Inishturk is a winter paradise if you like long stretches of days reading by the fire while the sideways rain lashes at the windows!
It seems the ferry has been cancelled more often than it's been running these past few months due to rough seas. Temps have held steady in the 40's mostly, dipping into the mid 30's a time or two, but the wind! It is ferocious at times, working hard to knock you off your feet if you're fighting against it. Hail/sleet hitches a ride on many of the storms that move past the island and as it moves over the mountain to the west, it works its way across the harbour leaving small piles that look like snowdrifts. I've been loving it! My morning ritual is to get up a bit before sunrise, make a cup of coffee and drink it while sitting at my front window watching the sun rise over the ocean. Bliss.
Hailstorm aftermath on my front deck
I haven't posted anything since right before Thanksgiving when I was preparing to cook Thanksgiving dinner for the Islanders. What a fun endeavor that was! Although I've cooked Thanksgiving dinner in Texas for 60-90 people for the last 14 years, this year felt so different. Because it wasn't a "job" per se, but simply a labor of love, I felt so much less stress (although those 14 years at Cypress Springs Ranch were full of more love than I could have wished for...). I thought maybe 30 people would show up, but we ended up serving more than 45. So many of the islanders volunteered to help in the kitchen and they set beautiful tables with white tablecloths and candles. If you're on Facebook, you can see a few pics from the evening-just search for Inishturk Island. About a dozen folks stayed after the meal and subsequent clean-up to sing Irish ballads and toast each other again and again. I smiled so much my cheeks hurt.
The ferry by the light of the November full moon
Folks here go all out for Christmas. Strings of lights brighten the houses and there's a live Christmas tree decorated on the hill above the harbour. Sitting in my living room, I had a perfect view of it every night, the blinking lights bobbing in the wind. Every visit to a neighbors house meant having a drink-most often a hot whiskey. I'd never heard of it before coming here and it's pretty good...pour a few fingers of whiskey in a glass, add a teaspoon of sugar (I'm partial to brown sugar) and stir to dissolve the sugar. Fill the glass with boiling water. Yum.
I didn't have a tree or decorations and was worried I'd feel sad or lonely, but it was a jam packed month, with lots of socializing. Towards the middle of December I started feeling like I was living in a fishbowl. In Texas, my home is in the woods with few neighbors. Here in Inishturk, I'm in the "City Center" as Mary Jo calls it. In the course of a couple days I was on the receiving end of conversations like, "I see you started your fire early today..." and "Pete saw you walk down to the beach and you didn't stop to visit him when you passed his house." and "You haven't gone out much lately, have you?" I decided I'd go into the mainland for a few days, finish Christmas errands and have some privacy. I booked a room for 2 nights, which increased to 3 when the weather turned and it was "get off the island early or don't go at all." In Westport I shopped and mailed packages and went to the movies and relaxed. My first morning back on the island, I woke before dawn, dressed really warm and took off on the loop walk. As I walked up the hill I saw there was a light on at Brid & Joe's and wondered who was up. As I passed Mary Catherine's, I noticed the kitchen light was on and assumed Bill was starting his day. Looking back down the hill at the houses in the harbour I took note of any activity and then suddenly realized I was doing the very thing that annoyed me so. Imagine having your existence limited (for the most part) to less than a square mile-this area on the east side of the island. It's not a small amount of effort to leave the island, so your immediate surroundings are the center of the Universe and you notice most everything. Distractions are few and life becomes an exercise in observation. I had a complete mind change during that walk, ruminating on what it means to be part of this community and I have to tell you, the good far outweighs the minor annoyances.
The last moonrise of 2017 over Caher Island
So the holidays came and went, Christmas and New Years' and then some down time recuperating from too much sugar and alcohol and rich food. I read a lot and wrote a lot (but obviously not here) and baked a lot. The flours here are so different from what I've used in the States. There is no such thing as bleached flour here- the white flour is a gorgeous buff color with bits of bran. The whole wheat flour, called Wholemeal flour, is coarse and grainy with nubbins of wheat kernels throughout. It makes wonderfully hearty bread.
A batch of seaweed bread dough before the first rise
Vegetables in Ireland are inexpensive and of good quality. Brussels sprouts, cauliflower and other cole crops are the best I've ever had. I've been making Gomasio to use on the sprouts and have made extra to give away. When my kids were young, it was a staple in our house to sprinkle over brown rice. Two ingredients and about 10 minutes time and well worth the effort. Here's how to make it: Pour about 1/2 cup of raw sesame seeds into a skillet. Turn the heat to medium high and wait a minute or two until the sesame seeds begin to jump. As they pop, shake the skillet, really move them around. You'll notice the color of them change to a light brown. When they seem consistently browned and you can smell a toasty smell, take them off the heat. Add 1-2 teaspoons salt and immediately pour into the bowl of a food processor (or into a tall narrow vessel and using a wand blender) and whizzz away until you have a brown powder that smells like bacon. So good on rice or baked potatoes or most any veg. Keeps for quite a while in a covered container in the fridge.
February 1st was St. Brigid's Day which is considered the first day of Spring. St. Brigid is one of the Patron Saints of Ireland along with St. Patrick and St. Columba. A group of about a dozen of us met at the school and with the two students enrolled this year, we made St. Brigid's Crosses from rushes gathered on the island.
I made a cross this morning from rushes I collected on my walk yesterday
I scoffed at February 1st being the first day of Spring and then yesterday awoke to the most glorious Spring day! Greeted with a cloudless blue sky and barely a breeze, I got a load of laundry hung out on the line and took off for a walk. I sprawled out on a rock slab above the lake and enjoyed the sun beaming down. I took pictures of mosses and the ocean and the brilliant blue sky. I gathered rushes to make more crosses and noticed the honeysuckle was leafing out on the west side of the island. It was really spectacular to have that little preview of Spring although today it is grey, rainy and windy again and my fire has been roaring since mid morning.
The north side of the island. On the very top of that mountain are the remains of a Napoleonic signal tower.
Tale of the Tongs and the lake. I like this spot because you can see the Atlantic ocean on both the north and south sides of the island from here.
A myriad of mosses growing on a rock
These planting hills are nicknamed lazy beds. They're plentiful on the island and are where potatoes and maize were grown in times past. In Texas we situate our beds horizontally to catch the rain-here the beds are made vertically to shed the rain.
A wild, but friendly horse that roams the west side of the island
So here's to Spring as it is right around the corner!