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.

Friday, May 12, 2017

ISLAND LIFE

The Puffins are back! 
Tuesday afternoon Helen showed me a photo on her phone from a walk she'd taken that morning. We were outside and the bright sunlight made it hard to see the pic, but she was excited and it was infectious. "Come walk with me in the morning! If we go early, I think the viewing will be better!" I agreed to be at her house at 9:30, not knowing exactly what we'd be seeing on our walk. I didn't know Helen well, but I wanted to and this seemed the perfect opportunity.
The next morning at exactly 9:30 I knocked on her door and then let myself in, the island way. She bustled down the hallway to meet me and then turned back to the kitchen to apply sunscreen. In a minute we were in the car heading out. We drove past the pub and the football pitch and turned in at the water plant. She shut off the engine and grabbed her binoculars. We crossed the road and headed up what I would describe as a mountain, it was certainly more than a hill! "We'll talk when we get to the top..." she told me and I knew it was because we'd be so winded climbing. The climb was like doing lunges, one after another. The ground was soft and spongy, but not wet. More than halfway up was a rock outcropping and she stopped. "Let's sit for a bit." It was then I noticed she was barefoot. Helen is in her late 60's and retired from being a midwife about 3 years ago. I only visited her once last year and I remember being intrigued by the batch of kefir on her windowsill and her lush garden. She's barely as tall as my shoulder and she moves fast and with intent. We didn't sit long - she was on a schedule as her husband Jack was bringing a guest to the island from the mainland. Back to our lunges, we finally crested the top of the hill and walked through a grassy meadow with tiny wildflowers. The ground was spongier yet up here and in some places damp. There were a few freshwater ponds and we crossed a small babbling creek. She told me names of a number of wildflowers and the ones she didn't know, she'd pick and have me put it in my pocket to identify when we got back. I knew we were walking to the overlook on the west side of the island. When we got to the wooden fence that acts as a barricade to the treacherous cliffs beyond, she took the binoculars and started scanning the cliffs. "There!" she said, "There on the grass above the rock, look!" She handed me the binoculars and said, "Puffins!" It took me a while, but I was finally able to distinguish them from the hundreds of seagulls perched on the side of the cliffs. Their orange legs and their coal black backs and white bellies made them stand out. They come to the island every Spring to breed. There is a large historical decline of Puffins in Europe, so it is a thrill when they make it back to the island every year. Helen commented that they made her feel so peaceful and I knew exactly what she meant. Watching them through the binoculars I felt my heart rate slow down from the vigorous walk and a calm settle over me. I wish I could post a photo of them, but they were quite far away. I even tried to take a pic through the binoculars, but it didn't work (is that even possible?).
The white dots are seagulls flying around. The Puffins were on the lower cliffs on the left hand side. I would see what I thought were Puffins on another rock and get all excited, "Look, there's a whole bunch of them over there!" She'd take the binoculars from me, look and say no, those are ... (another island bird) - and point out that, although they were black and white, they didn't have orange legs and see how they were not as fat as the Puffins? She was patient with my enthusiasm. She told me that once she was lying on her belly at the edge of the cliff painting the scenery and a wind came and Poof! all her paintbrushes flew off the cliff edge into the sea! At one point she turned to the sea behind us, off the southern coast and pointed out Jack's boat heading in. It was a tiny speck in the ocean, but it would take us a while to get back to the car. We needed to head out. Before we left the cliff there was one thing I needed to do first. Leaning against the sturdy wooden fence, I took off my socks and shoes for the long walk back. 

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

A NEW HOME!

I arrived on Inishturk last Wednesday on the 6:30 ferry. I'd taken the overnight flight Tuesday from Hartford, Connecticut (where I'd been visiting my mom) to Dublin, arriving at 5:15 a.m. I'd had nightmares about this part of the journey...from plane to bus to train to shuttle to ferry...but it went so smoothly I took it as a sign that I was in the right place at the right time. I was exhausted when the plane landed as I'd slept less than 2 hours and I knew I had a long day of travel ahead of me. But I followed my instincts and got on the correct bus to the rail station and the machine took my credit card to buy the ticket (note to self: buying the ticket online would have saved me half the ticket price) and I made the 7:35 train to Westport. The train was comfortable but when we stayed at one stop for over 20 minutes without anyone getting on or off, I got concerned. I had to catch a connecting train and I watched the minutes ticking away. When we finally started down the tracks again, I was already 15 minutes late. My stop came up and lo and behold! there, on the other side of the platform was the Westport train waiting with doors open. I settled onto the new train and nodded off a few times during the 90 minute ride. 
Arriving in Westport was a joy as it's a small, tidy town and reminds me a lot of Fredericksburg with about the same population. It will be my source for commerce for my time on Inishturk. Banks, groceries, shops, hotels, restaurants, Westport has everything Inishturk lacks and thank goodness, as I wouldn't love Inishturk near as much if it had those things. With my backpack on and wheeling my small suitcase, I headed into town. I tried to get money from 2 ATM's and neither would cough up a dime. I had a stash of euros and had planned to get groceries on my credit card (fingers crossed it would work), so I figured I was okay. I lingered over my lunch of bland soup and brown bread until the owner began looking at me suspiciously, so I moved on. I had hours to kill until I could catch the shuttle to the ferry and with my pack and suitcase (and being seriously tired), I had no desire to look in shops or walk around town. Across the street to the grocery store I went, loaded my luggage into the grocery cart and commenced to pick up supplies for my first week on the island. Coffee, yogurt, milk, veggies, spaghetti...I found myself calculating how much I could carry to my cottage if it was raining and no one met me at the harbour. My credit card worked (YES!) and I wheeled my luggage and groceries to the back of the store where I'd meet the shuttle to take me to Roonaugh Pier and the ferry to Inishturk. There was a bench there by the open door and I took a seat for what I knew would be a 3 hour wait. It was chilly and rained on and off. Folks would nod at me as they walked in and look at me puzzled as they walked out later. A little boy walked in followed by his mother and sister. He looked over at me and said, "Diane!" It was little Jamie, the son of Catherine, the owner of the cottage I'm renting. We sat and visited for a bit, then they left to get their groceries. When they came back out, while Catherine and I were talking, her phone rang and it was Mary Catherine from the island. She handed the phone to me and I got the wonderful news that she would pick me up at the harbour! 
The shuttle finally arrived and the driver helped me load my bags. I settled in for the 20 minute ride with the 3 schoolchildren from the island (yes, a total of 3 kids attend the island school) who had been to the mainland for a field trip with their teacher. We arrived at the pier just as the ferry did and as the passengers got off I saw a number of familiar faces. Hugs and promises made to catch up later as our baggage was loaded and off we went. The seas were a bit rough, with intermittent rain and gusty winds. It was nice to have folks to talk to as my stomach was turning everytime the boat did. We finally docked at the harbour and I was so glad to see Mary Catherine's sweet face! We loaded my bags in her car and took the short drive to my gate. There we carried everything through another gate and into the house. A fire burned in the coal stove and the house felt cozy and warm. Was I ever glad to be home! I put away groceries while running to the living room window to gaze at the ocean. 
I had landed in Paradise! I put off unpacking my luggage and went out my front gate (not to be confused with the side gate) and down a small path to a door...my private entrance to Jo's courtyard. Jo is the reason I came to this island in the first place last year-answering a posting on the WWOOFing Ireland site-and my cottage is next door to her house. She looked well and healthy. She had set the fire in my coal stove and I thanked her for the most welcoming gesture. After having a glass of brandy I headed back home - with a plate of salmon, vegetables and potatoes for lunch the next day. Mary Catherine came back by and dropped off a steak dinner, so I slowly ate while watching the tide come in. I had made it back.
 A gift of rhubarb from my neighbor Maggie, the island nurse. 
Wild primroses grow all over the island.
My first mostly foraged dinner. Spaghetti with mussels and garlicky dandelion greens.
Stunning views off the cliffs on the northeast side of the island.
Tranaun Beach



Wednesday, January 11, 2017

On New Years Resolutions

I've been wanting to write a post on making New Years resolutions for months. Or rather on NOT making them and how well that has served me. In the autumn of 2013 I was in the midst of a divorce and feeling pretty lost. I noticed that the word CLEANSE kept popping up. I'd open a book and the word would jump off the page. I'd be in line at the grocery story and overhear a conversation that included the word. It would come to me in my morning meditation. I decided that for 2014, CLEANSE would be my word, my focus. As there was much to clean up after over 10 years of marriage (both literally and figuratively), it seemed a good choice. I also decided that I'd quit making New Years resolutions and just have a word ready to put into action every New Year. Well,  2014 was indeed a year of cleansing and I made great progress in taking back the house and property and ridding myself of excess things, a process that continues to this day. In late summer of 2014, the word SERVICE began to surface in much the same way CLEANSE did the year before. So I made the decision that SERVICE would be my focus for 2015 and in so many ways it informed that year. I began volunteering in the kitchen of Haven for Hope, a massive homeless shelter in San Antonio. My youngest daughter Lily had open heart surgery in Dallas and I stayed in North Texas for over a month helping with her recovery. In September my mom had a knee replacement and I took a 2 week shift in her care along with my sisters. Mid summer of 2015 the word MERCY came to me. It didn't pop up repeatedly, it just showed up once with such presence that I knew it was the word for 2016. I had just decided that in 2016 I would take my epic trip overseas and I knew for certain MERCY was what I should focus on. About a month later Pope Francis declared December 8 to November 20 the Year of Mercy.
 During my travels I was the recipient of MERCY over and over. I experienced kindness and compassion like I've never known. I also had the opportunity to offer MERCY to others. It helped create an atmosphere of favor that continued well after I returned home.
While traveling, my constant companion was a book by Elizabeth Gilbert entitled Big Magic.
I would sometimes devour chapter after chapter on a long train ride or ruminate over one sentence for weeks. I came across a word in the book that intrigued me. EUDAIMONIA. It was mentioned only once, but I couldn't get past it. I began studying EUDAEMONISM and as a result I've become an avowed EUDAEMONIST and it became my word for 2017.
From the Merriam Webster dictionary:
EUDAEMONISM- a theory that the highest ethical goal is happiness and personal well-being.
Another definition: A system of ethics that bases moral value on the likelihood that good actions will produce happiness.
Imagine that! Good actions producing happiness! What a novel idea! Well, not really...the Greek philosopher Plato is attributed with this word, although he might have just expanded on an idea of Socrates. Meaning it's a concept that has been around a long, long time. Nevertheless, I know that this is the way I want to live my life. This is what feels good and right.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Happy New Year!

2017! Can you believe it? And with the new year comes change. When I returned to the states in mid August, I spent time with my family in Connecticut and then visited my grandsons in Virginia before heading to the Dallas area to see Lily. We visited for one night before she drove me to Kaufman, about an hour southeast of Dallas where I spent 11 days at a silent meditation retreat. No phones, no books, no communication at all with any of the other 50 or so women. There were 50 men at the compound as well, but we were segregated at all times except during group meditation where we sat on opposite sides of the massive dhamma hall. 10+ hours a day simply meditating. It was exactly what I needed after traveling alone for over 6 months. My re-entry back home was jarring to say the least, but I dove in and began the massive clean-up and purge it demanded. I cooked for my very last Thanksgiving at Cypress Springs as my beloved boss, Robert Parker passed away while I was gone. It was my 14th Thanksgiving cooking for a group of folks that had become family and it was beyond difficult to say goodbye to the people and the ranch. It was by far the most wonderful job I've ever had. It's been great to be with my kids and grandkids, to visit friends and work on my house. I am in the process of sorting and packing up 25 years worth of possessions in anticipation of moving into a much smaller house I'm building on my property. My plan is to rent the big house and move into the commercial kitchen while the new place is being built. Already the commercial kitchen is being dismantled and it's been bittersweet. It is a place that holds so many sweet memories of late nights baking, dancing and singing in the kitchen with all the ovens on and the smell of yeasty goodness in the air. But now it will house me for a few months and I'm grateful I'll have a place to stay that I love so much. I don't plan on getting the new house in move in ready condition, but really just dried in and secure-a place to store my furniture and my pared down possessions. I'm leaving the end of April to move to Ireland for a year to Inishturk Island. A sweet little cottage came available for rent right next door to where I stayed on the island and before I left I made arrangements to rent it beginning May 1st. I have to admit that, although it's been great to be back, a big part of my heart remains in Inishturk. Not a day goes by that I don't think of the island and its people. It will be an interesting time I believe. Winters are quite brutal-no snow and it seldom freezes, but bitter winds and almost constant rain. The ferry, which generally runs 12 times a week, sometimes doesn't run at all due to rough seas. For months it becomes a locked in situation...you grab any opportunity to go to the mainland because you never know when the opportunity will come again. For some strange reason that is an attractive idea to me. And I stay amazed that this gal who always considered herself solar powered is moving somewhere that demands wool socks in the summer. Ahhh, change.
My cottage is the one on the far left with the red door.