THE JOURNAL

some words for living locally

Erica Van Horn

The Egg Man Wears a Fedora.

 

 

29 June 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

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 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 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 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 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 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

Do You Read Books?

3 January 2021 Sunday

The Leopardstown Races are a big part of the holiday season. Traditionally they take place 26-29 December. This year they happened as usual but without the big crowds in attendance. Of course. Everyone who follows the racing watched it on the television. Siobhan’s mother was busy at Leopardstown from her armchair every day, as always. She sat with her pen and the newspaper and made notes about each race. She knows the background of each horse. All year she keeps track of all the race meetings and of the horses, trainers, jockeys and owners. There is not much about the horses that she does not know. Mrs. Hally is 102.  Siobhan tapes the program because her mother falls asleep frequently. Each race gets replayed and replayed until Mrs. Hally feels certain that she has seen everything.


6 January Wednesday

We took a walk out to Lady’s Abbey. It was cold. I wanted to check on the red chair that had been stored in one of the small rooms at the ruined Abbey.  We were shocked to find the chair laying on the ground outside. Someone, probably kids, had used it to start a fire, or else they had started a small fire with the idea to burn the chair once the fire got going. It was a bad idea. The red seat of the chair did not burn well and they never got enough heat going to burn the back and the legs. All they did was ruin the chair.  Someone had left that chair safely sheltered so that it would be available to sit upon each time they visited the Abbey. A man walking with a crutch appeared as we were leaving. He used his crutch to point to the chair and the failed fire and he said, “Kids! They are trying to have fun but they don’t know how.”

8 January Friday

We walked up behind the house that used to belong to Francie Cooney.  It has just been sold.  The sign is still up. It says SALE AGREED. I had never been up onto the land so we wandered in to take a look. Once there are new people in possession we would not think to go in and look around. That would be intruding.  The land goes back in three sections. I have been passing the house for years. I had no idea there was so much land stretching back from the road. The small house is in the first part and then there is a big open-sided shed with a rounded galvanized roof full of tools and broken machinery and some more land and then there is a third section with two stone buildings and a high wall. The stone wall on the left side of the entire piece of land is about two and a half meters high. Just by being back there and talking quietly we disturbed a fox who was sleeping up in a secret place on the wall. He ran along the length of it and disappeared.

9 January Saturday

Tommie loves fruit. He claims to love all fruit. He is also partial to sweet things: cakes and biscuits and puddings and pies.  But his preferred favorite thing is fresh fruit. I knocked on his door today, took a few steps back and asked him if he likes pineapple. He looked dubious and then we talked a little and I gave him the box with a piece of pineapple cake in it. The box was made of cardboard so Tommie could not see the cake that was inside the box. Looking at the box gave him no clues to its contents. Simon had made the cake from one of the pineapples that has been lined up on the windowsill with pine cones. It was the last of the pineapples that we called our Christmas decoration. The cake was made following a recipe from Mauritius but I did not tell Tommie that. He was a little disturbed about the fact that he did not know if he had ever had a pineapple or if he had ever seen a pineapple. He would have been further disturbed by the word Mauritius. I gave him the box along with a carton of Bird’s Custard.  I told him that the pineapple and the custard go well together. He asked if this thing in the box was a sweet thing or was it something else. He did not say the word pineapple. The word seemed to disturb him.  I explained that it was a cake made with the fruit of the pineapple. Once he knew that it was a sweet, his face relaxed and he looked happy and he said that he looked forward to the eating of it.

11 January Monday

Robins are everywhere. There are many birds of all kinds on the feeders and on the bushes but mostly there are dozens and dozens of robins. For a while I thought I was getting to know one and that she was getting to know me. Now I know that there are too many robins to really focus upon. I cannot recognize one from another. They are all fat and they are all everywhere. I cannot keep the feeders full enough.

12 January Tuesday

There is not a lot of variety in the things to see when I go out to walk. At this time of year there is not much animal activity. Most days things are much the way they were the day before.  Most days I never meet another person. I have to take different routes to provide myself with variety especially now that we can only go five kilometers from home for exercise.  Today I got excited when I saw something in the road up ahead of me.  I was looking at it for a long time as I approached. I could not decide what it was.  Finally I got close enough to identify it.  It was a sugar beet. What did I expect it to be? It was not even a whole sugar beet, but only half a sugar beet. The other half must have gone off in the machine that gathered them up in the field. This half might have fallen off a trailer. It gave me something to look at and something to think about. I am still excited about it.

15 January Friday

Tommie did not enjoy the pineapple cake. He was polite about it. He said that since he has never before eaten nor seen a pineapple probably it is too late for him to start. He did not like the pineapple cake but he was very happy to have eaten the entire carton of Bird’s Custard.

16 January Saturday

I went to the Farmer’s Market but it was not fully up and running after the  Christmas break. I was a week early.  Pat was not there, so there was no fish. James was not there so there were no organic vegetables.  Maria was not there so there was no cheese. Those were the things I had come to buy. There were a few other stalls open so I did purchase a few items. I decided I would need to go over to the supermarket to buy more food.

A man in the SuperValu car park shouted to me: DO YOU READ BOOKS? I looked up as he ran over to me, wearing his mask and lugging an enormous shopping bag full of books.  I looked at the books and they were a terrible mess or at least the ones showing at the top of the bag were in a dreadful state.  The covers were bent and curled and stained and torn. I told the man that I had so many of my own books at home that I simply did not have space for anymore.  I directed him to the wire bin just inside the door of the supermarket. The bin is full of books that people leave there and other people scrabble through them and help themselves to whatever they want. The man said he was headed for that bin but he saw me first and he said he thought I might be the kind of person who might want an entire bag of books.

17 January Sunday

Sometimes Saturday night or maybe Sunday night. Going to the sauna once a week is the closest thing to Going Out Somewhere that we have had throughout the last ten months. It is an occasion to look forward to and an occasion to savor. Walking the 80 meters across the yard in the darkness in my dressing gown offers a new challenge. I can no longer just wander along looking up at the stars as I usually do. There are snowdrops coming up everywhere in the grass.  They are not easily visible by the light of the lantern because most are not yet in blossom. There is not very much white to catch the light. Walking in the dark demands careful attention. I do not want to step on them.

18 January Monday

I telephone Tommie once a week and when I do I try to have some news for him. Sometimes there is little to tell. We none of us have much news in these endless lockdowns. He told me that he considers himself a hermit these days. A hermit who has his dinner delivered each day by Eileen Condon. He told me that her portions are mighty.  The dinner is usually too much food so he has enough left over for his tea too. He finds these days of quarantine long and lonely. Today I had some news for him. He was pleased to hear that a man from the council had been down for a look and now some work is promised on our boreen.  I told him that the potholes are worse than they have ever been. Even the postman is shocked by the state of things. It is easy for the council to forget about this road because there is only our one house on it. They forget that they are responsible for it.

19 January Tuesday

I had received the order from Dublin. My habit is to send payment by return post with a check. The last time I made this same order, Esther included an envelope addressed to herself in my handwriting and with an uncancelled stamp on the upper right hand corner. This was the envelope I had used for the time before. Esther did not say anything in her note about the envelope but I accepted it for the small kindness that it was. I put my check into the envelope and I felt smug for getting the chance to use the same stamp twice.  This time an envelope arrived with my order again.  It was completely wrinkled and a little torn and it was addressed to Esther herself again, but not in my handwriting.  It was someone else’s handwriting and someone else’s envelope. Their stamp had not been cancelled either. So I used this envelope already posted by someone else to send my payment to Esther, again for free.

20 January Wednesday

Some undergrowth has been cleared up at Middlequarter. A post with signs for walkers is suddenly visible. It is not a new post nor are the signs new. They were there but they were hidden. I am intrigued with the one pointing to the village announcing: Refreshments Available.

21 January Thursday

While out walking I had seen the car driving around slowly. It is always a big thing to note the first new car of the year. Well, it is not a big thing, but it is anyway a thing to be on the look out for the first brand new car with the number of the new year on the license plate.  I saw a red car with the number 21 and then I saw it again about 30 minutes later. It was driving slowly around the area.  No one is allowed to go more than 5 kilometres from home so this car was circling and driving the same roads.  Because of the new and very infectious variant of the virus, the Guards are out in surprising places stopping people on bicycles and in cars and telling them to go home and to stay at home. They are giving people warnings. This morning I saw the red car again down at the shop. There were no other cars parked out front. There was no one around at all, except me, and this car with the 21 plates backed in so that the front of the car was facing outwards. The driver was sitting in his seat waiting to catch the eye of anyone who arrived. As I left I recognized that it was Larry Doocey sitting in the car. He was waiting for people to notice his new motorcar.  I spoke to Tommie in the afternoon and I mentioned Larry and the new automobile. He was not surprised, but he appreciated getting the news. He said. “Ah yes. It is exactly the time for Larry to buy a new car. He has always been A Man for The Changing Up.”

22 January Friday

We were told to expect the road crew from the council today. The plan was that they would bring the digger and scrape out the grass down the middle of the boreen. Then they would return on Monday to fill and fix as much of the road as they could fix.  That was the plan but this morning the digger was not available so now we are promised the same activity for Monday. The idea was that we would be trapped down here all day unable to drive out.  It is nothing new to stay home all day but it is not normal to be warned of the entrapment ahead of time. .

Pineapples and Pine Cones

12 December Saturday

I found shredded paper and mouse droppings in a deep corner of the long cupboard. There was no food in the vicinity.  The mice were happy enough to chew on other things. I was cleaning up the mess and moving things around as I searched for more of the same. All the time that I was looking and clearing, I was wondering where the mice had entered, and when. I do not know if this is fresh activity or old activity.  I wondered if this nibbling was done yesterday, or was it long ago?  Maybe it was September?

14 December Monday

He is a tall man. He wears a waistcoat with many pockets over a heavy sweater, but he does not wear a hat. There is no logic about when he arrives. It might be early on a Sunday morning or he might appear on a weekday afternoon. There are twelve or fifteen small dogs with the man. They run in ever lengthening loops all around him but they never go too far from him. None of the dogs have collars and none of them are large. They are not hunting dogs. Some of them look like long-haired dachshunds but I do not think that is what they are. That is the nearest way for me to describe them. All of the dogs are mixed-up breeds and all of the dogs are short-legged and all of the dogs are fast and quiet. They are not a barking and baying pack. The man is formal in his address. He has dark curly hair and looks like a person from a medieval painting. He is not a modern man. He might be in his late thirties or he might be older. When the man and his dogs appear down the track he always asks politely if I have seen The Fox. I always say no. I never help anyone in their pursuit of a fox. Sometimes he asks if it is okay for him to cut across our land and to cross up into Joe’s fields. Sometimes he turns and goes back the way he came. Other times he continues up the Mass Path towards Johnnie Mackin’s. The dogs are everywhere. They are like a liquid mass moving all through the yard and off into the fields. They rush to drink out of the low water butt. I see the dogs before I see the man. He carries a curved horn over his shoulder with a strap. It gives off the loud rallying TallyHo call associated with The Hunt. This man has no horse, no weapon and no crowd of people and baying dogs with him. He is always alone with his many small dogs. When he blows the horn the dogs all come running from wherever they are. He also carries a huge whip, which is hooked onto his belt. When he cracks the whip in the air the dogs hear the loud snap and they come running to join him. Each time he comes the man tells me that he is looking for The Fox because it is stealing chickens. I do not believe him. Today the dogs appeared and shortly after they arrived, he himself arrived, walking down from Scully’s wood and asking if I had seen The Fox. I did not say a word. I bent my head at the neck and gave him a little grimace to say that we have had this conversation three or four times already and to say that you know that I will not tell you even if I have seen The Fox. He nodded, said Thank You, and then he bowed low from the waist. He turned and strode back up the track. A few minutes later I heard the horn. Any of the dogs remaining in the yard rushed away to join him.

15 December Tuesday

The morning was bitter and sharp. The cold was harsh. Derek was late delivering the post. He was so late that I had assumed that there would be no post delivered at all. I asked him why he was not wearing his cap. He acknowledged my concern and agreed that yes, it was way too cold to be out without a cap. He told me that he had had a puncture. I wondered what a punctured tyre had to do with him not wearing a hat. He explained that he had to change the tyre on the van early this morning in the dark and when he was finished, he used his cap to clean and dry his wet hands. It was the only thing he could find. He said it was better to wear no cap at all than to pull a wet and muddy one down over his ears.

18 December Friday

As of today, we are released from our six week lockdown. We are now allowed to cross county borders. The trouble is that everyone else is allowed to cross the county borders too, so there is a mad rush in all directions. It is pre-Christmas panic. It seems to be a very good time to not cross any borders and not to go near the town and to just pretend that we are still not allowed to go anywhere. We shall continue to stay at home.

19 December Saturday

It was a rare treat to find razor clams at the market.  We ate them for lunch.

20 December Sunday

I am always happy to see Anthony’s tyre tree out on display again. He keeps it out back on its pallet all year and brings it around to the front at this time of year after festooning it with fresh ivy vines and little lights.

21 December Monday

The shop in the village is extra busy right before lunch time. There are workmen and delivery men picking up sandwiches to eat in their vans and there are the wives of farmers all in a rush collecting a bit of something towards the dinner. There is always one women who roars, “I cannot stop to talk. I left The Spuds On The Boil!”

22 December Tuesday

When something is broken beyond repair, it is Banjaxed. Banjaxed means that an object or a machine is broken, or ruined. A person can be Banjaxed too—ruined or shattered or deeply deeply tired. A person who is Banjaxed might just be exhausted.

24 December Thursday

I have lined the windowsill with pineapples and pine cones. The pineapples were on special offer at the supermarket for 47 cents each. I bought a couple and then I bought a couple more. They look very festive. The windowsill looked best when there were six pineapples in a row, but we keep eating them so now there are only three.

25 December Friday

Someone spread slurry on the fields. It was either Joe or Joe. The smell is noxious and it burns the back of the throat even when I am outside for only a few minutes. That is the bad news. The good news is that the first snowdrop has come up. It is early but it is a welcome sign of spring. A sign of hope.

27 December Sunday

We have been beaten and thrashed by Storm Bella. We had yellow warnings and we had amber warnings. Winds and rain and the noise of it all. It went on and on and on. I think it is now over. I hope it is over. There is deep water everywhere but we have not suffered downed trees. We have not lost our electricity. The west of the country has had it worse with snow and severely blocked roads. We are just mired in even more mud than we already had. Walking out in any direction is hard slogging work.

29 December Tuesday

My pursuit of mice continues. The long cupboard has been cleared. Traps are set but the mice ignore the traps. They are eating poison every day but it is not killing them. They take some of the poison and move along the length of a shelf and eat it there. They come back for more and more pellets and they continue to evade my traps. Apparently there is an explosion of mice all over the country this winter. Everyone has mice and everyone is fighting the same battle but most people do not talk about it for fear of the rodents reflecting badly on them. My mice keep chewing and nibbling paper and cardboard. Any and all food items have been removed and stored in a big plastic box. Everything else taken out of the cupboard is in little piles along the wall. I am looking forward to being able to put things back but I am mostly looking forward to the end of the mice.

30 December Wednesday

Today is Simon’s birthday. I bought him a calendar down at the shop. It was a fund-raising project for the FAS scheme. It has a few tractors on it. It also has one page with some cleaned-up farm equipment repainted with bright colours. I do not think he will like this calendar much, but I will. He is not interested to view farm machinery and tractors in the everyday world around him so he will not be interested in photographs of them. I will wrap the calendar up and give it to him with the card I have not yet made. He went up and down to the book barn a few times this morning.  It is too cold to stay working down there for long. On one of the trips back and forth, a bird shat on his head.  It was obviously a big bird because it was an enormous messy dropping. He had to wash his hair thoroughly to get rid of it. If it had been a seagull, it would be considered Good Luck. But we think it was a magpie or a crow.  Their droppings are big but they do not arrive with any promise of luck.

31 December Thursday New Year’s Eve.

Last night the sky was beautifully clear. We were able to see the Full Moon. The out of doors was so bright that there was no need for a torch. We have missed the last two full moons due to thick cloud cover and rain. We missed the alignment of Jupiter and Saturn too. Maybe this sighting of the full moon is a positive sign for the year to come. Last night at midnight the entire country went back into Level Five Lockdown.  It is only 13 days since we were released from the last lockdown. Everything except essential retail shops such as food and pharmacies is closed and will remain closed. We can only go five kilometres from home for the purpose of exercise. These restrictions will remain in place until the end of January. It is more cheering to think about the bright full moon and the extension everyday of our hours of daylight.

Don’t Act the Maggot

23 November Monday

The good news is that I now have a robin friend who hops along close to me as I perform small outdoor jobs. Wherever I go out of doors she appears and follows me. The days are bitter and frosty and short so most jobs get done in small spurts. I am stacking another load of firewood, and plucking off the big figs left on the bush while leaving only the tiny fingernail-sized ones. Moving the clay pots into the shed to avoid them cracking with frost and moving plants into the house or the book barn to help them to survive the winter. This new robin has no name yet but if she sticks around and becomes the robin who recognizes me and who I expect to see every day, I will of course name her. It is companionable to have a small presence to chat to in the cold. She tips her head to the left each time I speak.

24 November Tuesday

Tommie has lost track of how long it has been since he last visited Margaret in the care home in Cappoquin. He thinks he was forbidden to visit even before we went into this lockdown but he claims he is mixed up with the time. He knows that there is no chance that Margaret will remember when they last met so if he cannot remember then it probably does not matter anyway. He told me that when he last saw her she was in good form and that she was Thumping Away on Her Crate. He said he could not hear the racket through the glass dividing wall. Her Crate is what he calls her walking frame.

25 November Wednesday

The day was sunny and frosty. There was only one car parked in front of the shop. An elderly woman sat in the passenger seat. She waved to me with enthusiasm and mouthed greetings through the tightly closed window. I went into the shop and when I came out again the car was still there but the woman was gone. I looked up just in time to see her scurrying out from the churchyard leaning heavily on her stick and coming across the road as fast as she could move which was not very fast. She was out of breath when she reached the car and she asked me not to tell a soul that I had seen her. Her husband was still inside in the shop. She said there would be a massacre if he learned that she had stepped out of the car, especially as she was wearing neither a hat nor a mask. She had just popped into the churchyard to say hello to her parents in their grave. She felt certain that they would be feeling the cold.

26 November Thursday

The Community Alert text message warned that a white Nissan van was ‘calling to farmers’ yards looking for hay.’ The identifying number of the van was given and any sightings were to be reported to the Cahir Garda Station. The problem was not that someone was needing hay for their animals. The implication was that Looking for Hay was a pretext for people looking for things to steal.

27 November Friday

Not many cows are still grazing in the fields. Some herds are already under cover for the winter. Whenever I see any cows out in the grass, I call out “Hello Cows! It’s me!”

29 November Sunday

The morning is white. There is nothing to see beyond the book barn. The fields are gone. Joe’s cows are gone. The hills beyond are gone. There are no hills. Thick fog makes everything into an absence.

1 December Tuesday

Today is the first day that things are open again. We have completed our Six Week National Level 5 Lockdown. Almost everything is re-opening today: shops selling non-essential goods, libraries, churches, hairdressers and barbers are all open. Restaurants and cafés will be allowed to open in a few more days. Wet Bars will not be allowed to open. Everything is being staggered to try and keep group movement under control. We are still required to stay within our own county. Announcers on the radio are warning people not to be careless and not to congregate in groups indoors. I heard several voices instructing people: Don’t Act The Maggot. To Act The Maggot is to behave in a foolish way. It is to play at being dumb, usually to garner attention. I have never heard this slang expression used in official terms but today I have heard it again and again. Because everyone knows the expression, we know that we are being told to behave.

2 December Wednesday

I was nearing the top bit of the mass path where it is almost a road or it would be a road if anyone could drive on it. It is wide enough for a single vehicle but it is overgrown with grass and weeds and bushes on both sides are impinging. I saw Buddy up ahead. He was squatting and relieving his bowels. He looked at me with surprise but he did not bark. He finished what he was doing and then he jumped up and over the wall into his yard. Once there he began to bark furiously. His barking made Jessie come running and she ran ahead of him to bark louder and to jump up on me when I reached the tar road.  Buddy stayed in the background and let her do the job of protecting the property.

4 December Friday

There was a bloody bird carcass on a mossy rock. The bones of the body were still attached to the wing. I must have interrupted the fox because when I walked back that way an hour later, all evidence of the bird was gone. There was nothing left except the mossy rock.

7 December Monday

The fog was bad. Again. Thick and white and impenetrable. Driving to Waterford was terrifying but I needed to go to the hospital for a test.  I had no choice. I had a valid medical reason to cross the county line and I was driving in dense fog. It was a big day for me. I was halted by a Garda. I thought I was being stopped to justify my destination, but instead it was because there had been a collision. It looked bad. I had to wait a little while for the emergency services to arrive. I was the only car waiting so I was asked to put on my flashers to warn anyone who might drive up behind me. As I sat waiting for permission to drive onward, I watched two Garda unfolding a newspaper and attempting to cover the license plate of the mangled car. They had some tape but it was not the right kind of tape for the wet and cold weather. The newspaper kept falling off. They tried tucking it in around and behind the number plate, but nothing was working very well. The paper got wet and fell off. The Garda who had stopped me told me that they were trying to cover the plate so that if someone saw the car and perhaps knew the people who had been in it, they would not recognise the vehicle and be upset.

An Added Apostrophe

26 October Monday

Today is a Bank Holiday. In the current climate, it is difficult to know what this means. It is difficult to know if the words Bank Holiday mean anything at all. We remain in Level Five Lockdown. Everything everywhere is closed and everyone is staying at home. The word Holiday feels misplaced.

31 October Saturday

Wild winds gusted and bashed the country all night. All leaves have been blown off all trees. Branches are naked. Views are opened up. We can see things in the far distance. We can view vistas that have not been visible since last year. This is all the work of Storm Adrian. Or it might be the other storm that was coming right behind him. It is not easy to keep track of the names of these relentless winds off the Atlantic.

Most of the vendors at the Farmers Market did not even try to put up their little tents this morning. James, the vegetable man, attached his tent to his car in the hope that the car would keep it from blowing away. Lorraine opened the boot of her car and used the interior space to display her baked goods in tiered rows. We could not get very close to anything she had on offer but we could point to what we wanted. No one lingered at the market. We purchased our food and we rushed away. The noise of the wind made conversation impossible.

1 November Sunday

Today is the first day of the shooting season. I have already seen three cars with men inside and tiny covered trailers being pulled behind. The trailers carry the gun dogs, usually three or four of them squished into the small space. The men will be out hoping to shoot birds and the dogs will be hoping to retrieve the downed birds. It is the time of year for me to sing loudly and to recite poetry when I walk through wooded areas. I need to alert the men with guns that I am not something to be shot. More importantly, I hope to alert the birds of possible danger.

2 November Monday

Joe has had a new man working with him up at the farm for a few weeks now. Today I was chatting to the new man while waiting for the cows to cross the track, so I asked his name. He said his name is Joe. Joe is working for Joe. And then there is the other Joe in the adjoining fields. Joe and Joe and Joe. We are surrounded by Joes.

9 November Monday

It has been an exhausting week. Watching and listening to the election and the results and the endless discussions and laborious counting has been all-consuming. On top of my own concern, I have had to take on the role of The American. I have received many phone calls and messages of congratulations and of shared joy and relief. These messages have arrived from England and from just down the road. I have been stopped by neighbors out walking. Without seeking the job, I seem to have been representing the entire nation. I am the American Friend. One man who knew who I was although I did not know he was, stopped his car when I was walking on the road. He rolled down his window and he asked me if I had voted in the US election. He said, “Of course it only matters to me if you voted the right way.” We quickly established that he and I shared the same idea about who the right choice was. One man, who is a Rabid Republican, avoids me if we happen to be in the village at the same time. Many years ago he lived in the United States and he retains his vote there. He takes his responsibility as a voter seriously. He takes his role as an American even more seriously. I do not know why he lives here and not there. I do not think that he likes having another American in the vicinity. Without me around, he could be the authority on all things American. I do not want the job but I know that he does want it. Actually, he stopped acknowledging me years ago, so this election makes no difference to anything at all.

10 November Tuesday

The newest Gift from the Government is the offer of Free Postage to anyone sending anything to a residential Care Home. A letter or a parcel to a friend or an elderly relative or anyone at all is now carried by An Post for free. The government is trying to make up for the fact that because of The Covid, no one can visit their loved ones in a home. They think everyone will feel better if things can be sent without cost as often as one wants. And they are certain that the people inside the homes will feel better too.

11 November Wednesday

The bales of silage wrapped in pink plastic are cheerful against the grey skies.  Not all farmers use the pink plastic but many do. The pink silage wrap appears every year. It starts out bright pink and it fades in the light.  It’s purchase price goes toward helping support Breast Cancer charities. The idea is that the surprise of pink bales in the landscape will remind everyone that this is an problem that is not going away and that it is one that needs attention and vigilance. The pink is always a surprise. No matter how often I see the bales close up or in the distance they refuse to be ignored.

12 November Thursday

The child had thrown himself onto the ground. He was weeping with ferocious energy. His crying left him gasping and gulping and making a lot of noise. It looked to me like he could not get any air. I watched him with concern. His mother saw my face. She said “Don’t worry yourself, he knows that kind of Hegging will get him plenty of attention.” Hegging is the word for this particular form of desperate sobbing. Just when I think I know all the words that might be new to me, along comes another one.

13 November Friday

Helen McGrath keeps bees up in the Knockmealdowns. Her bees feed on mountain heather. The honey is delicious. The printed labels for the jars were missing an apostrophe. I have enjoyed adding an apostrophe each time we purchased a jar of Helen’s Honey. A new label has now been designed. This one has an apostrophe where it should be, so the jar we are now eating will be the last one with An Added Apostophe.

14 November Saturday

The man selling organic chickens and sausages, bacon, and rashers off his tiny table at the market pronounced loudly to another man. His voice was scornful and dismissive. He said “Vegetarians are No Good to me!”

16 November Monday

The winds have been relentless for weeks now. I go to sleep with the sound of the wind and I wake up to the sound of wind. We have also had a lot of rain. The fields around the village disappeared as they turned into one enormous lake. The river left its banks and became part of the lake. There were no longer any edges to anything, no recognizable boundaries. We lost all sense of location in the landscape. Trees without leaves popped up as if growing out of water. It was hard to know if they were dead or alive. The hump-backed bridge was the only familiar thing. It was shocking to drive down to the shop and to see all of the water. Now the waters have mostly receded. Fields are back and the grass is bright green. It is not easy to believe that all of that water has been so quickly absorbed by the land. Of course, not all of the water is gone anyway. Most of the fields have select lakes and ponds still visible in their low places.

17 November Tuesday

Our internet has been down more often than it has been up and running. It is all weather dependent. It comes and goes in gusts, like the wind. It has not been possible to ring a neighbor and to ask to go to their house and use their internet because we are not supposed to go inside anyone else’s house. Everyone is trying hard to obey the rules and not to allow anyone into their homes. I went down to the shop and I was given permission to sit alone in the badly lit storeroom surrounded by boxes of pasta and porridge and biscuits. The cold came up through my feet and numbed my legs but the wi-fi was strong and good. I have been trying all day to post this blog. I may need to drive back to the village and head back into storeroom to get it done.