THE JOURNAL

some words for living locally

Erica Van Horn

The bees walk.

27 October Wednesday

Bees are still coming into the house on sunny afternoons. They come in and they often spend the night, but they are no longer buzzing around noisily in the afternoons. They walk. The bees walk or else they stand around in one place for a long time. They can stand in one spot for more than an hour.  Then they walk to another place. There is not much flying. I think they are preparing for winter sleep. They are a lot easier to catch.

12 November Friday

Our compost heap is always evolving. It was once a disheveled pile of vegetables scraps and leaves. Now the heap is less of a heap. It is inside a wooden box with a lid on hinges. This is the latest manifestation. At some point, this will rot and the pieces of old pallet wood will fall apart and then the compost heap will be slightly different or a lot different. Again.

I have never found a rat in the compost. I have never even seen a rat in the compost, but I am always aware that there might be a rat in the compost, so I am always on guard. I used to talk to myself out loud whenever I went near to the compost heap with the idea that just hearing my voice would make a rat take cover. Rats are bold and brave. I doubt that my voice would frighten or disturb them. For nearly three years we have had the compost contained in this wooden box. Before I open the lid of the box, I knock on the top. I also keep a heavy stick nearby. The stick is not a weapon. I use the stick to make a few loud thumps on the wood. The stick makes a louder noise than my knuckles can make. I do not want to open the box and to have a rat jump out at me. Nor do I want to find a rat just looking at me without bothering to move. If a rodent is present and active inside I want it to run away so that I do not have to.

14 November Sunday

It is a very small shop. The sign requests that only two people be inside at the same time. I could see one masked man talking to Seamus at the counter. I was ready to pay for my petrol. After waiting outside a few moments, I decided that there was no one else in there so I walked in the open door. The two men turned to me immediately. Seamus asked if I knew about Flax. I said that I did know about Flax and that I ate milled flax most mornings. Then he said: Walnuts. Do you eat Walnuts? I said Yes, I eat Walnuts. I love Walnuts. They are delicious and good for me too. He asked if I ate porridge. When I answered yes to that too, he turned to the masked man and said, “She is way ahead of us. She is doing everything right. We need to up our game.”

15 November Monday

Our well has been fixed and disinfected with an elaborate system that takes the water through a filter and then through an ultraviolet light and then through a salt water tank that also functions as a water softener.  The complete apparatus is installed on the back wall of the shed, near to the pump, with a small tube emptying some of the salty water outside. It all looks very scientific. I go out to look at it several times every day. We should have done this years ago. The man who did the installation was named Gearoid. For me, Irish names are difficult to say and even more difficult to spell. His son, Aaron worked with him. Aaron made dozens of trips to and from the van to bring in the tools and to carry things away again. Each time Gearoid asked for something he used Aaron’s name in the request and each time Aaron did the job his father thanked him and used his name again. He used long involved sentences. Gearoid would say, “Now Aaron I would be hoping you could go out and into the van and find the drill with the long extension that we will be needing to make a hole through this stone wall. When you find the drill, Aaron, I would be hoping that you could bring it to me here now, Aaron. I hope you could do that for me please Aaron.” It was a very formal and quiet working relationship. On completion, Gearoid promised us that our water would be very different from now on. He was right. We use less soap while bathing or doing laundry or washing dishes. The water tastes different. The tea tastes different and we use fewer tea leaves to make a good strong cup.  We marvel and discuss the taste of the water endlessly. We have been buying bottled water to drink for years and have used the Brita filter for tea and coffee water. Now the water from the tap is delicious and it is no longer full of lime or bacteria. No more endless huge jugs of water to buy and lug in from the supermarket and no more plastic bottles to recycle. We should have done this years ago.

17 November Wednesday

Our friend Jim is in the hospital. First he was in Waterford, then he was moved to Clonmel and then he was returned to Waterford and now he is back in Clonmel again. It has been about eight weeks that he has been bouncing back and forth. Sometimes he has been in isolation due to hospital infections. He is old and in a fragile state. When I spoke to him on the telephone his voice was weak. He told me that the physical therapists are now building the strength in his legs so that he can walk again. He is not able to walk by himself yet but he is optimistic that he will improve. The hospital wants him to be able to walk with a frame before they will allow him to leave. Jim tells me that he may get some of the use back in his legs but he fears that he will never go home. One daughter has been named as the single visitor to go into the hospital. Because of Covid, other family and friends are not allowed to visit and because they never know exactly where Jim is, they send get-well cards and messages to his home address, with the understanding that Jim’s daughter will deliver the cards to him in whichever hospital he is in. Today we learned that the daughter has not delivered any of the cards to him. Not one. He has not received a single card nor note wishing him well. The daughter is saving all the cards in large box so that Jim can look at them when he comes home.

18 November Thursday

Jacinta asked me if I thought the new cleanser made the house smell pendy. I asked her what she meant by pendy. She said pendy was the smell of things being a bit musty or a bit damp and old smelling. I said that I did not much like the smell of her cleanser, but I would not call it’s odour pendy.

21 November Sunday
It has been an unseasonably mild autumn. The nights are cold but most days have been bright and sunny. 0n the 26th of October, Joe told me that his cows only had another six days to be eating grass out in the fields. He said the grass was not growing so it was time to bring them inside and under cover for the winter. Today is the 21st of November and the cows have been outdoors every day since that conversation. They did not know they only had six remaining days of freedom so they do not know how lucky they are.

Hatchet Boy.

8 October Friday

It was 5.45 in the morning. I was just off a flight from Boston. I walked and walked and walked through the darkness to find Zone 16. The Clonmel bus used to leave from a place closer to the terminal and that place was together with all of the other buses, but my transport is now at Zone 16 and anyway I was looking for a different bus than the one I used to catch. Now I was looking for the JJ Kavanagh bus. The old X8 BusEireann Express has not reappeared since the lock down. It was a long walk in the dark and the cold. It was at least a half a kilometre.  Maybe more.  I was weary. Zone 16 was a long distance from where the other buses stopped. The only thing Zone 16 was near was the small airport church that is called Our Lady Of Heaven. My bus was scheduled to depart at 6.15 but there was no sign announcing it, nor was there a schedule listed in among the other pinned up schedules. There was no reference at all to the bus I was hoping to board.  I was glad to see it pull in at 6, because that gave me time to talk to the driver and to make sure I was in the right place for the right bus. The driver told me that she was indeed going to Clonmel and asked me if I was here on holiday. When I told her that I was not on holiday but that I lived near Clonmel, she wanted to know where I lived and then she told me that she lived just down the road in the village. She told me that she was originally from Ardfinnan and that later she ran the shop in Goatenbridge, but she said it was finally too expensive to keep the shop going. She said she could buy her own groceries in town at the Tesco for cheaper than she could sell them in Goatenbridge. The shop went out of business and she later bought the house in Newcastle when Dessie and Noel were selling up their family land by the river. I knew exactly where she lived. Now she drives the bus first up and then down from Dublin Airport starting at midnight with a lot of stops along the way. I was not even at home yet but already I was being collected and delivered by a neighbour. I wondered why I had never even seen this woman before but she said her hours are erratic and sleep is the single thing she does most of when she is not driving her bus.

10 October Sunday

All week, the afternoons have been warm and bright. The honeybees in the roof of the barn are busy around their entrance. They are out and about in the garden on every bit of blossom available. The door and the windows of the house are all wide open. Some of the bees come into the house and they buzz around the skylight and the windows in the big room. I catch them in a cup when I can reach them and I take them back outdoors, but I cannot catch them all and some get stuck in the house overnight. Mid-morning, as the sun warms the room, the bees wake up and start their buzzing again. I like the sound of their work outside, but day after day, the buzzing is becoming annoying inside.

11 October Monday

It is not the first time. I heard a thump followed by a long whoosh noise as I drove up the boreen. I assumed I had hit a stone because I was going too fast and I thought nothing more of it. By the time I reached the village, my front left tyre was completely flat. I was driving on the wheel rim. I was lucky that Anthony was open and that he was able to replace the tyre for me. 85 euro. He could not be certain what had caused the puncture. We noticed two cuts in the side of the tyre but they seemed too high on the wall to be made by stones and they were definitely not thorns. That was about six weeks ago. Last week Simon was driving out and he felt a bump that he thought was a stone. When he reached the point where the dirt road meets the tar road, his front left tyre was flat. Another cut mark. Another 85 euro. This morning I went out to drive to the village to fetch the newspapers. A completely flat tyre. Another cut mark. Another 85 euro for another new tyre. These are not regular tyres for town vehicles. These are heavy duty tyres produced to accommodate rough terrain like this uneven road.

I have walked up and down the boreen examining both sides carefully. There is nothing sticking out from the rocks and the growth that could be responsible for this kind of cut in the sidewall. I keep making the same walk and I keep trying to figure out what is cutting the tyre, always the same tyre. I do not like to point a finger but I have begun to think about Hatchet Boy. It was about three years ago when I used to see him walking down the track holding a hatchet closely pressed against his leg. He was trying to walk carefully in order to hide the hatchet. He never said hello nor made any gesture of friendliness. He just waited until I had passed with the hatchet held tight to his leg. He was about eleven at the time. Or maybe he was nine. I knew that he walked down the track here and then turned off into the expanse of Cooney’s wood. I assumed he was doing some cutting of trees or branches down there for some project of his own. Maybe he was making a hide-out. I never saw him returning because he could use the route through the woods to get back to his own house. Now I am wondering if perhaps Hatchet Boy has graduated from his small axe to a knife. Perhaps Hatchet Boy is annoyed that our parked vehicle partly blocks the route down the track. Maybe Hatchet Boy is stabbing the tyre to punish us for blocking his way. There is plenty of room to walk even with the motorcar parked off to the left but maybe Hatchet Boy has taken offence. Maybe Hatchet Boy has evolved into a bit of a vigilante. Or maybe he just enjoys using his knife.

Since the most recent cut tyre, I am parking in a different location. I am keeping an eye on the vehicle in the hours after school, especially the hours just before dark. I cannot go to the home of Hatchet Boy and ask his mother is he is now carrying a knife, but I am not sure what to do next.

13 October Wednesday

Last night I found a slug draped over the bristles of my toothbrush.  I threw the slug out the window and washed my toothbrush multiple times in very hot water. Then I brushed my teeth. It is the problem of this time of year. Windows are open and things come in. This morning, I saw a slug stretched out long and thin on a window. I was interested to watch the body so elongated. I wondered how much time it would take for him to move across the expanse of the glass. I was interested but mostly I was glad that this slug was outside and not inside.

14 October Thursday

I had not seen her for many days. Paulina has been studying for exams and she has spending hours and hours every day and every night at her computer. When I greeted her and I inquired as to how she was, she threw up her hands and said, “Don’t ask! Don’t even ask!! My Eyes Are Cut Out of My Head and My Brain is Scorched!”

15 October Friday

Today is grey and wet. The soft drizzle is soaking. Not a bee is buzzing, neither indoors nor out.

 

Tarmac Cactus

14 September Tuesday

There is a single lilac blossom blooming. This is not right. It is September. It is the wrong time of year for lilac to be in bloom. The blossom is scrawny. It looks indecisive about its very presence, but it is there.

15 September Wednesday

Alice brought me a large and long bright yellow squash.  She asked me if I liked aubergine. She offered it to me as an aubergine. She said she did not eat aubergines and she never had eaten aubergine and neither did her husband nor her sons. She told me several times that they had never eaten an aubergine and nor had she and she swore that she would never try one and anyway she said that she had enough different things to eat. I told her that it was not an aubergine but a big yellow squash but she was not bothered with the correction of the word. Whatever it was, she did not want it. It had been given to her and she was eager to give it away to someone else. She had accepted it because it was offered and because of course she wanted to be polite but she did not want an aubergine in her life. Alice brought it to me because she knew that we had a great many spices on our shelves, which was strange enough and odd in itself, and because of that, she thought we might enjoy something different to eat.

16 September Thursday

The side of the building is painted to announce the sale and servicing of LAWNMOWERS, CHAINSAWS, HEDGE TRIMMERS, and BRUSH CUTTERS. The front of the building has no sign and it offers no clue as to what takes place inside.

17 September Friday

The small fuzzy caterpillars arrive every year at  this time. They move quickly. Wherever I walk on a stretch of road they are rushing to cross. These speedy caterpillars are everywhere. When I see one I call it a Tarmac Cactus, but now I am told that it’s local name is a Hairy Molly.

18 September Saturday

Each week, Ned Lonergan brings his carefully hand turned bowls and boards and platters to sell at the farmer’s market in Cahir. Every bowl is engraved on the bottom with a wood burning tool. He writes his name and the date and the type of wood he has used to make the bowl. Each item is carefully oiled. The chair he brings for himself to sit in is a completely different kind of home-made.

19 September Sunday

I am picking raspberries twice a day. They are plentiful. In the morning I go out to gather a small bowl full quickly, just enough to add to our two portions of cereal. In the morning the leaves are wet. The mornings already feel like autumn and they are heavy with dew.   The leaves are wet so my sleeves get wet.  My sleeves are always soaked after the picking, so every morning I have to make a decision whether to eat my breakfast in my dressing gown with the sopping sleeves, or to go and get dressed for the day before tucking in to my cereal. In late afternoon, I go out again and gather a larger amount of the berries. These I freeze or take to friends, or I set them aside for us to eat in one form or another after supper.  Many people have received a gift of raspberries already. I love to give the gift of raspberries. Now I am beginning to give people a second offering. What I do not like is to make jam. I am happy to eat raspberry jam if someone else makes it. At this time of year, my preferred method is to eat my raspberries freshly mashed onto a piece of toast.    As I am picking, I often wonder about the berries that the birds have pecked at and maybe even eaten half. I never know if it matters and if the there is any problem with sharing bird saliva. I am not sure if birds have saliva. Anyway, there are plenty of raspberries both for me and for the birds and already the hedgerows are full of blackberries ripe for the picking. And the figs. The figs are fine this year. We had one perfect fig. One fig that tasted like we were in a warm and southern country, but there has not been enough heat for most of them to be be fully ripe and sweet like that. I bring them into the house at a certain point to finish ripening over a few days. If I leave them on the bush the birds will attack them and hollow out the fruit from the skin.  Once indoors, they are safe to ripen slowly and then they are delicious cooked into small tarts.

20 September Monday

There are dozens and dozens of little tiny wrens flying around. They come in the house and they get confused and they get stuck in impossible places.

 

21 September Tuesday

The house has appeared uninhabited for years. The paintwork around the windows is chipped and the curtains inside are droopy and dirty. There is never any activity to be seen in or around the house, or none that can be seen from the pavement. There is no space between the street level window and the door, just the narrowest piece of wood. Today I noticed that a clean and ironed white embroidered cloth has been laid along the inside of the window sill. A framed photograph of a man is on view. It is a photograph of a young man with a black and white cat. Beside the framed photograph there is a stack of five books. There is no name anywhere. There is nothing to say whether the man in the photograph is dead or alive. There is nothing to tell me if that same man is now old or if perhaps he is still as young as he was in the photograph.

I wish I had taken note of the titles of the five books.

The New Stanley

16 June Wednesday

An Post has printed special stamps to celebrate Ireland’s Pride Month. Booklets containing both national and international stamps are available for purchase. Some of the rainbow colored stamps are printed with the word PRIDE and some are printed with the Irish word BRÓD. An Post sent everyone a card with the information about this support for the LGBT community and suggested that we all display the card in our window as a show of solidarity.

23 June Wednesday

We have had a good spell of dry and warm weather. Now rain is promised. We know that all the fields and the gardens need a soaking. Jacinta was in a rush because she and her husband wanted to bring their turf in before the rain come. Every year they purchase turf from a man who owns a bog up on the mountain. They buy the turf by the line. The man has a machine and he cuts the lines and Jacinta and her husband and the other people who are buying the turf from him go up to the location regularly to make little stacks of the turf. This is called footing. They move the brick-like pieces of cut turf so that each side gets exposed to air, and over weeks, they slowly add more pieces to each stack as the drying process continues. When the turf is brown and kind of hairy it will let in the wet and hold the moisture. It will not dry out evenly. It will not be much good for burning. When it is black and crusty, it is more water-resistant and then it gives off great heat. With several days of hard rain forecast, Jacinta and her husband are eager to load up their six air-dried lines of turf and to get it all home and stacked in the shed. This will provide them with good fires in their wood stove all winter long.

28 June

I woke up depressed to see yet another morning of heavy grey cloud cover hanging over everything. Later I overheard two women standing outside the shop discussing and taking great delight that this day is drizzly and grey and damp. They repeated again and again that they love this weather, over and over and to whoever would listen. They agreed that neither of them enjoy a day when it gets too warm. They prefer a day that is cool and fresh. They did not enjoy the recent stretch of almost hot days. One of the women was complaining about how hard it is to get even the smallest of jobs done when it Goes Hot. She listed all the problems that she could think of about hot days. Then she stopped herself mid-complaining and she laughed and said, “I’ll Have the Ears Burnt Off You with My Giving Out!”

30 June Wednesday

The new graveyard is called the new graveyard even though it has already been there for nineteen years.  It is no longer new but it is newer than anywhere else for burying people.  There are now thirty-five people buried in the new graveyard.  It is filling up but the filling up is not fast. This morning, I met Olive at the gate to the graveyard. She had a scouring sponge and a spray bottle of cleanser with her. She had arrived to clean the stone on her husband’s grave. Murty has been dead for six years now. Six, or maybe seven, years. She told me that she misses him every day. She misses him dreadfully. She goes to clean his stone frequently just to give herself something to do.  She says that without Himself to cook for three times a day, her life has no order. Her days are empty. She was quick to tell me that three men died recently and that all three had been buried in the graveyard in as many weeks. She spoke of each man by his first name.  She said she was of course sorry and deeply sad for their families, but she added cheerfully that “Now we will have Some New Company.”  After a few minutes more, I said good-bye and I left her there with her cleaning equipment. All day I have been wondering what she meant by Some New Company.  Was she suggesting that the visits of other mourners might provide companionship for herself when she goes to visit her husband, or was she implying that the newly deceased would provide some company for Murty and the others who are buried in the graveyard?

3 July Saturday

I picked up three small courgettes. The man at the market stall offered me more but the rest of them were all big ones. I told him that I preferred the very small courgettes for their tenderness and sweetness. I said I was happy to take just the three. He directed my attention back to the larger ones again and he said, “But these were small last week.”

4 July Sunday

We drove up the mountain to meet friends in Lismore. Heavy rain was promised so we planned to eat in the outdoor area of a restaurant. This was to be our first time eating in a restaurant for more than eighteen months, since the pandemic began.  We were led through the still non-functioning and not yet legal indoor part of the restaurant to an area out back that had been built out of corrugated metal. There were gaping openings in the homemade construction to allow the air in, and to keep the rain out. The wind was blowing hard through the room and I was glad to have dressed in several layers of warm and waterproof clothing. The tables were much too close together and the floor was made of cast concrete. The noise inside the indoor/outdoor room was deafening. There was nothing to absorb the sound and nowhere for the noise to go. A table of six women were dressed in summery sleeveless party garments. They were all heavily made up. They were necking colorful cocktails and laughing and talking and shrieking and roaring. Every aspect of this lunch time OUT was thrilling and wonderful to them. They were celebrating. They were raucous. Along with the diners at the other four tables in the little indoor/outdoor room, we had to shout to make ourselves heard over the noise of the happy women and the crashing sound of the rain beating down on the tin roof.

5 July

She was disturbed that the day was rainy. It was not because the rain was interrupting the warmth of summer, instead she explained “I do not like to see the roads wet.”

7 July

The new cooker has been installed. The old cooker has been removed and the new one has been moved in, positioned and wired up. The new cooker is not beautiful, but it will provide us with reliable heat and hot water in the winter months. It is not beautiful nor is it new, but it is a fine second-hand Stanley.  It had only one owner and the only reason it had to be removed from the house it was in was because the woman of the house is now in a wheelchair and she could no longer work with it. It was too tall and the lids on top were much too heavy for her to lift. It took three men to take out the old Rayburn and to get the Stanley off the truck and to bring it in on rollers and to lower a new liner down the chimney. Ned and Eddie returned today to finish the bricking up of the chimney hole and the wiring and all of the smaller but important details. When Eddie finished the drilling and wiring, he turned on the cooker to test that everything was working correctly. We were all impressed with the immediate strong heat that came off it. The radiators heated up quickly as did the hot water in its tank. The day was warm and the doors and windows were all wide open. We did not need any heat at all but we needed to test the machine. Simon was excited by the large size of the hot plate on top and at how quickly it heated up. He sliced some bread and began to make toast. I made a pot of tea and we sat down with Ned and Eddie at the big table with our chairs all facing the new cooker while we discussed its merits and the job that had just been accomplished. We ate toast with butter and marmalade. We toasted the new Stanley with toast.

9 July Friday

The morning was cool and overcast. I was wearing long trousers and long sleeves. I thought I would attempt to walk the overgrown Mass Path. This was a terrible mistake. The nettles and brambles and hogwart made the track into a tangled mess. I knew right away that I had made a bad decision but I kept believing that since I had already been through the worst of it, I might as well continue. I was wrong. Over and over again I was wrong. Every time I reached a short distance where the undergrowth was kept at bay because of the tree shelter, the tangle took over again with a vengeance. I could not go back so I kept going forward. By the time I reached the road at the top my face and my neck and my hands had all been scratched and torn by the brambles. I had nettle stings on every bit of exposed skin.

11 July Sunday

It has been raining off and on all afternoon. A heron stood on the roof of the book barn for a long time. I wanted to go outdoors and get closer but I knew it would fly away if I approached. I went back and forth to the window to check on it for an hour. The last time I looked the heron relieved herself while I watched. There was a long white stripe of excrement in a perfectly straight line from the top ridge of the roof to the bottom edge. It was wide enough and white enough to be easily visible from the house. Then the heron flew away and within the hour the white stripe was washed away by the rain.

12 July Monday

I have been competing with the birds for the gooseberries. I think I am winning.

14 July Wednesday

When she commented about the man by saying: He Has a Turn in Him, I had to ask what she meant.  She explained that it means that he is able to do something good for others, but more than that it means that he is not all bad.

The Egg Man Wears a Fedora.

 

 

29 May Saturday

There have been no coach loads of tourists for months and months and months. There has not been one tour bus in the car park below Cahir Castle since the pandemic began. The five or six extra long places reserved for parking buses have not been used. Slowly, we have all begun to park in those places when we arrive on a Saturday for the Farmers Market. It is not a big thing. It just means the cars can spread out a little more than they already do. Today it seemed a very good thing to have the use of the bus area because there was not much room to park in the regular car spaces.  A few dozen geese had come up from the river and they were all sitting around on the asphalt. There was little room for cars to park nor even much space to drive around the geese.

1 June Tuesday

Everything has been wet. It has been wet and it has been cold. The weather predictions of the Donegal Postman promised us that April and May would be warm and dry. Instead they were wet and cold. Everyone has been disgusted and disappointed. I have only been able to walk up the Mass Path because I am still wearing long trousers and sturdy long sleeved shirts. The vegetation has grown tall and thick. It is way over my head. The nettles are monstrous. I pretend that I am pleased that it is not too hot to walk up there, even while I am being slapped with wet leaves and branches.

2 June Wednesday

Breda and I met up at The Boulders and we walked for about an hour around and over Barranacullia. One hour was enough for me. It was my first time walking up in the mountains. We did not go high enough to see across and down to the sea on the south coast, but we heard the cuckoo.

3 June Thursday

Going to the hairdresser is usually great fun. Ollie always makes me laugh. He is a man with a giggle resting close under the skin. Today I went to have my hair cut. I had missed the brief slot when the hairdressers and barbers were open before Christmas. They were open and then abruptly more Covid restrictions were imposed and they were shut down again. I missed my chance. This was my first appointment since last September. Ollie was shocked to see how long my hair had grown. I was shocked to see him. He was behind a plexiglass screen when I arrived so there was no mask covering his face. I stared at him and I asked, “What has happened to you, Ollie? You look completely different!”  He said, “Yes–I RAN! I rushed out of the country when there was a gap in the travel restrictions!” He said that he knew the flights to everywhere and anywhere were going to be halted any minute so he flew to Turkey on 5 January and he had his teeth crowned and Done and he had his nose broken and then Done, and he had his forehead botoxed. Done. All in five days. He flew back to Dublin looking as if he had been severely beaten. He said his face was bruised and horrible but he had to go into quarantine at home anyway so it did not matter how gruesome he looked. Now he has his new look and gleaming teeth that I thought for sure were false teeth. He looks like a completely different person. His long hair has been cut very short. Even with his face mask in position over his nose and mouth when I could only see half of his face, he looked like someone else. There was no laughter. I remained in shock for the entire time of my haircut. Ollie informed me that the dental work alone had been worth the flight out. Flying to Turkey to have work on one’s teeth has been going on for ten years or more. It is called Dental Tourism.  He said it would have cost him 33,000 euro in Ireland but it was only 5000 euro in Turkey and he assured me that the quality of the work was better. I really did not care how much it cost, but it seemed essential to him to report these prices to me. There was no talk of new recipes nor of sewing up waterproof capes for his ducks nor of what was growing in his garden. There Was No Laughter. Ollie now has a plan to return to Turkey to have his eye lids pulled up tight. He might have his neck done too.  He will wait for a while to earn the money for all that, and anyway with the current restrictions, it is not possible to fly to Turkey nor to anywhere else right now.

4 June Friday

I walked down through the fields at Molough. I did not recognize the crop but it was growing tall. It was nearly at my waist. There was a lot of rustling and crackling as the wind blew though the plants. It was noisy in a quiet way. Suddenly a young deer leapt across the track from one field right into the next. At the point of crossing she was only a few feet in front of me. I do not know if she knew I was near. Before I could register surprise, three more fawns came rushing out of the tall growth and all four disappeared across the field with high bounding and bouncing movements. Within seconds I could see nothing except an occasional head bobbing up out of the far high growth. It was a Four Fawn Morning but it was over almost before it started.

7 June Monday

We were sitting outside and keeping our distance from one another. It was not warm but it was not raining so we were happy to be out of doors and sharing a cup of tea. I held the jug of milk over his cup. Without words, I was offering to pour milk into his tea for him. I did not want to interrupt what he was saying. Francie interrupted his own stream of conversation and he said, “Yes, but don’t lean on it.” I guessed that this meant that he did not want too much milk. Just a little.

8 June Tuesday

The same man has been delivering eggs to the shop for years. He always wears a knee-length white laboratory coat unbuttoned and flapping open over his trousers and his sweater. He wears this official looking white garment all year round, and on his head he wears a black fedora. He is not a young man. This is not a trendy fedora. It is an all weather hat that might look a bit smart on someone else but the egg man wears it pulled down low.  I have never seen the man without the coat nor without the fedora. In these times of continuing infection, he now wears the coat and the fedora and a face mask. He leans forward and down as he carries his big tray loaded with eggs. His eyes have never been visible.

9 June Wednesday

I walked the track through the fields at Molough again this morning. The crop has grown taller since last week. I was confused to see that some plants had been pulled out and thrown down on the ground in the middle of the track. When I reached the top, I saw the farmer and an elderly man and a young boy and a dog at one of the gates. The old man held onto the gate with one hand and he leaned on a walking stick with the other. The boy sat on the top bar of the gate. The farmer and his dog were inside the gate at the edge of the planted field. I stopped and asked what the crop was and I was told that it was gluten-free oats. I asked why some plants had been pulled up and tossed down on the track. The farmer said that those were the weeds and that they had to come out as they would contaminate the crop. They needed to be pulled out. He pulled up one of each plant and showed me the difference between the two. Once he pointed out the difference, it was easy to see that the plants were not the same. He had already been around the perimeter of one field pulling by hand. He said there were not many of the bad plants so it was not as big a job as it sounded. He had some men coming to help him tomorrow. Together they would comb the fields and it would take them only a day to clear the 100 acres of these occasional intruders. But for today he was on his own. The elderly man was too old to be any help and the boy was too young. The dog was there because the farmer hoped the deer would take his scent and maybe stop trampling this crop of oats.

10 June Thursday

Derek told me that one of the postmen has been seriously unwell and that he had to go into the hospital. No one wants to go into the hospital unless there is absolutely no choice. Everyone is afraid of what they might catch while inside. They might get the Covid or they might get the MRSA. There is no one who wants to take a chance if they have any choice at all. If they are too ill to have a choice, everyone else worries for them. Derek said that this man is an extremely thin fellow. He held his index finger straight up in the air to demonstrate. He said the man was Just Like This. He said he was not a man who could lose any more weight. Everyone at the sorting office in town is concerned.

 

11 June Friday

The weather has finally warmed up. There are flies everywhere.  They are big, slow and annoying flies.  Doors and windows are open so the flies come inside and they are a nuisance. Women are complaining about the flies invading their kitchens. It is a new topic of conversation. Every counter in every shop has displays of what I call Fly Paper and what everyone else calls Fly Catchers.  It is that horrible sticky twist of paper that if it works will end up with multiple dead insects stuck all over it. Fly Catchers and Fly Swatters. It is the season.

12 June Saturday

The man who sells organic chickens and organic sausages and bacon at the market now has an extra table beside the one that holds his little refrigerator. He uses the second table to sell the big sacks of potatoes and carrots and cabbages that Pat O’Brien used to sell every week. The things on the extra table are not organic. I am not sure if perhaps Pat O’Brien is providing him with these vegetables even though he is no longer at the market himself. I have never known the chicken man’s first name. His chickens are labelled as Butler’s Organic Chickens so if I think of him at all I think of him as Mr. Butler. The woman in front of me pointed to the enormous sacks of spuds and asked him to carry one to her car for her. She said, “So — you are the new Pat!”   Mr. Butler is a quiet soft-spoken man. He responded to the woman’s statement by saying, “I’ve always been a Pat.” So now I know the name of the chicken man.

13 June Sunday

It was at exactly the same spot in the boreen. I turned the corner and there was the fox. It was not the bright red fox that I see out in the field every day. This one was brown. He was bigger and he had a dark almost black tip on his tail. He saw me at the exact moment that I saw him. I was only a few steps away so he sprang up with all four feet off the ground and over the ditch. He was gone in a flash.

14 June Monday

We went down to the village for Margaret Hally’s funeral this morning. She had been living at the residential home in Cappoquin for a few years. The last time I spoke to Tommie he told me that since the care home restrictions had lifted, he was now driving up the mountain to see her once a week. I commented on the Cappoquin road. I remarked that it was bendy and steep and dangerous. I offered that maybe I could drive him up for his next visit to Margaret. He was annoyed that I would suggest such a thing. He said he has known that road all his life. He said he knows every corner and every bump in it. I said that for a change it might be pleasant to look out the window instead of having to pay attention to wandering sheep tumbling down onto the road in front of oncoming motor cars or in front of his own car. He agreed that it would be a treat to look carefully out at things as a passenger. He acknowledged that the wandering sheep are a challenge. Right after we spoke, Tommie was rushed into hospital. He has been there for several weeks. Today they brought him out from town in a special ambulance and in a wheelchair so that he could say his farewells to Margaret. He was hooked up to a small oxygen tank and he had a nurse at his side. We all stood in the bright sunshine on the street outside the church and then in the graveyard feeling sad for Tommie having to say goodbye to his wife of so many years in this diminished state.

My Own Name

23 April Sunday

I lost track of when the first swallow arrived this year. I have lost track of a lot of things. Breda knows exactly because she always keeps a record. She writes the date on her calendar and every year it seems to me that she sees the first swallow a few days earlier than she saw it the year before.  She is delighted with the first sighting and she tells everyone she meets that she has seen it, so in a way her sighting has become a signal for me to start looking for my first swallow.  Breda now tells me that she has heard her first cuckoo.  I will need to get up and into the mountains before I have a chance to hear one and since I am not yet able for the mountains, my first cuckoo will be heard much later than Breda’s first cuckoo.

26 April Monday

As of today, I have permission to stop wearing my blood clot socks.  I am sick to death of them.  They are difficult to put on and they are difficult to take off. This does not mean that I have reached a full recovery, but giving up wearing these socks every day up feels like a momentous thing.

28 April Wednesday

I remembered that putting out cooked eggshells for the birds is a good thing to do in the spring when they are laying their eggs. Since the birds need extra calcium, they take the shells and that provides the chicks with more of what they need to get strong.  The blue jays in New Hampshire used to eat paint off the sides of the house in order to get a calcium boost. I do not think we have blue jays here.  There are jays but I do not see the big blue jays I that recognize from home. I cooked up some empty eggshells and crumbled them, and I took them out to the bird’s dining area. After two days I could see that not one bird had been interested in the eggshells. They were all on the table and on the ground exactly where I had scattered them. There had not even been any wind to blow them away. Blue jays are native to New Hampshire. They are not native here.  I thought the local birds might be tempted by the cooked and crunchy shells but they have no interest. They do not even want to try them. It is better for me to continue with apple scraps.

2 May Sunday

Florrie told me that her husband took to baking bread during the lock-down. It has been a fashion of the Covid months and everyone was making bread but she was completely surprised when her husband decided to start baking. First he made soda bread and then he progressed to sourdough. He is currently on a new phase of making pizza bases. He was happy to make bread and she loved that he made bread, but she said he would not cook the dinner. Florrie’s husband had no interest in any other kind of food preparation. Baking was a form of entertainment for him. He felt that cooking was her job and he was glad to leave it to her.

4 May Tuesday

The magpies are going crazy on the nut feeders.  They jump up from the ground and attack the feeder.  Sometimes there are two magpies beating and thrashing at the same time while the feeder swings wildly on its branch.  I do not think it is easy for them to get their big beaks into the little mesh openings but they continue to try.

5 May Wednesday

I had my first vaccination today. The scheduled time was very specific. I was advised to arrive no earlier than five minutes before my assigned time, which is what I did.  The whole thing was well organized.  There was no wait at all, just a steady movement toward the vaccination booths. There was a quiver in the air. Everyone was eager to get their vaccination and we had all been warned by friends and family and neighbors to drink lots and lots of water before we arrived. People checked with one another in the queue to make sure that everyone else had drunk enough water. Some people carried bottles of water with them as if to illustrate that they were the most hydrated.  As I moved along the route, I was asked repeatedly to state Your Own Name. No one just asked my name.  It was always Your Own Name, as if I might be giving someone else’s name and always with the double form of possession.

When I reached the vaccinating booth, I was once again asked for Your Own Name, and the two women there squealed with delight at hearing My Own Name.  They wanted to know all about it and where it came from.  They knew right away that it was not local. When the woman at the desk noticed that I was born on Valentine’s Day, she announced that my mother had missed a great opportunity as she could have named me Valentine. She said my mother Should have named me Valentine as there was nothing finer than to be named after a saint.  I did not explain to her that my mother would never in one million years have considered naming me after a saint.  I could not explain that that was not how my mother chose our names. When I left the booth after my jab the two women sang out “Good Bye! Good Bye! Dear Valentine!” as though My Own Name really is Valentine.

6 May Thursday

John the electrician returned early this morning.  He finished the job of re-wiring the book barn that he had started yesterday. He finished the job that Peter Ryan began when he drove down on a digger and dug out a trench to lay a cable from the tool barn to the book barn. He finished the job that needed to be done after the mice chewed some wires and the book barn caught on fire. We were lucky to catch the fire in its early smoke-filled stages and we were lucky that the fire did not start in the middle of the night.  It was mostly the paper shelves that suffered damage. We were fortunate that no books were destroyed.  The fire forced us to do a major clear-out of paper and samples and all kinds of collected stuff.  The fire made us do a lot of work that we would not have done if we had had the choice.  I am still not fully strong so my level of participation in the work has been slow and small. Every day the doors were thrown open to air out the place but we had to establish elaborate methods to let the air in to circulate but not to let the swooping and diving birds come in. Plenty of birds did get in but most of them flew out again. Now the smell of burnt plastic fittings and smoke are gone and the new wiring is complete. We trust the rodents have been defeated.

8 May Saturday

I returned to the Farmers Market today for the first time since mid-March.  It was nice to be welcomed back.  It was lovely to have been missed.  Pat O’ Brien had his final day selling vegetables last week. Three weeks ago he announced that he thought he had just enough potatoes to last him three weeks and when the big sacks of potatoes were gone that would be the last day for him. And so he is gone. He was the one who organized the market and got it all started eighteen years ago. It is a shock to note his absence.  The remaining stalls have all been moved around to accommodate the gap. I neither have nor need a photograph of Pat, but I have an old picture of his money box with small potatoes placed in position to hold down the paper euros on a windy day.

10 May Monday

Some things are opening up today. We can now go anywhere in the entire country. We are no longer confined to a twenty kilometer radius within our county. Hairdressers and barbers are open, but most non-essential shops are not.

11 May Tuesday

The baker told me it is called Gur although some people call it Gudge.  In Cork, it is known as Donkey’s Gudge. What it is is a cake made of all the leftover cakes and biscuits that did not get sold or eaten. It is never the same twice because the leftovers are never exactly the same.  The baker in Grangemockler told me that he adds jam and raisins to his Gur and it has a thin top and bottom made of pastry. Those are the his only constants. He swears that leftover Christmas cake makes the finest Gur. I bought a piece of the Gur he had on offer today and I brought it home. It was not delicious, but it was filling.

13 May Thursday

Two sparrow hawks hover on the side of the book barn.  They sit on the roof or cling vertically on some stones. They spend many hours waiting and watching. They are watching for the starlings who are nesting in under the roof.  The starlings are careful when they go in and out.  It is a dangerous situation.

14 May Friday

No bag is ever used only once.  I comment on this frequently.  It is not so much about recycling as it is just something that is always done, and has always been done. Sugar bags are re-used to carry jars of homemade jam.  Sugar was poured out of the bag to make the jam and later the same bag is used to transport the jam in case the sides of the jar are a little bit sticky. The bag for Flahavan’s oats appears regularly, often, and in many guises.  The bags are too sturdy and well made to use only once. People carry their sandwiches to school or to work in these strong paper bags.  Today I loaded one up with empty glass jars to give to Anne for her marmalade making. I know that she will re-use both the jars and the bag.

15 May Saturday

There are flowers in the edges of the track and along every road and every path.  Buttercups, and Tufted Vetch, and Stitchwort and Speedwell, and more Vetch. Primroses. Wild garlic. Loads and loads of Vetch, and Lady’s Smock, and Herb Robert. I love the names and I love that that Cow Parsley is now blooming and sheltering all of the small blossoms. They are not hidden but they are a little harder to see.

17 May Monday

More of the country has opened up but there are many warnings along with the openings. Shops and museums and libraries are now open. We can go places but at the same time, we are sort of being told not to go anywhere. Or not to go to many places and not to go anywhere with many other people.  Restaurants and bars remain closed. The weather is so changeable that it kind of goes with the mixed messages we are receiving. The weather is not very encouraging for going out to all of the places where we now have permission to go. We have driving lashing rain followed by sun and blue sky and then there is rain again. It is not easy to be outside for more than a few minutes without a big sweeping gusting change. Even though we are landlocked, it is obvious that we are living on an island.

19 May Wednesday

I met Mickey the Boxer getting down off his tractor.  He had loaded up a single bale to take down the road for his cows. He used his cane to get himself down out of the small tractor and and he used it to push himself back up into the driver’s seat.  Collecting one bale from Tom Cooney’s shed and taking it home again was a job that had taken him the entire morning.  When I met him, we talked together for a few minutes about the weather and the hay and the unseasonably cold nights and the frosty mornings and then he was ready to head home for his dinner.

The Mend

For any readers of this blog who received notification last week entitled RAINFALL RADAR, you have probably realized by now that this is a pre-Covid posting and it is a mistake. 

Apologies to all. It is human error mixed up with technology error. 

A small moment of Time Travel….

I was the first patient scheduled for surgery on a Monday morning. The surgeon visited me in my room before the operation. We both signed a paper document. He told me that he had seen a red squirrel on the weekend. He said it was the first one he had seen in the seven years since he has been back in Ireland. We both felt that this sighting of a red squirrel was an auspicious start for the week.
I have lived here for several decades, but I have never seen a red squirrel. I only see the pesky grey ones that were mistakenly imported as a wedding gift for someone many many years ago.

My wrists are thin and my hands are bony. Veins stand proud on the back of my hand. Rings, bracelets and nail varnish have always seemed to me to be a bad idea. I try not to call attention to my hands. I was lying flat on my bed in the hallway outside the operating theatre when the anaesthetist arrived. He was from somewhere on the Indian sub-continent. He introduced himself to me before he lifted my hands gently, first one and then the other. He said he had never seen such wonderfully large and visible veins. I said Yes. My hands are not beautiful. He held my two hands in his two hands and he replied, Ah no. They are beautiful to me!!

—-

My first food was toast. First I was served one half a slice of white toast. The next day, I was given two half slices of toast. Underneath the toast rack lay a single slice of soda bread. Not toasted.

I set off to take a small walk down the corridor. I held onto the white rail against the wall. At the first door there was a woman standing a few feet inside.

She asked: How do I look?

It was 8.30 in the morning. The woman was all dressed in pink. Her nightdress showed pink underneath her dressing gown. The dressing gown was white and fleecy with pink swirls all over it. With her bright white over the knee anti-blood clot socks and fluffy pink slippers her outfit was completely coordinated. Her wispy white/blond hair was cut about shoulder length with a flyaway fringe. Her eyebrows were drawn on or maybe they were painted on with some dark brown product. The ends of these wide eyebrows were squared off with sharp corners. They were about the width of a magic marker. The rest of her face was heavily made up. The painted face and the fluffy pinkness failed to make her look youthful. The woman looked like a cupcake but not a fresh cupcake. Everything about her was a little mashed. She looked like she was missing some air.
She announced to me that she had had a hysterectomy. Her surgeon was doing his morning rounds now. She was waiting for him. Her surgeon was not the same man as my surgeon. Hers was a different surgeon than my surgeon. We had had the same operation but she informed me that her man was The Best. She inferred that my doctor and my entire procedure was no doubt sub-standard.
She asked again if she looked alright. I could not tell her that she looked okay for a mushy cupcake. She wanted to look nice for her surgeon. She wanted to please him.
I turned and I crept slowly back into my room.

————

The glass in my three windows is covered with some kind of a film. None of the other rooms have this coating on the glass. The film is translucent so it allows in a white light but it cannot be seen through. The film stuck onto the windows is cracked and distressed. The light is diffused. Soft and sort of feathered. The outside looks sharp and colorful through the narrow slots that are open.

When asked about it, one nurse suggested that the coating might be there to stop the intensity of the sun. Another suggested that perhaps the covered glass made the room appropriate for the respectful privacy due a nun or a priest.

 

It is quiet inside and it is quiet outside.  Except for the birds.

I hear birdsong through the open side windows.

—————

First names are an important part of life in this country. Everyone is on first name basis immediately and it important that a name, once known, is used frequently in the course of a conversation. Many people manage to use the name of the person they are talking to in every single sentence. The regular use of Christian names combined with the fact that there are a few names that are used again and again and again means that there are a lot of women named Mary. Mary is a popular name here among the nurses. I can hear them at all hours calling to one another up and down the corridor. Mary shouts up to Mary and Mary shouts back to Mary. One Mary says Are you there, Mary?  Shall I wait for you, Mary? and Mary calls back in a cheerful voice I am coming Mary. I will be with you shortly, Mary. The patients are Mary and the nurses are Mary.


A woman comes around sometime during mid-morning and mid-afternoon and again before bedtime. She is offering coffee, tea or a glass of milk. I made the mistake of ordering coffee.  It is best to stick with tea.

————
I take small slow walks out of doors. I look at everything coming up. Slowly. Slowly. The walks are slow. The coming into flower is slow. The grape hyacinth. Flowering red currant. I do not really like the flowering currant but for a few weeks every spring it is a pleasure to see it.

——-

Looking across to Anthony’s  field. It is steep.  The cows are there and they look like they might fall off the side of the hill and tumble down.

——

The hospital bed was delivered by a young man about to become a father for the first time.  He delivered the bed to us earlier than we had requested because he did not want to travel too far from home. He did not want to miss the baby’s arrival.  He was excited, so we felt excited for him.  We had ordered the hospital bed because our own beds are built so high off the floor.  The top surface of each platform is 36 inches off the floor. The mattress on top makes it higher.  It is normal for me to climb up and down with the help of a stool but after surgery I feared the climb might be difficult.  The hospital bed is now in the big room. I spend the day and the night seeing this room in a new way. The things on the wall opposite look like completely new things.  I lay here in a lazy daze of staring without seeing but seeing it all.

—–

I can see the glass door of the cupboard. Reflected in the glass, I watch the cows walking by up in Joe’s field. That field is about three meters above the ground level outside the house.

—–

Three pheasants under the birch trees at the bottom of the meadow.

—–

I take nuts out to the birds. Slowly. I decant a small amount from the big bucket and I carry them out in a bowl. I thought I would walk around for the recommended 10 minutes but after feeding the birds I came back into the house and fell into the bed.

—–

Derek the Postman told me Napping is the important bit.

—–

There is a teasel bent on its stem down near to the ground.  It catches on my dressing gown each time I walk to the bird table.  Each time it happens I think that I will return with the secauters and I will cut it down but of course I never remember and leaning down to cut the thick stem is probably not a good idea anyway.

 

I rang Tommie from my bed.  It had been a while since we have spoken.  He told me that he has had his second jab,  and that he felt ill for three days after it. He said he slept a lot and that he was off his grub.  We agreed that this is not like him.  He interrupted the call and told me that someone was at the door.  He told me to wait.  He went away and I waited but he never came back to the telephone.  I had no chance to tell him I had been in hospital.

The last time I saw him, before my hospital stay, I took him some apple cake on a plate.  John Mangan arrived at the same time.  John was carrying his bag of messages from the shop.  We three talked at a distance from one another  with Tommie standing in the doorway holding his plate of cake.  He said he would just go and put the cake into the kitchen.  He went inside and he never came back.  John and I talked for a while.  We wondered if maybe Tommie had sat down to eat the cake.  It was cold so I decided to leave.  John said that he would wait a little longer and if Tommie did not return soon he would shout out. He promised that he would not leave until Tommie’s front door was firmly closed.

—–

The sun pouring in through the skylight is knocking me out, but since I am already lying down it is fine to just go back to sleep.

—–

We live in a valley. Everything in every direction is up or it is down. I started by making Figure Eights around the yard.  Now I have progressed to following the perimeters around buildings and bushes. I attempt to find all of the edges I can walk without any climbing. I like coming up behind the sauna in a way that I usually would not view it.

 

The daffodils that have been folded down lie with their faces in the grass. They might have been bent by a passing fox or a badger or a cat.  It might just be the weight of the blossom itself that topples the flowers. I pluck the bent ones and bring them indoors.

—-

Pat assures me that I am Heading for The Mend.

—-

I have lost track of days and I have lost track of weeks.  On the 12th of April we had a national opening, of sorts. The schools are all open again. And we are now allowed to go 20 kilometers from home for exercise– an extension of the 5 kilometers sanctioned up until now. Nothing more is open. All shops remain closed.  Life remains on hold. It is more than 100 days since this version of lockdown began just after after Christmas.  I continue to live in my own little lockdown within the lockdown.

—–

I am learning the lines of my perimeter walks. There is a great deal to pay attention to and to notice every time I go around. I pride myself on observing all of the small signs of spring.  Everyday there are new poops from the fox. Why does she choose to relieve herself here in our yard when she has all of the surrounding fields to choose from? It must be some kind of territorial marking.  I see which branches have buds. I see forgetmenots and dandelions and whitethorn added to the visible blooms. Blue bells. A few apple blossoms. The promise of wild garlic flowers bursting out in another few days.  But I completely missed the completely flat tyre on the car even though I walked past it at least eight times.

—-

This walking by foot feels like one long journey not a lot of small walks for the purpose of building up my strength.  I walk around and around following my own trail through the grass. It feels like one long walk.

As I stroll around at slow speed I remember the frequently quoted Antonio Machado line: Travelers, there is no path, paths are made by walking. I walk and walk and walk. The grass records my path.

Relief Milker

24 February Wednesday

The internet man visited and he told us that another man would be coming to check out our location for reception and to install the service. We expected the man on a Saturday but he arrived today because the weather was good. He told us that he is a farmer in Cork. Before becoming a farmer, he had been in the army. That was where he trained in orienteering. He claimed that he is a Good Man To Read The Land. He used powerful binoculars to locate and determine that our house is not in a direct line with the nearest mast. He said that was not a problem and that he would be able to bounce a signal off the house of a man named P.J.O’Neill across the valley. He got things set up quickly with a small dish. With his knowledge of land, he does this installation of Line of Sight broadband for the internet company as a second job. Right now is his busy time on the farm because all of his cows are calving. We were lucky to get him between the calves and between the downpours. He left his wife in charge of the birthing today. He said she is well able for it, but the rain and wind are a different and less predictable thing altogether. Suddenly we have really fast broadband. We have a three week trial period, but already, after a few hours, this is faster than anything we have ever experienced here. We knew our internet was bad but we did not realize how truly dreadful it was until now, when it has come good.

26 February Friday

We walked up past Lady’s Abbey. I detoured in to look into the roofless area of the old Abbey and to check for the red chair. Someone had tried to set it on fire a few months ago and I wondered if since then the whole chair had been removed or if it had been completely burned. I was surprised to find neither thing had occurred. The chair was back in the small room exactly where it had been before someone tried to burn it.

 

28 February Sunday

There are loads of daffodils everywhere. And crocuses. And wild garlic. I saw the first primrose today.

1 March Monday

We woke to a thick white cold fog over our world. I went down to the book barn to look for something and found there was no electricity in one end of the barn. We thought a fuse had tripped but finally we decided it was probably mice who had chewed up some wires under the floorboards. We tried different experiments and we went up and down with extension leads and then I had to fix a cardboard box that collapsed when I leaned too heavily on it and I was sweeping up mouse poison that was scattered all around but had not been eaten. I was rushing because it was cold and because suddenly there were so many things to take care of. I went back and forth between the two barns and the house.  Simon was making multiple trips too. The postman arrived at about 10 or maybe it was 10.30. I had been so busy that it was not until I was standing and talking to him outside that I realized that I was still wearing my pyjamas and my dressing gown with rubber boots, a big scarf and a wool hat. He did not seem to notice.

2 March Tuesday

The mornings remain icy. The grass was white with frost, as was the roof of the barn. The field was white. I looked out the window as I waited for the kettle to boil. The fox was moving slowly uphill. He turned and looked in my direction. It would be nice to think that he saw me at the same time that I saw him but really he was just looking around.

3 March Wednesday

The Donegal Postman is the man who most reliably predicts the weather. Word is already out that he is promising that April and May will be fine.

4 March Thursday

On the good days there are already cows out in fields. It is lovely to see them again. I did not realize how much I missed seeing cows on the land. As always, they have been under cover all winter long. Today I had to pull over in the car to wait while the McGrath’s cows walked up the road from a far field to their milking barn. I was happy to wait.

5 March Friday

Throughout this pandemic we have read about people ordering Take Away food. We have heard reports of people living on nothing but Take Away food. Food delivered to the door has not been an option for us. There are few restaurants and they are all closed anyway. And no one wants to deliver anything down our dirt track. We read about a restaurant in Tramore that has been delivering fine food all over the country. We decided to see if there was any chance we might receive their offerings. A restaurant in Dublin or Cork would not consider delivering to these parts, but we hoped that Tramore, which is only 43 kilometres away, might do so. It has been a year since we ate any food besides that which we have prepared for ourselves. The Beach House said delivery was no problem so, as directed, we ordered on Thursday the 25th for delivery on the following Friday. Today.

After lunch this afternoon we received notification that our package had been damaged and that the recipients had refused delivery. We knew we had never been called nor had anyone arrived here, so there was no way we could have refused delivery. After various phone calls and emails with the owner of the restaurant we all recognized that the problem was with the courier service. All deliveries are in chaos over the entire country. Mike told me he waited three weeks for an automobile part to arrive from Ringaskiddy. We were refunded and we are now promised delivery of a free meal on the 19th of March. We will be invited to choose from the menu next Thursday. Peter the owner was very upset that our food had not been arrived. He said they have delivered things as far away as Donegal and Galway with no problems so Tipperary should offer no difficulty. It takes less than a hour drive to Tramore but since we are still unable to travel more than five kilometres from home, it might as well be the moon. It is hard to imagine people living in a city waiting nearly four weeks for a takeaway supper. We are not unhappy to wait. We hear nothing but good things about this splendid food.

6 March Saturday

The birds cannot get enough to eat. I am constantly filling the feeders. There is never enough for them to eat. Some days I chop up an apple and leave it on their table. Other days I leave crumbs or some oat flakes. Whatever I put out disappears immediately.  Whatever I put out is never enough.

7 March Sunday

A Relief Milker is a someone who goes and helps out on a farm on either an occasional basis or on a regular day or for part of a week. He does the milking and whatever other jobs need doing. A lot of young men move around the country side helping out on farms. Sometimes it is older men but mostly it is the younger ones. Today I saw a fellow getting into his car down in the village. His services were advertised in the dried mud on his door:

G.BYRNE

RELIEF MILKER

AND ALL ROUNDER

 

8 March Monday

Rain. Sun. Rain. Sun. Rain. Rain. Rain. Sun. Wind. Rain. Every day is a wild thrashing of in and out weather. We live within the weather. The sunny moments can be hot but the rain can quickly turn to sleet. The wind has been so loud it is difficult to keep the sound of its roaring out of our ears even from inside the house.

9 March Tuesday

The little notification from the national network is always visible on the upper right hand corner of the television screen. It reads STAY AT HOME. We will know that things are normal again when this message is no longer visible.

 

10 March Wednesday

The jewellery shop in Cahir is not open. By law, the shop is not allowed to open. It is not an essential business. I needed a battery for my watch and the jeweller told me to ring him when I was in front of the shop and he would step outside and give me the correct battery. His shop was not open but it was open.

11 March Thursday

Breda and Siobhan and I walked down the field track at Molough. We knew we were taking a chance. Rain and gusty winds arrive without notice and every downpour is a heavy downpour. We wore full waterproofs and we took our chances. Torrential rains came down twice. And each time there was a one of the two big sheds available to step into. One was echoing and nearly empty as most of the winter hay has been removed. The other shed at the bottom of the track had large pieces of machinery, none of which we were certain about the function of, but it was pleasant  to look at them and to discuss their possible functions while we waited for the rain to clear again.

12 March Friday

We have had 10 weeks of lockdown since Christmas. The new possible deadline is early April but no one believes that we will actually be released then. The vaccine is rolling out slowly because the supplies are not arriving into the country. Everyone is weary of all of this.

I heard two men talking with the distance of a pick-up truck between them. They were wearing masks and they each had a big woolly hat pulled down low. Their conversation was loud. They were both shouting to compensate for the muffling by their face masks. It was a continuation of the on-going discussion between people of who lets their wife or their husband or their partner cut their hair. One of the men said that he had finally agreed to let his wife cut his hair but he would not be letting her loose to cut the grass.

13 March Saturday

I return home from my walks with my pockets full of lichen. I might fill one pocket or I might fill two pockets. I do not need this lichen but I love the silvery look of it on the ground. I am obsessed with lichen. I love spying it among the other vegetation and I love collecting it. When I arrive home with two pockets full I feel wealthy. I fill bowls with the lichen and I leave it on a windowsill to dry out. When that bowlful gets dusty, I throw it out as there is always more to collect. Now I am coming home with my pockets full of wild garlic. There is so much of it popping up every day. It is more useful and of course more delicious than the lichen and it is beautiful, but maybe not as quite as beautiful.

The Third Floor

1 February Monday

The Irish calendar decrees that today is first day of spring. It does not feel like the first day of spring. It feels like February. Every year I feel certain that the first of February is not remotely the first day of spring. Breda and I walked in the mountains and we sat down to eat our sandwiches in the cold and wind. We did not linger. She pointed out the kind of reeds used for the making of the St. Brigid’s crosses. It is a tradition to gather the reeds and make the crosses today, but we did not collect reeds as we had no intention of making the crosses.  It was too cold to do anything but to keep walking. Back down here, at home, we have masses of snowdrops and crocuses and even some daffodils are starting to show. Perhaps spring is closer than I think.

2 February Tuesday

When I listen to the radio or while I am waiting in the shop, I hear people moaning and despairing about how greatly they are suffering because they cannot go to visit their mother who lives in Wexford or Fethard or Waterford. There is a lots of weeping and wailing because people have not seen their mother in three weeks or two months. Anyone whose mother is more than five kilometers away feels hard done by. A lot of families got together in the summer in one of the few parts of last year when we were not in lockdown and many more people got together over Christmas. Too many people got together at Christmas. That is why the virus took off and that is why we are in Level Five lock-down now.

Today is my mothers birthday. She is 95 and there is a big blizzard kicking off in New Hampshire, so she is trapped at home alone. She tells me that she has heat and food and plenty to read, so she is not unhappy. And she has the telephone. I have not seen my mother since October 2019. I try not to mention this when people are moaning. All distances are too far right now.

5 February Friday

I was pulled over at a Garda checkpoint in Poulacapple on the way to Kilkenny. I reached over to the passenger seat to get my letter from the doctor’s office validating my journey as Essential Inter-County Travel. The Garda did not look close enough to read the letter, he simply nodded to acknowledge the piece of paper. He said that to his own eyes I had the appearance of an honest woman, so he waved me along.

Before the doctor could get down to any other business he wanted to put a pin in his map. The pin was the important thing. An enormous map was pasted on the wall over his desk. It was a world map. He wanted to know where I was from originally. With my guidance he stuck a little round blue pin into the map as close to what we could consider New Hampshire as was possible. A tiny bit north of Boston was the best we could do. He did not have a national map for his Irish patients. This mapping activity was only for those of us from far-flung locations. Most of the pins were white and some were blue but I do not know if they marked any difference or if he just ran out of white ones and so he moved on to a box of blue.

8 February Monday

The Third Floor is spoken of with all seriousness. The Third Floor is where Covid-19 patients are taken at the hospital. The entire floor has been given over to the care of people who are ill with the virus. If someone tells you that a person is On The Third Floor you do not need to ask what the problem is. You do not even need to use the word hospital. The Third Floor says it all.

9 February Tuesday

The good thing about growing bamboo is that I have a regular source of strong and flexible sticks. I made a flag for Mrs. Hally’s 103rd birthday. The flag was on a piece of card and it stood tall on its bamboo pole. I thought it could be stuck into a plant pot on the porch outside so that it could be seen from where Mrs. Hally sits in her chair looking out over the marsh. I knocked several times before Siobhan came to the door. She said in a whisper that the priest was there in the house and that he was just now saying a Birthday Blessing for her mother. I was interrupting the Blessing. The Bishop has instructed priests not to go into peoples houses during the Covid lock-down but this priest is a good friend of Mrs Hally and the family. He knew how very much a Birthday Blessing would mean to her. He was willing to defy orders from the Bishop. Apparently most people in the village would not have knocked at the door. They would have known that the priest was there when they saw his car outside, but because he had just bought a new car, he was maybe not quite as visible as he would usually be. New or old, I would never recognize the priest’s motorcar from any other motorcar.

10 February Wednesday

We walked up on one of the steep forestry roads above Goatenbridge. There was water streaming down the side of the track and the running water was full of frog spawn. Another sign of spring.

12 February Friday

There is always another word or expression to note. I think I have been hearing this one for a long time but I just did not fully register it. To Make a Hames of something is to screw it up due to clumsiness or ineptitude or simply by being less careful than you should be. I made a Hames of it or She’s after making a Hames of it. Like an athlete dropping the ball: He made a Hames of that pass.

15 February Monday

I drove to the village and found it full of cars. Cars were parking everywhere. People were hopping out and putting on their masks and walking rapidly toward the church but they were not going too near to the church. Nor were they going inside. There was a funeral about to begin. Funerals always take place at eleven o’clock in the morning. Only ten people can attend a funeral mass inside the church in this Level Five Lock-down. The ten person limit was not enough to allow all of the dead man’s family to attend the service. The people outside the church were family and friends and neighbours. They were lining up along the road before the hearse arrived in order to pay their respects. I think they were also there because it was somewhere to go. There was a good amount of waving and calling out to each other across the way. The sun was out and the wind was sharp. People were zipped into their jackets and masked up and hatted but they were happy to be out of their houses and most of all they were happy to see other people because even a sad event provides a chance to be less alone.

16 February Tuesday

The day was grey and wickedly cold. I dropped my little box of blueberries on the floor of the shop. They went everywhere. They rolled under shelves and off in every direction. I laughed as I crawled around on my knees to collect the berries. The girl who worked in the shop laughed. There were two other two customers in the shop. They laughed. There was a lot of laughter. We needed the laughter.

17 February Wednesday

The first leaves of wild garlic are pushing up. They are too small to eat yet, but it won’t be long.

18 February Thursday

There is plenty of rain and plenty of mud. The road crew has not returned to do any more work of the boreen. They were so quick and eager to start at 8.30 on a Monday morning. That was nearly four weeks ago. The track is now one long running mess of mud. Derek tells me that they will be filling the potholes one shovel full at a time.

21 February Sunday

After days and days of torrential rain and flooding and more torrential rain and more flooding, the sun has come out today. The roads are once again passable. We are no longer trapped by water.  Fields are appearing in places that looked like lakes. We have had no internet for most of the last few weeks. We get a small signal for two or three hours each day. This problem might be weather related, but it might not. What it is is annoying.

 

The Hedge School

25 January Monday

No one wants to go to the dentist. This new variant of the virus from England is rampant. Everyone is nervous. I had an appointment with the dental hygienist. I rang up to cancel. The receptionist did not seem surprised. She sounded as though she was waiting for my call. She told me that everyone is cancelling. If a procedure is essential or if it is an emergency, people are willing to go to the dentist. If not, no one wants to go. I heard on the radio that the government is considering employing dentists to take on the job of vaccinating people. At least then they will have something to do.

 

26 January Tuesday

Derek delivered new postcards. They are a gift from An Post. The ones sent out to us during the first lockdown were big and glossy and the pictures on them were not good. This new offering is smaller. Each one is the size of a normal post card and it is on better card stock. It is not glossy. The best thing is that the front side of these new cards has no image on it. It is just white with a green edge. The blank card gives us a chance to write or draw or glue something onto it as we wish. We can post our cards to anyone on the island of Ireland, North or South, for FREE.

27 January Wednesday

The digger arrived at 8.30 on Monday morning. The grass was scraped and removed from the middle of the boreen. There were two men on the job: one with the small digger and the other with a larger machine. He collected the grass and soil and stones and took it all away. We were trapped for the day, as anticipated. In the morning they cleared as far as the gate into Scully’s wood and after returning from their dinner, they did about half way in from the tar road. I think that their plan was to meet in the middle. The men did not come back on Tuesday but they left the digger and three kinds of shovels and scrapers up at the farm, so we knew they would be back.

Today they reappeared and finished the entire road. On both Monday and Wednesday Derek handed our post to the man in the small digger. The digger is small but it is still as wide as the boreen. There was no way for Derek to get by. The man delivered the letters and packets to us himself rather than backing up to allow the post van to drive down and then to drive back up again. I am sad to see the grass gone. The primroses will not be blooming down the middle this spring, but I feel certain that they will return next year. Or the year after that.

28 January Thursday

The butcher was a thin nervous man. I asked for a shoulder of lamb. He quickly directed my attention to a silver tray with three lamb kidneys in one end. The rest of the tray was heaped with tiny tiny pieces of diced lamb shoulder. The pieces were so small I did not know what they might be useful for. The tiny cubes of lamb were too small for stew. They were too small for anything. They looked like pink peppercorns. I wondered if they were a mistake. He suggested that I might prefer the diced lamb shoulder rather than the entire shoulder I had requested. He was disappointed when I thanked him but said no.

 

29 January Friday

Walking up Bahernaugh in bitterly cold sunshine, I decided to continue as far as the old hedge school. The road is now impassable by car, and it was rough uphill walking. The old man who used to live up there died last year. He was in a care home for a year before that. There are plenty of sheep in his fields. I think they belong to his cousin Michael.  The house and the sheds are closed up and looking sad, but the little sign is still on the blocked up window identifying the one building as a school.

30 January Saturday

The Garda are everywhere. They continue to surprise. They are fining people for going too far from where they live. We are still in lockdown. The end date of this lockdown was scheduled for today but that date has changed. It is now tentatively planned for 5 March.  That may or may not be the date when we are allowed more freedom. We can only go 5 kilometers from home for exercise. If we go any further than that we must have an essential reason:  food or medicine or a medical appointment. There is nothing open so there is nowhere else to go anyway. People no longer get warnings. We are now being fined for going too far from home.  Five cyclists in fancy lycra gear were given fines. Five men. Five fines. It was obvious they were on a long cycle ride as a group. No one dresses up like that to go only five kilometers.  One man was fined for having a passenger in his car who was not someone he lived with and who had no reason to be in the car with him. The radio is full of news of these fines. It is making us all stay closer to home, which is of course the whole point.

 

31 January Sunday

We think about being somewhere else, but of course we cannot go anywhere. This is a recurring theme.  We prepare food from different cultures and we listen to music from far away. We watch films and we read books in order to transport ourselves.  We want to travel, but we recoil at the idea of boarding a crowded plane, train or bus to go anywhere at all. A seat on a bus is not a place where anyone wants to be these days, even if the bus seat is one of the newly upholstered ones on BusEireann.  The running red setters are so cheerful. They suggest great speed and momentum and joy.

No.  A seat on the bus is not a place where anyone wants to be these days. As an healthy option, my book BY BUS, written pre-pandemic, when we were able to roam freely on buses, is now published by UGLY DUCKLING PRESSE in Brooklyn, NY. This book offers the reader multiple journeys by bus, without the need to wear a mask.  It is now available to order with a pre-publication discount:

By Bus