowd.
“And a show.” Felice gazed longingly at the Spiderman poster.
Just then, Felice spotted the designer handbag of her dreams.
“Festus, it’s to die for!” Before he could stop her, she leaped into the bag.
“Don’t get carried away my honeybug!” Festus jumped in after her.
Felice and Festus zipped downtown in a cab, and were carried aboard the Staten Island ferry. Felice peeked out of the handbag. “Look! It’s the Statue of Liberty. Festus, suck in your gut and let me get a picture.”
“Felice, I’m feeling a little queasy . . . must have been somebody I ate.”
Luckily, a passing pigeon came to their rescue. A short time later they touched down at Wall Street.
“Wowy-Zowy! Wait ’til the boys back home see this,” crowed Festus, striking a pose on top of the Wall Street bull.
“Next stop Chinatown,” called the pigeon.
Festus bought himself a souvenir T-shirt—I Took a Bite out of the Big Apple.
They were about to try some local delicacies, when Felice shrieked, “Crunching cockroaches, Festus, scuttle for your life!” Pursued by a gang of tough looking roaches, they managed to escape down a sewer grating just in the nick of time.
Safe at last, those feisty bedbugs rode the subway uptown and sneaked into the Natural History Museum. It was time for a midnight snack. “Pah!” Festus spat out a mouthful of dried elephant hide. “This stuff is for the dust mites. I’m out of here.”
Felice snuggled up to Festus and looked up at the moon over Central Park. “Ah, that’s more like it—a romantic carriage ride with my little bugaboo.”
Back at their hotel, Felice and Festus enjoyed a succulent feast.
“A toast to New York,” said Festus. “A bloody wonderful city.”
“Festus, if I drink another drop I’ll burst,” sighed Felice. “The portions here are humungous. I must have gained 10 grams.”
At last, that bloodthirsty pair came to the end of their vacation. Felice and Festus, two bad bedbugs, cozied up for the long journey home.
It’s been a busy but rewarding season. My parents came from Ireland to visit and experience glorious summer weather and the constant circus of wildlife that surrounds our house in New York’s Hudson Valley. I celebrated my 50th birthday in my wild but fruitful garden, surrounded by family and friends. My wonderful daughter and mother helped me cook up a feast with lots of tasty local produce. Every day I marveled at my daughter’s artistic skills–painting, writing, embroidering. I watched my youngest son find grace and joy with each new physical skill he mastered. My eldest son’s summer was one long celebration of friends and freedom after four diligent years of high school. Taking him to college we got to explore two new amazing cities and states, Seattle, Washington and Portland, Oregon. In between times, I interviewed fascinating and talented artisans for Dirt magazine. And I’ve been out and about with my notebook and camera, making the most of the long beautiful days. I hope you’ve all enjoyed the season as much as I have. –Your health! Melissa
Here’s a link to my latest article in Dirt Magazine
I 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.
Cardboard 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.
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.
Who knew you could fall in love
All over again?
I’d gone my separate way
Without too many backward glances,
Just the odd intense
Pang in the gut
At the scent of seaweed on salt air,
Or the whiff of ladies bedstraw
And yet the sight of a stone wall curving over a hillock
Could trick the eye momentarily,
Sending memories coursing through the blood.
Who would have believed
A week in the coast guard station
Above Bun Owen pier
Would set the heart reeling with delight
At the soft haze of the Twelve Bens and Maumtrasna
Ringing the bay?
The wooing was gentle
As the rain.
Small things sent to delight me—
Posies of wild flowers,
The keening cry of oyster catchers
skimming the waves,
A pocketful of shells,
The sun setting in stunning bursts of light
Worthy of a baroque cathedral
Over Slyne head.
But there it was, rekindled again,
A love to end all seasons.
When I’m out with my camera, my eye seems to be drawn to things that show the passage of time, for example, the stone floors in Aya Sofia in Istanbul. Here are a few more such photos.