Spring tide reveals rock pools
Children search for scuttling crabs
Shouts of pure delight.
Of 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.
This 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.
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.