some words for living locally

Erica Van Horn


11 September Monday

I cannot go near to the book barn without colliding with a bee. The honeybees in the roof are wildly busy.  They are making up for the many weeks of wet weather this summer. Even if I am working in the garden at a distance, the bees crash into my head and my body. I try not to swat at them because I know that makes them angry so most of the time I just stay away, except to walk in and out of the barn. Their entrance is right above the door so it is impossible to avoid them completely. Beekeepers everywhere are bemoaning the poor honey production this year because it has been too wet for the bees to do their job. All of our honey is all up in the roof, completely inaccessible to anyone.  The Clonmel Honey show is coming up in a few weeks. There is discussion and worry that this will be the worst showing ever. The Irish for Clonmel is CLUAIN MEALA which translates as Meadow of Honey. The Honey Show is a big event. But without honey it will be less of an event.

12 September Tuesday

Tommie is in the care home in Clogheen. First he went to hospital with his ongoing lung infection and while he was there he contracted the new variant of Covid. After two weeks in isolation, he has been sent to St Theresa’s but he is still not allowed any visitors. I send him cards.

13 September Wednesday

There are more spiders around than ever.  I learned on the radio that at this time of year the males are out hunting the females to reproduce and the females are all hiding. The reason for the hiding is not clear. There are enormous numbers of spiders on the prowl. I do not know how to recognize a male from a female. There are large wood spiders with hairy legs trying and failing to climb the slippery walls of the bathtub. There are delicate spiders with long thin legs like fine hairs and all kinds of quick moving tiny ones and along with the massive quantity of spiders there are huge droopy cobwebs in every corner of every room. They never talk about the cobwebs on the radio.

14 September Thursday

There is a tendency for any walking path in woods that is gentle enough for children and families to be littered with little doorways for the fairies. The small doorways might be made of painted wood, or the doors might be colored plastic. They give the children something to rush around and discover while they are out getting fresh air. I am not a fan of these little doorways. I hate them. There is never just one doorway. There are usually 20 or 30 in a given area. I avoid any place where the fairy doors have invaded. The window in the hardware shop has a display of little fairy figurines and several little doorways. Added into the mix is a variety of Fairy products, which have nothing to do with fairies. Fairy is an English brand name for washing-up liquid and laundry soap. It is difficult to decide which idea came first in this display.

15 September Friday

My mother never gave us carbonated drinks except when we were sick in bed, and then we were given a tiny glass of flat warm ginger ale. All soft drinks were called Tonic in New Hampshire, but we were allowed none of them, so flat ginger ale seemed like a treat. When I left New Hampshire, I learned to say Soda instead of Tonic. In some parts of the US people call it Pop. And some people call it all Coke, even if it is not Coca Cola, but another flavor of fizzy drink. When I moved to Ireland, my vocabulary had to adjust again. Even though I never drink these drinks, I need to know the correct word: carbonated drinks are called Minerals.

16 September Saturday

Everyone feels beaten up. Twenty-eight hours of straight heavy rain will do that to a person. The rain fell hard and heavily without a moment of pause. Many people said they never stepped outside their door once all day and all night. The roads were running with brown water. The water was full of topsoil rushing off the fields at speed.

17 September Sunday

For some time and in some places, milk cartons had pictures of missing children along with police phone numbers to ring if one spotted a lost child. It was something to read while eating breakfast. Now there is a Q-code on our milk cartons. If we click on the code we can hear the sounds of cows in the field. Or we can just go outside and eat our cereal. There are plenty of cows in either Joe’s field or the other Joe’s field. We do not need the recorded version.

18 September Monday

Raspberries. I am picking raspberries as fast as I can in between the cloud bursts. I am also picking blackberries, but my priority is always raspberries. I like raspberries more than blackberries and I hate for them to get soggy in this endless rain.

19 September Tuesday

The news is full of The Ploughing. Today is the first of the annual three day event. The radio has been noisy with excitement and anticipation for weeks now. There is new terminology to accompany the types of competiton: reversible, conventional, stubble, three-furrow and two furrow. This year the event is being held in County Laois. The location changes every year but the event is always plagued with bad weather, terrible backups of traffic and parking issues in places where parking has never before been a problem, free servings of Flahavan’s porridge, and lots of mud. It is the place where farmers from all over the country gather to see new machinery and to learn new methods for various jobs, and how to tackle the climate issues as European laws evolve. Politicians know that it is important that they attend The National Ploughing Competitions. They need to be available to answer questions and they need to have the right solutions to problems if they are going to have any chance to be re-elected. The Ploughing itself is a National Sport and the Irish winners will be rushing off to the European Championships in Denmark soon, along with their tractors.

20 September Wednesday

I like to see what is going on as I walk through the farmyard, but most days there is little to see. The road makes two sharp right angles and we call it The Dog’s Leg. High gates block off a lot of the activity. The machines get bigger and bigger and they do more and more of the work. People are less visible. Ann picks apples at this time of year, but she only picks once. The rest of the apples fall onto the ground and rot. Otherwise women are not visible at the farm. The newest farm worker helping Joe is named Rafael. He is from Brazil.

21 September Thursday

I have seen the young fox three times this week. Each time I have been walking in the boreen. When he sees me, he leaps high into the underbrush, and is gone almost before I can register his presence.

22 September Friday

The nights are cool and the mornings are misty and cold. Already the sun sets earlier and earlier, but there are plenty of flowers still in bloom. Daisies, honeysuckle, purple loosestrife, buttercups, rose hips, wild fuchsia and meadowsweet fill the hedgerows, and in the garden the roses, daisies, lavender and Lady’s Mantle keep blooming. Lady’s Mantle is perfect for this climate because it’s leaves look splendid with drops of water.

23 September Saturday

Today there was a Twenty Year Anniversary Celebration at the Farmer’s Market. The day was celebrated with lots of balloons and pennants and a group of musicians from The Cahir Men’s Shed. Their music was not lively. Everything sounded like a dirge and there were too many of them to fit under the little tent covering when the rain started. Pat the Fishmonger made little sandwiches for each customer with cream cheese and his smoked salmon.

24 September Sunday

Slugs abound. This wet weather is just what they like.

25 September Monday

Beautiful sunshine today after yesterday non-stop pouring rain. Yesterday was not a day to step outside if it could be avoided. I walked through the farm as a long truck was backing up to deliver wood shavings. This is what the cows stand on on top of their slatted mats. The driver dumped a huge load of shavings and now it will take a few days for Joe to move it all from that pile to wherever he stores it until it is needed for the cows. Then the driver will come and dump another load. Or two loads. The shavings in the yard smell wonderful.

26 September Tuesday

I visited Tommie today with a large bowl of raspberries and a jug of heavy cream.  He arrived home yesterday in the afternoon. He had been away for nearly five weeks. By seven o’clock he had had his tea and he told me that he felt depressed. He felt lonely and alone.  His neighbor  came over with two sausages on a plate and he told him to go away.  He did not know if the sausages were for him or if Pat just wanted to display them to him. He did not want to see Pat. He said he missed all of the nurses and the activity of people around him with food and cups of tea and smiles. His hair looks thick and shiny.   I told him that it looked nice and he said they were good to shampoo it for him at St .Theresea’s. He said he doesn’t bother with shampoo much himself.

28 September Thursday

Yesterday we were heartily thrashed by Storm Agnes.  I do not know why the naming of storms has gone from Betty to Agnes.  Why would we be going backwards through the alphabet?  The winds were fierce and a lot of people lost their electricity.  Even inside the house it was hard to think for the noise of the gusting wind. Today the winds are weaker but still blustery. There is nothing but the weather to focus upon.

Squeezing the Figs

10 August Thursday

Rain has been falling on and off every day and every night. We can no longer remember the weather being any other way. The sun comes out and the day is suddenly hot. Everyone relaxes. Hunched shoulders drop and people stand taller. Then it rains again and people crunch their bodies again in attempts to make themselves small while scurrying to get under cover.

11 August Friday

Rolls of Silage Tape have appeared on the counter at the shop.  It is a reminder to those farmers who need it to remember to buy it.  The silage is being cut and baled in between cloudbursts.  The men in tractors and large cutting machinery race from field to field during even the briefest of dry spells.

12 August Saturday

I am Squeezing the Figs. I run up the stone steps to get close to the higher branches where I can reach the largest figs. I make the trip to squeeze four or five times a day. There are not many figs this year and if one of them is going to soften, I want to be sure to get it before the birds do. They will rip open the thin skins and eat away at the fruit inside. I want to find each fig first.

13 August Sunday

These wet days are warm, so windows are open. Open windows become an invitation to slugs. I never really know if they enter the bathroom through a window or if they ooze up through the plug hole in the bathtub, or the sink. They just appear. At night. And always in a surprising place. I am never happy to find a slug in the bathroom. I thought that by now I had been startled by a slug in every imaginable and disturbing location. Tonight I grabbed the tube of toothpaste and found my hand squeezing a large slug that was stretched the length of the tube. Lucky for me, I did not squeeze hard enough to kill it nor for its body to ooze through my fingers. I scraped the slug off the tube on the edge of the open window and got on with the job of cleaning my teeth.

15 August Tuesday

So far the birds have had one fig. I have had three. There are a lot of small fruits that will never grow large enough to ripen. It is not going to be a large crop this year so I am keeping count.

16 August Wednesday

We thought the thrush in the garden was one thrush singing non-stop. Now we recognize that there are several voices. They sing and sing and sing all day. There is not a moment of quiet.

18 August Friday

A storm is coming. It promises to be a big one. It has been named: Storm Betty. One woman said she tried to go to Dunnes’ Stores but the car park was full because everyone is rushing to get their food shopping in before the threatened rain and winds and floods descend. There are discussions about whether to bring in the lawn furniture, or maybe just the cushions? Since we have barely sat outdoors all summer some people have already put their lawn chairs away. Some people never brought them out of the shed. What about small plants in plastic pots: will they blow away? And Hanging Baskets are another worry. Preparations are frantic. People are feeling uncertain because they might well be trapped by floods or they fear that their electricity might be cut off. They want to be ready for every possibility, so everyone is rushing about so that they are not the ones to be caught out by Betty. The storm has quickly gone from Storm Betty to just Betty. Everyone feels familiar and on a first name basis with her.

19 August Saturday

In this part of the country, we escaped the Betty’s battering without much damage. Some branches are down but no roads are blocked. Other areas lost electricity and there was some terrible flooding. Betty is already fading as a topic of discussion.

20 August Sunday

Mickey Nugent died this week. He died in hospital but he was brought home to be laid out. A neighbour asked Tommie if he would like to go to the wake, so he was driven up to the house on Friday evening. He said he felt like The Pope for the welcome he received. The warm greetings and the friends he saw made him even sadder to know that Mickey was gone. He told me that Mickey was the kind of friend who would Fill His Car before he drove off to any event.  He never headed off for a match nor a funeral with Empty Seats. Tommie was never unhappy to be taken on an journey with Mickey as he himself rarely felt confident about locating any place that he did not know already. Mickey was never bothered with such worries. He was Without Fear. Tommie said that Mickey was both a Generous Man and a Gentleman. He said that several times. I think he enjoyed the sound of the words together. Tommie had decided to stay at home on Saturday because his knee was so painful, but after he heard about all the musicians who arrived carrying their instruments into the church, he regretted that he had not attended the Funeral Mass. He was sorry to have missed the musical farewell for his friend.

21 August Monday

I have a note to remind myself to keep checking the figs, but really, I do not need a note. I am obsessed with the figs. I bring them into the house when there is just the smallest amount of softness, a mere suggestion of squeezability. The figs then ripen in the house slowly over a few days or a week. There is no hurry. Once they are inside the birds cannot destroy them. Once they are inside I am happy to wait.

22 August Tuesday

The compost bucket is an ongoing problem in this dreadful endless rain. We all commiserate about the weather. It is important to take the compost out when the weather is dry. It is not pleasant to carry it out in lashing rain and to open my compost heap especially with its sliding heavy cover that no longer slides with ease. Emptying the bucket before it is full is becoming even more of an issue since the handle broke. It is now necessary for me to clutch the bucket to my chest with both arms as I walk. If I wait until the bucket is full up, it is heavy and if it is raining too, I must perform a staggery kind of a run to complete the task.

23 August Wednesday

Lads is a collective noun. People are described as Lads. Not Mates. Not You All. Not Guys. The Lads might be a clatter of small children, or it might be a rugby team made up of grown men. The Lads might be out on a Stag Night or The Lads might be out on a Hen Party. The word Lads does not seem to be restricted to one sex or the other. It is just a word for a grouping of people where names are not the issue. I might be mistaken, but it seems that Lads is always plural. Not Lad, but Lads. As soon as I decide this, I find an exception.

24 August Thursday

This endless wet means that there is always mud and there are always puddles. As a result, whatever trousers I am wearing, I always have a smudge or a clump of mud on the calf of my right leg. This is where the back of my leg rubs as I step out of the car. The muck splashes up onto the bottom of the car as I drive through the farmyard. If it is a warm day, the smudge is on the back of my bare leg. If the smudge is a green-ish color, it is not mud, but manure. It is green because the cows are feasting on nothing but grass in their fields.

25 August Friday

I watched as a man opened the back of his vehicle to load up a new gas bottle. Another man carried the bottle out to him and then he sat down on the back of the car. The two men talked quietly for a while and then they loaded in the gas bottle. One man drove away. The other one walked to wherever he was going.

26 August Saturday

Breda and I consulted the weather and we picked a time. I walked out and waited for her at the end of the boreen and we drove up to the Boulders in her car. We figured we had two, maybe two and a half hours, before the next cloudburst. We tied lightweight rain jackets around our waists and set off with long strides on our walking poles. We walked 40 minutes uphill to the cairn, with the sheep scattering and rushing away from us. We dropped down towards the river, just as the sky opened and the rain bucketed down hard. We were unable to get our jackets on before we were soaked to the skin. We hoped it might be a short downpour but the rain kept lashing down. It was hard and it was heavy. There was nothing for it but to head back to the Boulders and the car. There was not one tree nor shelter of any kind. We could not run because there was so much mud. We lurched and slipped along as quickly as we were able. The rain never let up for one minute. It felt like hail. By the time I got home I stripped off every bit of wet clothing and jumped into a hot shower. When I came out, I saw Simon’s shirt and trousers hanging off the rail. He was not interested in my report of heavy rain. He had his own report. He had been sitting out in the sunshine where he fell asleep in his chair. He was woken up by the rain pouring down upon him. He got completely drenched in the short run back to the house.

28 August Monday

I could not pass the farm because the gate was across the road. I shouted around the gate to the man at the cattle crush and he shouted to Joe and Joe came and opened the gates to let the car through. He told me that they were testing the cows to see which ones were in calf. When I returned two hours later, I had to shout up the yard again and Joe came down again and let me drive across. I asked how many calves he was expecting and he muttered that he feared they would never be finished with the testing because he had to keep letting men or machines or me in and out of the yard or up or down the road.

30 August

We ate caramelized figs on a pancake. Now I am slowly collecting more. The indoor ripening system is working well. The birds are deprived and we are winning. I have picked buckets full of apples from the meadow, both off the trees and the windfalls off the ground. The freezer is not going to be able to accommodate all the fruit I am gathering. And now the raspberries are ripening fast. I need to go out and pick them every afternoon. Overripe wild damsons are falling off the branches in the boreen. The branches are too high for me to reach. Four years ago I parked the car on the corner under the tree and I used a ladder to climb up and pick the plums while standing up on the curved roof of the car. I no longer feel safe using this method.

1 September Friday

The man stood outside the station and he pointed to a tree. Everyone who walked by followed his finger and looked up at the tree. There were not a lot of people around. Some were waiting to board a bus and others had just gotten down off a bus. Some were just off the train. We all followed the man’s directive. We all looked up at the tree. I heard a cat miaowing. Every person responded to the sounds of the crying cat. Each person stopped and looked and looked for the cat in the tree. After some minutes, the man laughed and said, “It’s ME! I am the cat. The cat is me. Can you give me some money for lunch?” Most people gave him some money. They were impressed with his act of throwing his voice into the tree. They were appreciative of his talent of imitating a cat in distress and they were relieved that there was not a real cat in trouble. Not everyone gave him money. Some people rushed away, embarrassed to have been caught up in his trick.

2 September Saturday

We would not have bought the strawberries. They were pale and sickly looking. And we have too much fruit to eat at home. The girl at the market assured us that they were the sweetest of berries and they were only pale because there has been so little sun. She explained that we are all suffering from a lack of sun. She said they were delicious and that we needed to eat them all today or they would disintegrate into a mush. We began to eat them right after lunch and we did not stop until they were gone. The girl was right. They were the best strawberries we have ever eaten.

4 September Monday

I am picking raspberries every day. Some get taken to friends. Some go into the freezer. Most of them we just eat.  I am seeing the blackberries ripening all up the boreen and I am now feeling the pressure to start picking them too.

The Long Shed

13 July Thursday

Peter and Davi arrived and tore out the messy mix-up of three or four versions of bedraggled string and wire fencing. They cleared the land and installed a new length of fence to replace what had fallen down six years ago. It was a job that has needed doing for a long time and now it is done. To accommodate the rising price of all building materials we now have a fence with two bars rather than with the traditional three. I cannot wait for the cows to reappear in Joe’s field so that I can look at them looking at me over a wooden fence.

14 July Friday

There was a gap in the rain. I walked the one kilometre up the boreen with my clippers wearing a pair of heavy gloves. I cut back brambles and thorny wild rose branches on the right hand side of the track as I walked. When I reached the tarmacadam road, I turned around and came back down cutting the other side. It started raining before I reached the top road but I continued with my job thinking that the drizzle would not last. It did last. The drizzle became solid rain and the rain became heavier and heavier. I was soaking wet by the time I reached the farm. I was even wetter when I got home. The rain and drenched clothing matched my mood of deep sadness because my friend Tessa died last night. Tessa died last night and I cried the whole way up the boreen and the whole way down again. The rain did not matter one bit.

15 July Saturday

Picking blackcurrants over several days has been a constant activity in between downpours and cloudbursts. Today the first batch of berries was gently cooking in a large heavy cast-iron saucepan. I turned the temperature up for one last blast of heat and I left the room and the blackcurrants burned. The terrible smell filled the kitchen. The whole mixture had to be thrown away. The pan is a mess and may have to be thrown away too. I am so distracted and saddened by my dear friend’s death that I cannot do anything right.

17 July Monday

There has been hard lashing all day rain along with gusty winds. Everywhere I go, I hear discussions about the drying of clothes. It is an enormous struggle. It is a struggle so it is a point of ongoing conversation. The Broken Washing Line is a problem. When the washing is hanging out and rain falls steadily, the clothes get wet and heavy. Then they get even heavier. Then the line snaps, and depending on the amount of mud below the line, the clothes or sheets must all be washed again. Some people own dryers. Many revert to The Long Shed in weeks of endless rain. The Long Shed is a stone building which might have been built for animals but now it adapts itself to any number of functions. There are two short sides and one long side built with stone. The other long side is open to the weather. There is no need for a door.  If a person owns a Long Shed, they are certain to have a washing line stretched along inside. The washing can be hung in the Long Shed and it will get the whipping of the wind but not the direct wetting of a cloudburst. Donal told me that he thinks it is nothing more than Blind Optimism that dries the washing in this country.

18 July Tuesday

The figs look terrific. They are large. They are large but they are as hard as rocks. I squeeze and test them every day but there is no softening of the flesh. These figs are not even good enough to cook. I am waiting and the birds are waiting but with the weather we are having this summer these figs may never get any closer to being ready.

20 July Thursday

I walked into the small car park near to Lismore Castle with my arms full of Cavolo Nero and two boxes of small tomatoes. I did not have a bag with me so I was balancing everything on top of my flat parcel and a book and I was trying to eat the delicious tiny tomatoes at the same time. An older woman came rushing over and asked if I was there for the Fish Man. I had to stop chewing in order to answer her. Before I could say that I was not there for the Fish Man, she pointed and said that a fifteen seat bus had parked in the place where the fish man always parks his van. She was worried about where he would park because his regular spot was taken. I apologised for my full mouth and I offered her a tomato. She studied them for a while and then she chose a small yellow one. She held it snug in her hand and she asked me what she should do with it.

21 July Friday

The calves are making a racket up in Joe’s top field. They are trying out their vocal chords and moaning and bleating all day long. They make a terrible noise answering one another, or talking over one another. It sounds like they are being tortured. They have been there all week. They do not stop their noise until complete darkness has fallen. They start up again early in the first light of dawn. I cannot hear the morning birdsong for the cattle noise. They are teenagers or maybe adolescents. They are young and they are exploring the sounds they are able to make. There is so much variation that I have been trying to find words to describe their emanations. There is a small bit of Mooing and sounds that one identifies with cows but there is Grunting. Bellowing. Moaning. Squealing. Squawking. Groaning. Grumbling. Screaming. Rumbling. Screeching. Except for the mooing it is not much like cow sounds, even though that is exactly what it is.

22 July Saturday

We took a punnet of perfect plums to Tommie and he started to eat them immediately even as he talked with us. He loves fresh fruit and he cannot resist it in the way that other people adore chocolate. He studied each plum for a few minutes before he happily bit into it. He exclaimed about how delicious and how sweet it was. On biting into the the fourth one, he said, “This plum is at the Top of its Game.”

23 July Sunday
There was a small red tractor parked in front of the shop. It was old. It had no windows in the sides nor in the back but it did have a windscreen. The owner had cut himself a thick chunk of foam to cushion his seat.

24 July Monday

The Parish News announced that Two First Class Relics are coming to Cahir on the 29th of the month. The relics are Padre Pio’s Heart and Glove Bandage and it is hoped that they will draw a large crowd.

25 July Tuesday

The bucket has been placed under the tap to catch drips and over-spills. The bucket has been carefully cemented into position below the tap, but there is no hole at the bottom of the bucket to direct water into a drain, or perhaps there was a hole but it has become clogged, so when the bucket fills up it overflows anyway.

26 July Wednesday

It has been many weeks now since the Boil Water Notice has been in place. Everyone is advised to boil their water before drinking it because of the endless rain. Run off from the constant downpours has contaminated the reservoirs. There are no free glasses of water in restaurants or cafes. Water must be purchased. I find myself surprised each time I am refused water. We have our water directly from our well, so we are free from the Boil Notice.

28 July Friday

There are always piles of things in the farmyards that I pass:  things ready to be used and others ready to gotten rid of. Sometimes the use of something looks obvious, but sometimes it is a mystery.

29 July Saturday

The Annual Mass Rock Mass is to be held today up in the Knockmealdowns. It is usually held in August. Or maybe it is usually in August because it gets cancelled due to bad weather until it eventually takes place in August. Anyway. It is supposed to take place today. Subject to Weather. Tractors and trailers will be available to take those people who cannot walk across the mountain to the rock.

30 July Sunday

It was nearly ten o’clock, but we had not yet turned on a light in the house. The television was on and the light from outside was just beginning to drop. It was dusk. I noticed a flapping and a flying of something over our heads. I thought it was a large butterfly or a moth. I pointed it out and Simon said that it was a bat. We tried to steer the bat towards an open window. I put on a hat. We moved it from room to room by turning out the lights in one room and turning them on in another. The bat went round and round and round high up along the ceiling never going anywhere near the wide open windows. I waved a long stick but it was useless. The bat ignored my stick and my directional encouragements. It took about forty minutes but eventually we got the bat to the kitchen and then the next step was out into the dropping evening light. Simon asked why I had put on my hat. As a child I was told that bats have a tendency to land in hair and get tangled and then bite the head and the person would get rabies and die. That was American advice. Animals in this country do not carry rabies, but my first instinct was to put on a hat even though my hair is far too short to ensnare a bat.

1 August Tuesday

Dungarvan Queens are the big news.  They are advertised with excitement as Balls Of Flour.  This means they will explode into a pile of dust on the plate, ready for copious amounts of gravy and butter to moisten them.  Balls of Flour do not excite me. They fill my heart with dread.

2 August Wednesday

Even when it is not raining the days continue to be grey and gruesome. it is not warm. It is not cheerful to wake up and to look out the window. The sun does break through between showers but there are no rainbows. Neither the sun nor the blue sky last for long. There is always the promise of more rain to come soon. Cloudbursts. Showers. Downpours. Drizzle. Mist. Lashing. Desperate. Bucketing. Mizzling. Heavy. Light. Occasional. Frequent. Persistent. The weather announcers try to use a variety of words in an attempt to distract us from the forecasts of more of the same.