Thursday, August 4, 2016

Field Notes from Life

I solved a mystery! See these things?

When I was growing up, we called them "wishing stars".  During the late summer and early fall, they can be seen flying delicately past on the slightest breeze. We used to catch them, make wishes on them, and let them carry the wish away with them. Occasionally, some of the younger people would make "pets" of them, naming them and keeping them around for while.

None of us knew what they were. Common sense pointed to the seeds of some multi-petalled plant that turns to fluff when it is finished flowering - something like a dandelion, but bigger. The mostly likely candidate was this flower:

from Wikipedia

which I think is called Mule Ear, but I could be wrong. The only thing is - those produce seeds the same way dandelions do - sort of umbrellas, with the seed dangling from a long handle, and the wishing stars were clearly fluff all the way around. By the sheerest accident, I discovered their host plant while I was strolling along the shoreline last week:

From I have a really good picture of the
thistle I saw, but I cannot get it to transfer from my phone to
my computer. Alack. We must content ourselves with a stock
photo from a dictionary instead. Such is life.

Yep, they are thistledown! I had no idea. I was ridiculously excited. It's the little things, you know.

I am not going to offer any apologies for the dreadful neglect of this blog I have been exhibiting of late, but I will proffer up two explanations. The first is simply that there has been a good deal of Life betwixt the last post and this one - very good Life at times, and very trying Life at others. It is not always easy to sit down and write when one is busy Living. The second is that I have been giving serious consideration to the sort of blog I actually want this to be. Right now, I feel as though is is something of a rummage room, full of odds and ends, some of which are quite splendid, but don't really go well with anything else in the same place.

I am still not entirely sure what I am wanting it to look like from here on out, but I do want it to have a regular schedule of posts: a poetry post (either my own, or one I've read that impressed me); a book review post; and arty post, etc. I like the tone if the writing well enough, but I would like to tighten it up a bit and treat it a little more seriously than I have been - not dabbling with it, but really writing on it. Until I have settled on a new model, posting will probably continue to be a bit spotty for a while.
In the meantime, however, it seemed like it was more than time to put something up here. So I present the following:

April/May: I went off to Ireland on a 3 week vacation. That is the longest vacation I have ever taken, and the first proper holiday I have had in a number of years. I was worried about it before hand, but there was no need to be. It was grand. I've always been in love with Ireland, but this trip reminded me of why. There is something in the wild changeableness of the weather, the smell of salt, and of peat - oh, how I love the smell of peat! Something in the the slower pace of life, the genuine interest the Irish seem to take in each other, the sense of being connected to the land, and of history lurking just around the corner of every place you stand. It suited me, and there was an odd sense of homecoming in it. I had great joy in my time there, and a hard time coming home afterwards. Highlights include:

 - Standing in O'Connell Street, in front of the GPO with thousands of Irishmen and women, celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Easter Rebellion. I missed a lot of the official commemorations, which took place during Easter Week, but was there for the actual calendar date that the uprising started. There was music and speeches and poetry, and very few things get the heart going like standing in the middle of a crowd like that, with 4 old fellas from the North Counties, singing rebel songs with all one's might and mien.

 - Attending a High Mass at this Church.

 - Watching a common street worker, waist deep in a trench, chipping away at a bit of stone to add to the dry-stone wall he was making. Indeed, the Irish skill with stone, whether the ancient Monoliths of Newgrange and Howth, or the beehive chapels along the Dingle Coast or the sort of every-day craftsmanship highlighted here, impressed me hugely.

 - Attending an Irish Language Course in Gleann Chulm Cille.

 The course was intense, but fantastic, and I am absolutely mad about Irish again. But the Gleann.... oh, the Gleann! In reality, it is probably too remote and tree-less a place for me to live out my life there, but I wanted to, very much. It is a spare, and incredibly beautiful place, right on the broken edge of the world,

in which peat is still cut by hand from mountain bogs, there are no stores, but a basic grocery, sheep and cattle raising, and narrow, narrow roads. The sea pounds against the far end of the Gleann, and the smell of peat is everywhere.

And the fish! I had one of the simplest and best meals of my life and a tiny restaurant there - nothing more than cold, smoked fishes, and salad, and potatoes, and the brilliant brown bread that I took a passionate liking too and have been attempting to duplicate ever since I got home - but each bite was a revelation and I ate it all with a sense of wonder.

- Bike riding about Inish Mor, the largest of the Aran Islands, It was a beautiful, soft day, sunny and pleasant. The Island is not big, there are parts of it in which you can stand and see the whole thing, with the sea crashing in on it from every side. The wildflowers bloomed everywhere and the earth itself seem formed of music.

- Russell's Bed and Breakfast in Dingle. The Dingle Pennisula in general is wonderful. It has much of the wild beauty that so drew me in Gleann Chulomchille, but softened just enough.

I could spend months in the Gleann. I could live on Dingle. But Russells B&B was a highlight, not only of the Peninsula, but of the whole trip. It is exactly what one is expecting from a B&B - wonderfully comfortable rooms, full of intimate little touches that make you feel as though you are guest rather than a tenant. For breakfast, you can get smoked fish - which I did, and it rivaled the Gleann meal in its ability to amaze - or the catch of the day - which I also did. That memorable fish was swimming in Dingle Bay at dawn, and by breakfast time, was gently cooked in butter and sitting on my plate, tasting of nothing else on earth. The meals were further enlavished with heaps of that brown bread, and a most gorgeous homemade apple blackbearry jam that tasted of spring.

June/July: I discovered Memrise, thanks to a good friend. I was still on fire with Irish, and looking desperately for a way to keep a hand in on it. Memrise is an excellent way of learning languages. You choose a goal for yourself. I opted for a very low one, so that I'd be more likely to keep at it, and you get little mini-lessons, and reviews. It is fun. It is addicting. It makes one enthusiastic and inclined to run about telling all ones friends and relations about it, so that they sign up, and get addicted and start learning languages too. Of course, I am opting for Irish, Old English and Morse Code. The sister with whom I share my habitation, is learning Italian. Other sisters are opting for German. We cannot, in point of fact, speak to each other in our elementary new languages, but that doesn't keep us from being enthusiastic about it anyway.

I have also been going out for explores in the wild spots at the edge or our little town, preferably near sunset, when the air is cooler and there is a sweetness to it which is sadly lacking during the heat of summer days. And the world goes all dove-blue and old-gold, and the tree stand out like wrought-iron against the gloaming.

Mostly, I go out to the Marsh, which, in spite of its name, is  not very marshy. It is a margin place, where the river pours out into the lake. There are sandy stretches of beach, and scrappy shore-plants growing tenaciously along the spongy bits. There is meadow, and marsh, and river and pools, and finally there is the lake and in amoungst all this mad mix of habitats there are willows and wildflowers, waterfowl and Osprey, Hawks and songbirds. The air is full of the sound of running water and splashing waves, of bird calls, and the sighing of wind through the willows and the grasses. It is a beautiful and timeless place, in which it is easy to stop moving, to sit still, to step outside of the World, and for a quiet space, to lay down one's burdens - big or small - and truly rest. I generally go with a friend from work, a birder, who takes lovely and oddly personal pictures of it all. Thanks to his influence,  I can now name birds I have neither known nor named before and I can identify a small number of them by their songs. I come home from such peregrinations with pockets full of smooth lake stones, and feathers, and pine cones, fleetingly blue crawdad's claws, and paper-thin water-snail shells, ineffably delicate. And I come home home feeling that I am me again, that God is good, and that no matter what happens, I want to live in such a way that my life is a thank you for the sheer staggering beauty He saw fit to lavish on the world.

I have begun to practice watercolouring again. I am in no way an artist, but I take great pleasure in doodling. My little watercolours are very small, sketched very quickly from life, and feature more plants than anything else,

though occasionally, some-
thing with breath and pulse and means of movement. It is both soothing and exciting to take a little art kit along with me, and paint things. There is a great deal of joy in it, even if the result is just simple little thumbnails.

And with that, my tea is calling, and while one can be sustained by beauty alone for a considerable amount of time, the stomach, not to mention the personality, tends to rebel if forced into subjugation for too long. A tip of the hat to all of you, and I hope to return sooner next time.


Bella Rose said...

My Oh My! What an update! Hmmm. Wishing Stars are thistles? Who knew???

Ireland sounds beautiful!!! Oh my gosh, I love your pictures! You draw with so much feeling. It's beautiful.

You posted too much to comment on. But your post was such fun to read! Thanks for blogging!

Mahri said...

Aw thanks, Bella!

I know! I was soooo excited to find that out about the wishing stars!

PiperoftheStrait said...

G’dae Mahri,
I enjoyed reading your blog from August 4th as it brought back a few memories of me own.
First however your discovery of the source the Wishing Stars. Aye the Thistle plant or as I refer to them- Scottish Roses. They grow in my backyard. Interestingly enough I first noticed them growing within a year or so after having learned to pipe m’self.
I actually have two styles growing, one of which is the venerable Scottish Thistle and the other style which appears to be identical except for its size which is about ¼ the size of its larger cousin.
And the memories brought back. Your description of the land, your description of the people and your description of life in Ireland. Aye and I must say that as I read on I felt me eyes getting misty with memories of Scotland. I lived there during my time in the Navy- in a small town by the name of Dunoon; situated just about on the corner of The Firth of Clyde and Holy Loch. It suited me- life there in the land that always called to me from when I first learned to ride a bicycle and followed along with Pipe bands at parades just to hear the proverbial skirl.

The Scots with their welcoming friendliness and cheerful smile make one feel like never a stranger. Their manners and politeness their tweed jackets worn with a white shirt adorned with a necktie- even by the Refuse Collectors because as they said- ‘We are a civilized nation.’. The milk wagon pulled by a Clydesdale on the Glasgow streets early morning as the city awoke. The hills and the mountains of the land between the cities- Heather covered and adorned as well with a necktie of their own- oh aye- Thistle plants- the Flower of Scotland. The Pubmaster Miles on the edge of town with always a smile and a twinkle in his eye as he greeted each patron by name. And the land beyond; the lochs, the castles and the crofts, with the herds of sheep. The ounce or two of heavy cream which had risen to the top of a bottle of milk as it was freshly delivered at the break of dawn. Ready there it was, to be skimmed off to sweeten one’s first cup of coffee.
Aye there was an odd sense of homecoming in it and I had a hard time leaving. (Thank You Mahri for the words if I may paraphrase your writing.)
So many memories; as me eyes mist up once again in writing these words.
I do agree with you in your closing that God is good and that no matter what happens, we should live our lives as a Thank You for the Grace He has bestowed upon us.