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