Wednesday, September 20, 2017

WELCOME TO AUTUMN!

Friday is the Autumn Equinox and signs of the impending season change are everywhere here on Inishturk. Bags of coal are stacked beside houses and timber and turf are being hauled in on the boats. Still the weather is beautiful for the most part and we enjoyed two warm, sunny days in a row this week which found us taking our meals on the front stoop and being drawn outside constantly. My friends Jeannette and Tom came for a few days before making their way to Scotland and then, just days later, I headed to Dublin to meet my mom and 3 sisters and accompany them back to the island. After a week my mom and 2 sisters headed back to the States, but my sister Doreen stayed behind until mid October. It's great to have her here as she's pretty laid back and independent. 
Jeannette and Tom's visit was terrific with lots of day time walks and late night talks (I didn't intend for that to rhyme). One afternoon as we were heading off on a hike we got word that Jack was heading over to Caher Island to help load sheep. Maybe we'd like to join the crew and take a walk to the Monastery ruins? This was an opportunity that I'd wished for since my stay here last year. I ran to the harbour to ask (plead, cajole, beg) for a spot for the three of us and an hour later we loaded up with Jack, Helen, Eamonn, PJ and Father Desey for the short ride out to Caher. A small boat (a type of curragh) which would actually take us to the island was tethered to the back of Jack's big boat as there is no dock or pier on Caher. I was excited, and just a bit apprehensive, about climbing into the small boat and, after arriving at Caher, climbing up onto its rocky shore. 
Father Desey and Helen on the way to Caher
Jeannette and Tom ready for an adventure (Inishturk in the background)
Jack anchored quite a ways offshore and Eamonn (a most intrepid sailor) hauled the small boat to the side and, with PJ's help, got us all safely seated and off we went. When we arrived at the small cove on the southwest side of Caher (called Portariff), there were other boats there and a few island men along with lots of sheep waiting to be hauled back to Inishturk after spending much of the summer grazing on the deserted island. We pulled up beside the craggy boulders that jut out into the sea and one by one unloaded ourselves on to the sacred shores of Caher. As we strode across the island I felt moved by the history of the place - the site of a 6th and 7th century monastic settlement. What is left of the tiny hermitage seems precarious, the entrance wall on the west end is leaning quite a bit and the south wall all but gone. 
 A view of the northeast side of the hermitage ruins.
Looking out the entrance wall from inside the remains.
 There are numerous carved rock crosses on the island with an abundance of them surrounding the ruins. 
 This particular slab features a Greek style cross in a circle and below it, two dolphins curved to face each other. The depiction below is from an article on Caher by Michael Herity.
Another excellent example.
We sat on boulders outside the monastery walls and ate apples, gazing out to sea, talking little. Soon Helen's phone rang -  Jack calling us back to the boat. As we crossed the marshy, heather strewn hills back to the cove we could see the last of the sheep being loaded into the small boats. We clambered over the slippery rocks and loaded into our own for the short ride out to the big boat. 
The last of the sheep being moved back to Inishturk.
We motored up beside Jack's boat and could see it too was full of sheep. I realized it wouldn't be as easy climbing up into the boat as it had been climbing down out of it, but it went surprisingly smooth and, after pushing through the tightly packed sheep, we sat in the cabin for the short, 2 mile ride home.
The view out the cabin door.
A few days after Jeannette and Tom left, I took the train to Dublin for an overnight stay at Trinity College (they rent out dorm rooms during the summer months - quite spartan, but spotlessly clean and a really good price) before greeting my mom and sisters off a very early morning flight. Their flight was uncharacteristically early - arriving at 4:38 instead of 5:15! When I got to the airport, they had already been through baggage pick up and passport control, so we caught the first bus to the train station and were able to make the 7:35 train to Westport. They were exhausted after the overnight flight and at one point my mother remarked that they had been awake for over 24 hours. I think she kinda' amazed herself. We arrived in Westport, got a ride into town (it's a 10 minute walk from the train station into town - most all downhill - but when the ride was offered, I grabbed the opportunity), and tried to fill up the 6+ hours until we could catch the shuttle to the evening ferry. After visiting a few shops and the ATM, we settled into the coffee shop attached to the downtown grocery store and had a snack and coffee and tea. At one point, I looked across the seating area and there was a table full of my neighbors - Mary Catherine, her daughter Brid and her children! I was so glad to be able to introduce my family to my "island family" as I spend almost as much time at Mary Catherine's house as I do at my own. We eventually did our grocery shopping and installed ourselves at the edge of the parking lot behind the grocery store where the shuttle would pick us up. My youngest sister Liz and I walked the few blocks to my favorite restaurant and picked up a few wood fired pizzas to go and we sat behind SuperValu, eating pizza, chatting and nodding off from time to time. Finally the ride to Roonaugh Pier and boarding the ferry for the hour long ride to Inishturk.
Aboard the ferry
It was not a smooth ride, but everyone seemed to weather it pretty well and soon enough we were on Inishturk loading luggage and groceries into Jack's car and heading to my cottage. We had secured additional housing a one minute walk from my house, a two bedroom, two bathroom place where two of my sisters stayed. I'd realized earlier in the summer that one bathroom for five women was not going to work. And it was perfect with an open living room, kitchen and dining room where we tended to congregate for meals or to play cards if the weather wasn't great. We walked to the club one afternoon, a very steep walk uphill that my mom (at 83!) hiked like a champ. The next time we ventured up there for dinner, Helen gave us a ride.
Heading up to the Club.
By the end of the week, the forecast looked bleak. The family had a mid day flight out of Dublin on Monday and would have to leave the island Sunday to make it in time. I walked to the pier on Friday to talk to James, the ferry captain and he suggested we leave early as he suspected the ferry wouldn't run at all on Sunday. We booked a hotel for two nights in Westport and took the early ferry out Saturday morning. 
The ride was crazy and my sister Dawn wasn't taking any chances as the boat pitched and rocked. 
Exciting!
Our two days in Westport were fun - Saturday night after a raucous dinner (when we are all together we tend to wear raucous like our favorite shirt) we hit a pub. Thank goodness we got seats early as it was shoulder to shoulder, standing room only by the time the music started. A jam session of musicians young and old on accordians, fiddles, guitars, a piano and a flute. Other musicians came and went, joining in for a song or two or playing a solo. A few times the room would be hushed and a lone voice in the crowd would sing a plaintive ballad and at one point a group of older men all wearing yellow shirts pushed through the crowd into the room and sang a rousing song to loud applause. We left the pub after midnight and were relieved to gulp the fresh, cool air outside after being in the stifling close quarters inside. We went to Mass Sunday morning and it was lovely with a sermon on a hardened heart versus a soft heart. Early Monday morning Doreen and I accompanied the family to the train station and saw them off before walking back into town to the hotel. We'd planned to catch the evening ferry back to the island, but found out the seas were still too rough and the ferry wouldn't be back on schedule until Tuesday! I knew Helen and Jack were also on the mainland and texted Helen to see if she knew there was no ferry that day. They were going to day trip out to Achill Island and invited us along. We could stay at their mainland house that night and ride to the ferry with them on Tuesday. What a win! Achill Island is a big island north of Inishturk accessible by a land bridge. I consider Helen a naturalist and if I don't know the name of a plant or bird I go to her for clarification. Not a better person to visit Achill with! After the hour drive to the island we stopped at an expansive beach and watched seals playing in the surf; Jack drove a narrow, curvy road up a cliff and we stood at the rim in rain and ferocious winds taking pictures; we visited a graveyard from the 1800's on the ocean edge.
 Looking out the window of the ruins of a church built in the 1700's into the graveyard and beyond to the ocean.
 This gravestone astonished me. Mystical midwife and Mama...Wow!
 A picture board at the beach about turf cutting.
An old photo of women carrying turf.
 It was early evening before we made it back to Askillaun to Helen and Jack's mainland house. A beautiful house perched on the side of a hill overlooking lush green fields and, off in the distance across an expanse of ocean, Inishturk. As wonderful as it was to be with Helen and Jack in their serene home, sharing meals and talking by the fire, I spent hours it seemed gazing out the windows looking at the island, wanting so to be home. 
The village below Jack and Helen's house with Inishturk in the distance.
Jack showed us the pile of turf in the shed and explained the process of cutting and drying it. The fire it created was lovely and clean. It made me wish I had a fireplace at my cottage instead of a woodstove! 
 A shed of turf; cut, dried and ready for the fireplace.
Turf close up.
We caught the 1:30 ferry on Tuesday and no sooner were Doreen and I settled into our seats (we sat inside as it was raining quite heavily) than we fell asleep, lulled by the rocking of the boat and a deep exhaustion. We awoke a few minutes before we docked at the harbour and were ecstatic to be back!
We had all afternoon to unpack, do laundry and settle back in. 
During our time on the mainland, Charlene, the chef at the Club finished her stint at the restaurant, so I've been picking up the slack opening up in the evenings for dinner now and then. Doreen's been my sidekick and it's been fun and just a bit disconcerting, but I've learned some new skills. Mary Catherine, who ran the restaurant 2 days a week most all summer while Charlene took days off, walked into the kitchen one afternoon as I was struggling to fillet a pollock. She offered to show me how and made it look miraculously easy. I'm much better at it now than I was, although I'll probably never reach Mary C's level of proficiency (she also dropped by the cottage yesterday afternoon to show me how to make a coal fire as I've had pathetically anemic results every time I attempted it - we enjoyed a roaring fire all evening thanks to her lesson). I was surprised at how hesitant/shy I was about running the kitchen. It just felt foreign and, although I've been cooking as a job for over 35 years, I've never run a restaurant kitchen. I've been a pastry chef in quite a few restaurants and have helped out in others, but have never been a short order cook. I was astounded when my food order came in and I was confronted by turnips the size of a child's head and apples almost as big. Doreen and I laughed over my mistakes but persevered and after a few days off we're looking forward to getting back up there to play. As always, the islanders are kind and polite (and forgiving) and the best sort of people to serve. I am well aware how fortunate I am.
Me and Mary Catherine at the Volunteer Appreciation Dinner.
Doreen and I picked seaweed yesterday. Sea lettuce and sea grass for seaweed bread (which has gone over well in the restaurant) and carraigin for winter use. It's so relaxing to wade in the tidal pools.
 Sea lettuce ready for 10 minutes in the oven to dry.
Carraigin to air dry to use for winter "pudding".
Friday Doreen and I will head into the mainland for a few days to explore some other towns. I'd hate for her to spend six weeks here and only experience Inishturk and Westport, so we'll see Galway and maybe Lehinch and Ennistimon before heading back to Westport to greet my friend Frank at the train station and have him out to Inishturk for a few days. I met Frank last year in Madrid and we participated in VaughanTown together. We've kept in touch over the last year (he lives in Australia) and since he's been traveling in Europe the last month or so, he thought he'd take a side trip out here. So very excited to see him again as he's great fun! The following Saturday, friends from Texas - Esther and Rick -  are coming for about a week on their way to Germany. So still lots of guests for a bit before life settles down for a long winter.
I've been reading "Braving the Wilderness" by Brene Brown and when I came upon this early in the book, I was stopped. She's a phenomenal writer and cuts to the core of what it means to be a human in our complicated world.  I so love #4 and sometimes in my meditation it's my mantra.
Strong Back. Soft Front. Wild Heart. 
How Grand.
Hope you are all well and looking forward to Autumn. 

Thursday, August 24, 2017

NOTES FROM THE ISLAND

Hard to imagine that summer is almost over, but here on Inishturk, it is palpable. The days are getting shorter - no more dusk at 10 and dawn at 5 - and the breeze is out of the north from time to time. Still it is pleasantly warm at day, low 60's (this makes me laugh seeing the 100 degree temps in Texas) and when the sun comes out I can be fooled into believing summer will last forever. 
I had some friends visit from Camp Verde and Kerrville. Maria worked with me at Cypress Springs where I was the cook for almost 15 years. Her brother, Jesus, worked there also, although not in the kitchen. His girlfriend, Destiny, joined them for their week in Ireland with their first stop in Inishturk. Maria had just returned from a 2 week National Geographic trip to Italy and Greece - she was in big time travel mode before college starts up for this recent graduate (2nd in her class!). They were great fun and we hiked both trails on the island and stayed up late talking and laughing each night.
Maria, Destiny and Jesus
A few days after they arrived Turkfest commenced, so they were on their own as I was helping in the club kitchen. 150 Irish hipsters invaded the island and brought music and new energy to the calm isolation that keeps me here. It was intense, but for the most part, fun. I was here for it last year, so I knew what to expect. Nevertheless, I was glad when Monday came and the island was somewhat back to normal. Tuesday brought hoards again as it was the annual pilgrimage to Caher Island. Caher is a small uninhabited island which lies about halfway between Inishturk and the mainland. It was once the site of a monastery (7th century) and there are fine examples of medieval stone crosses. August 15th is the Feast of the Assumption and the day that hundreds of people brave the treacherous waters around Caher to experience Mass at the ruins of the church. There is no pier, so pilgrims must clamber up the rocky shore after exiting the boats. For many people this pilgrimage is part of the climb up Croagh Patrick on the mainland on the last Sunday in July. After Mass at Caher the folks board the boats again and head to Inishturk for food and fellowship. Once again, I was sequestered in the kitchen, avoiding the crowds. By evening, the island was blissfully quiet again. A wedding was scheduled for Friday of that week, but the forecast was brutal so the weekend celebration was moved to the mainland. From Thursday on, the island was practically deserted, with less than half its average population. It was lovely walking the island and not encountering another soul.
 Peace
The island tends to attract WWOOFers, which is how I found it last year, and some integrate into the community. My dear friend Mary Catherine has had a few this summer and, since I spend quite a bit of time at her house, I get to know them well. Earlier in the summer Mary C hosted Maria from southern Germany. She lives just 20 minutes from my friends Tom and Cynthia in Simmerberg, Germany! After Maria left, Claudia arrived. Claudia is from the northwest coast of Italy and her month on the island flew by. We worked side by side at island functions (mostly in The Club kitchen or at Mary C's busy guesthouse) and occasionally got to relax at the restaurant for a meal or take a hike on the islands trails. She was a remarkable young woman and I was really sad to see her go. WWOOFing is an incredible way to see the world and I highly recommend traveling that way - an opportunity to know a country by living and working with a family there.
Claudia at Tale of the Tongs
The blackberries which grow all over the island are just beginning to ripen. Days of rain and then sun have them turning from green to red and finally black. When they lose their glossy sheen they are ready to pick and with just a touch, they fall into my hand. 
They make for a tasty snack while on walks. An edible treasure hunt.
On Monday, the 21st - the day of the Eclipse - the weather was wicked, with heavy rain most all day. The sky was steely grey and the downpours flowed down the mountain, creating waterfalls off the cliffs into the harbour. Days later, there were still rushing streams coursing through mountainside gullies. On Curraun Beach, a trickle of fresh water that always flows from mountain to ocean became a cascade that carved curving patterns in the sand.
My friend Kathleen sent me a copy of Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert (of Eat, Pray, Love fame). Although it's been on my Kindle for over a year - I mentioned it in my New Years post and it's included in my Books By My Bedside list - I have yet to finish it. After picking up my package from the Post Office (open from 12-1 on Tuesdays and Fridays) I walked to the Community Center (affectionately called The Club which houses the pub, restaurant and small shop) and sat on the empty deck overlooking the ocean. Although I truly love the idea of books on Kindle for the ease of reading while traveling, holding that beloved book in my hands and feeling the pages felt precious. It's just a different experience. 
The last page of Big Magic. Indeed.
After a quick visit from my artist friend Jeannette next week, my mother and three sisters descend on Inishturk. At 83, my mom hasn't traveled for years and it took a bit of coaxing from all of us girls to convince her to make the trip. But after she agreed, it was full steam ahead! I am beyond excited to show them the island and introduce them to the unique group of folks that make up its population. The island may never be the same...
Well, my morning is slipping away and the tide is going out. I'm going to meet my neighbor Pete at low tide to harvest some carraigin seaweed, also known as carrageen moss, to dry for winter use. Used to set liquids (like gelatin), it is considered a remedy for coughs, sore throats and chest colds. I gathered sea lettuce and sea grass yesterday, dried then crumbled it to make seaweed bread later this afternoon. I couldn't help but munch on some after drying it. So tasty.
September's almost here! Smile!


Thursday, August 3, 2017

ISLAND SUMMER

A busy summer here on Inishturk. I had guests for almost 5 weeks with my youngest daughter Lily here for ten days and my sweet grand daughter Natalie visiting for a month. Her mom, Marta, came for a week and they went back to the States just a few days ago. Marta loved it but was shocked that the lifeline to the mainland was a ferry that runs only 12 times a week. If you want to go into town for errands or groceries (town being Westport) you had to catch the 9:30 ferry in the morning, travel an hour, then catch a 20 minute shuttle to Westport. AND you have to stay in town until you catch the 5:45 shuttle to Roonaugh Pier, where you catch the 6:30 ferry arriving in Inishturk at 7:30. That's a long day to fill up when you're accustomed to jumping in the car and driving 10 minutes to grab a gallon of milk! Definitely a lifestyle adjustment! 
After a week or so of quiet at my house, the guest rooms will fill up again and be occupied on and off until mid October. It's wonderful to have the opportunity to share such a magical place with friends and family. Having Natalie here was particularly poignant. We spent a lot of time at the various beaches - each one holding a different purpose: Curraun for gentle waves and mussel harvesting; Tranaun for more exciting swimming - bigger waves - and at low tide an expansive sandy beach; and what we call Pete's Beach (because it's down the hill from Pete's house) for wading in tidal pools and picking winkles at low tide and swimming with no waves at high tide (it's a protected cove surrounded by rocky outcroppings). I love Pete's Beach for the variety of seaweeds I can find there and the unusual rock beach. I never leave that beach empty handed. 
A myriad of seaweeds at low tide at Pete's Beach
An underwater pic of a tiny starfish clinging to a rock. I found it while looking for winkles - it wasn't even 2 inches across!
The Harbour was also a favorite spot. I could sit on my neighbor Jo's deck and watch the kids swim or throw sticks into the water for the island dogs. Walks along the Harbour at low tide were fascinating for the sea life. One afternoon, in the course of a 5 minute walk we counted 24 jellyfish in 7 different colors. There was no swimming that day. Another time, the kids found a baby shark perhaps left behind after a day of fishing. Natalie made fast friends with the island kids and a few that were visiting for the summer. They did art projects - lots of painting on rocks - and produced hilarious videos on my porch with their stuffed animals. They investigated tide pools for tiny crabs, which they promptly named and brought home. 
Laura, Ellie and Natalie crabbing.
When the crabs perished days later, they'd have makeshift Viking funerals (minus the pyre): a small wood scrap with a bed of seaweed on top and the deceased crab resting atop the seaweed. Sometimes they'd invert a limpet shell on top of the crab. They'd stand solemnly on the shore, say a few words about the dearly departed, set the piece of wood in the ocean and watch it float away. It never made it far as the waves tended to quickly upend the lightweight wood. I convinced them it was for the best as the crab was ending up close to where its life began. Seeing the island through Natalie's eyes was a lesson in the art of observance. I miss her every day. 
Natalie with a heart rock at Pete's Beach
Jo's grand niece, Ellie Concannon, came by the day after Natalie left and told me she missed Natalie, "but I know not as much as you do Diane!" Ellie still comes by almost daily. We took a picnic hike this week to Tale of the Tongs, a small shelter made of local stone, glass and stainless steel which represents the global Irish diaspora. It's a favorite place of mine for writing and thinking and getting out of the rain or howling wind while hiking.
The Tale of the Tongs
It was built in 2013 over nine days by students from The Catholic University of America with the help of some islanders. It's said that when leaving Ireland during the famine times, a family would gather a hot coal from their fire with tongs (that sit beside every island fireplace or coal stove - indeed there is a pair beside my stove) and bring it to the fire of their neighboring friend or family member. They would also leave their tongs behind with the promise that when they returned, they would retrieve the tongs and a hot coal to start their fire once again. The structure sits on top of a hill with a view of the Atlantic on both the north and south sides of the island. Surrounding the "temple" are glass columns etched with the family names of the inhabitants of Inishturk and freestanding rock sculptures of various shapes and sizes. I frequently sun on a long low "bench" and Ellie and I had our picnic on one.
Ellie standing in front of the glass panel bearing her family name, Concannon. In the background is one of the rock sculptures representing those lost from memory from the island and those who come to be here. Like me.
As Ellie and I sat and ate lunch this week we talked of being an island descendant and how special it was that she had that connection. I told her she was fortunate for that. She told me I had a connection, too! When I remarked that I didn't - I am not Irish and have no kin here - she said, "But you love it here, so that's a connection of the heart and that's better than kin!" Oh my. 
I just discovered there is a video made about the designing, building and installation of Tale of the Tongs in Inishturk. It's called "Tale of the Tongs" (catchy name, huh?) and it's by Judith and Stanley Hallet. It's now on my Watchlist...
I've been told by a few people on the island about the "Money Rock" where coins would be pushed into the crevices of a particular rock for good luck. As Ellie and I were hiking up to Tale of the Tongs for our picnic, she also mentioned it. When I inquired as to it's whereabouts, she had no idea. It had been years since she'd taken this particular hike and she was a kid then, she told me (this made me smile as she's not yet 13). As we rounded a corner and followed the trail up the hill, she stopped. "I think this is the Money Rock!" And indeed it was! I happened to have some coins in my pocket so we each took one, found cracks in the rock and pushed our coins in. Then, per Ellie's instructions, we kissed our fingers and pressed them to the coin to send it on. We found one last crevice, put a coin in it for Natalie and both kissed it to wish Natalie good luck.
Some coins in the Money Rock.
I was helping out with breakfast at a guesthouse this week and I met a fascinating Irish journalist named Margaret Ward. She was the Foreign Editor at RTE which is Ireland's version of NPR and public TV. She wrote a piece for the Irish Times that was published last December about Inishturk and Inishbofin, an island just to the south of Inishturk, which boasts a population three times that of Inishturk (about 150). In addition to being written with a lovely lyricism, I found the article to be the most accurate depiction of the situation the islands find themselves in at this time. Since my return, I've been told more than once that in ten years this will be a holiday island only, meaning pretty much deserted during the winter and only coming back to life in the summer months for vacationers. Many of the islanders - some whose families have inhabited this island for generations - have homes on the mainland, so it would be an easy move. But I would think a tragic loss of a way of life. If you'd like to read her article and get an informative glimpse into island life, here is the link:
My favorite quote from the article is from my neighbor Bernard who says, "Ireland is an island off Inishturk." Which it kinda' is...
Mid June seemed to stall out weather - wise. Day after day was grey and rainy and cold. A malaise fell over me that I couldn't seem to shake. I stopped meditating and doing yoga. I wrote in my journal, but nowhere else. I hardly ventured from my cottage. I sent depressing texts to friends (thanks for listening, Sid and I apologize...). There are a couple truly inspiring women on the island that I am honored to call friends and their presence pulled me through. When I felt at my most aimless, they'd drag me out for a hike or have me in for tea and a long chat. Sometimes when I have concerns about spending the winter here, I remember that I'll have this close knit community to be with. I was told in the winter Wednesday night is late night card games because there is no early ferry Thursday mornings for anyone to have to deal with. And no fishing. Or holiday guests.
But now, the island is lovely and even when the rain comes, which it does briefly even on the sunniest days, it can't dampen the vitality summer brings to Inishturk. 
Everything is in bloom!
Even the "weeds"!
 The progression of lunch...
 After a rainshower
 My funny little cottage in the Harbour
 Swimming in the Harbour
 Growing out of rock
A long hike to the Harbour


Friday, June 2, 2017

TIME

Funny how time moves here on the island. It definitely has its own pace, which is pretty slow. Now, a bit more than a month into my stay, I find I've adjusted to this new schedule just fine. 
I've been gathering wild plants and experimenting with them in the kitchen. I have wild garlic growing right outside my front door. The bulb stays in the soil and a cut made at ground level yields a slender, almost leek like stalk that has a decidedly garlic flavor. Over time the bulb sends out another stalk. A 2 minute walk across my side yard brings me to a small creek that has beautiful mints growing on its banks and tall cress like plants that I use as salad greens. My favorite wild plant is stinging nettles for it's super nutritious, incredibly tasty and plentiful. And I feel like somewhat of a badass picking this rather nasty plant (any interaction with the fine hairs on the plants surface leaves you stinging for hours) and transforming it into delicious meals. 
A bowl full of just picked nettles. They look harmless enough, but handle with care!
Last week was Jo's birthday and I made her a Lemon Nettles Cake. 
It went over really well-so well in fact that Pauline, a neighbor whose daughter was heading to America for the summer, requested one for her daughters farewell dinner. I've made pasta with nettles, added them to omelettes and eaten them simply sauteed in olive oil with a bit of chopped garlic. Always delicious!
Jo has six hens and a goose named Goosey. This very old goose (about 18 or 19 years old!) still lays eggs and no matter how far into the hills she is, she responds when Jo calls her. Two of Jo's hens died recently, so she bought four more from the mainland. We kept them in a back room of the coop for four days to get them acclimated to their new home and before we let them out, I clipped their wings. One hen, white with a grey shawl, was particularly calm and didn't struggle at all when I picked her up to trim her feathers. Whenever I went into the henhouse after that, the white hen would run over to me. I could pet it like a cat and it would follow me as I collected eggs or changed the water. The other day I noticed the four new hens to the side of the coop, just outside the gate. Three of the hens were milling around but my friend, the little white hen, had her head wedged between two rocks in the rock wall. At first I thought she was stuck and I crouched down to see if I could help her. I petted her back and cooed at her, but she didn't move. I was just about to try to pick her up when plop! an egg fell beside my shoe. She removed her head from between the rocks and went to join the others. One morning Jo and I went up to the hen yard to feed the hens and Goosey was nowhere to be seen. Jo called and called (a loud "Goooooosey, Goosey, Goosey, Goosey"), but no answer. We realized it had been a few days since either of us had seen her. Jo went inside, put on a pair of boots, grabbed her cane and off we went into the hills to look for Goosey. Her niece Cathrin (my landlady) and Cathrin's two children Laura and Jamie joined us. I searched along the bottoms, moving through dense stands of irises. Cathrin and Jaime hiked to the very top of the hill and disappeared over the top. Jo and Laura made their way up the first level of the hill, past a low stone wall where I met them after I'd scoured the bottoms. Jo called constantly for her beloved pet. We started back down, trying to find the most gradual way down for Jo. She told me if Goosey was setting on a nest, it'd be along the wall. I'd followed the wall most of the way up the hill, but had left the last 30 feet or so unchecked as I headed for the gate. Although I was sure Goosey had met her demise, I headed over to the wall to comb the small area I'd missed. Two steps into the irises and there was Goosey, her nest right against the wall where Jo said it would be.
I had my first visitor last week. Eli Adams is my friend Marshall's grandson. He is on a 2 week holiday in Ireland and his first stop after a night in Dublin was Inishturk! It was fun to have him here. We took a long hike out to see the Puffins (I even got him to hike barefoot!) and he also did some exploring of the island on his own. The weather report predicted lots of rain while he was here, but he got two beautifully sunny days, perfect for being outside. He even got a bit of a sunburn! He was enthralled and hopes to come back next summer and WWOOF here. 
Yesterday morning I went to Helen's to get a lesson in making kefir. It was incredibly easy and I went home with my very own stash of kefir grains. I now have a jar of milk on my windowsill fermenting away! After my lesson, we met up for a hike to look for the elusive Bogbean flower. It sounded like something out of Harry Potter when she first mentioned it. It only blooms in May in a freshwater lake on the western side of the island. Since it was June 1st, she was afraid she'd missed it. We hiked through a field thick with nettles and then up a hill thick with sheep to a part of the island I'd never visited. We walked up a series of hillocks where Helen told me potatoes and maize used to be grown. We came to a small lake and aside from some buttercups growing along the edge, there were no other flowers to be seen. We crossed a small stream and walked on until we came to another lake. The far side was covered in green water plants and there we found the Bogbean! A delicate little flower, it was such a pale lavender it looked white. The frilled petals encircled a stiff stem that stood above the green foliage. Hikes with Helen are always enchanting events!
I wish I'd taken this photo, but it's from wildflowerfinder.org.uk
With the summer solstice less than three weeks away, it's light enough to take a walk well past 10:00 at night (although I'm never out that late) and the east window in my bedroom is showing me morning by 5:00. I like getting up really early (usually by 5:30) because the island is so quiet with no activity. The tides are low that early, so the harbour is still, it will be hours before the fishermen make their way to their boats. I'm realizing what a cooperative place this is...indeed, that it HAS to be. With so few people, you have to rely on others to get things done. Case in point: I was low on heating fuel and was told to ask Jack, Helen's husband, to pick me up some when he collected the mail in Cleggan. He takes his boat to Cleggan twice a week for mail delivery and various other errands. I had a choice- a five gallon container or a fifty-five gallon drum. The price difference per gallon was substantial, so I opted for the drum. He came by my house one morning on his way to the harbour and unearthed a barrel hiding in the weeds in the side yard. I'd never even noticed it there. He proceeded to load it onto his boat and headed out to Cleggan. By noon he was back and he docked where the ferry usually docks and the huge crane on the pier lifted the full drum off the boat and onto the landing. Later that day I walked to the pier and looked at that big drum of heating fuel. My house is close to the harbour, but how was I to get that huge, heavy drum of fuel to my house and emptied into my tank? This time I was told to ask Robert. I don't know Robert really, a hello in passing when I see him at Jo's, but I do know his wife Mary Helene, who runs the only store on the island. As I was walking to the pier one morning, Robert drove by and I stopped him and asked if he could get the fuel to my house and in the tank whenever he had the time. Like most everyone on the island, Robert has many jobs. Things get done when they get done. A few days later I walked in my side gate after visiting a neighbor and there sat the drum, empty. Wow. I suppose it's much like living in an intentional community, although it's rather unintentional. There are really only a handful of names here...most everyone is related and i'm still figuring out how they are kin. There are a few outsiders, but not many and we are all treated well. The islanders are an exceptionally polite group of people, mannerly and gracious. On a daily basis, I realize how fortunate I am to be here.

Here, the sea sings constantly to the shore.
Sometimes a low hum, repetitive and dreamy.
Other times a roar, a crescendo of violence.
But a symphony, always this, a symphony.