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.