The Journal

Erica Van Horn – Living Locally

Going to Bed in the Bright

25 June Monday

A man in a tractor dumped a big pile of stuff to the side of the storage shed on Mason’s land. It looked like lime. When his trailer was empty, he climbed down from the cab and put a delivery note bill under a stone. I was walking up the track towards him. He waved and shouted across the field , “If you see your man tell him the bill is right there. But no worry. He’ll find it or he won’t!”

 

24 June Sunday

To me, it is a pie. Here it is called a tart: top crust, bottom crust and a layer of fruit in between. I find there is always too much pastry for the skimpy amount of fruit inside. The fresh tart in the shop had a large circle cut out of the top crust. The piece of crust which had been cut out was laid onto the top of the tart, just beside the hole, so that the hole was both absent and present. It was still attached to the tart and had been baked right along with the rest.

23 June Sunday

The cows in the lower meadow began bellowing sometime after midnight. They woke me up. I lay in the dark and listened. I wondered what had set them off. There was moaning and mooing. Screaming. Lowing. Roaring. I do not know what got them going. Hunger? Separation? Distress? Maybe a fox startled one of them.  After about twenty minutes they were quiet again. I went back to sleep.

22 June Saturday

The talk at the Farmers Market this morning was all about the dead goose. By current count, 41 geese live in the river with their nests up on the banking of the castle. They are fed a lot of snacks by tourists and given a more healthy regular diet by locals. They have no reason to leave the area. Last week one of the geese was walking across the car park when he was hit by a car and killed. The car drove away without stopping. The murdered goose was named Bruce. I did not know any of the geese had names. This makes me wonder if perhaps they all have names? Apparently a young girl gave Bruce his name but how did she recognise him in the crowd? They all look very similar to me.

21 June Friday. Solstice. The Longest Day

At this time of year there is not much night. Today is the longest day. The sun rose at 4.56. It will set at 21.56. The elderly woman in the shop complained that these long hours of daylight depress her. She feels that seven hours of darkness is not enough. She finds it a sad and difficult time because she fears Going To Bed in the Bright. She knows that she is not the only one.

20 June Thursday

A young man boarded the bus with us at the airport. He was carrying a large bouquet of flowers. It was a showy and extravagant bouquet in a white cellophane paper. The paper was like an enormous upside-down white skirt. I do not know where he bought such a bouquet. I do not think there are flowers on sale anywhere at the airport. I think this man must have bought the bouquet somewhere else. He must have arrived at the airport with the flowers but it was not to give the flowers to someone just off a plane from somewhere because he had no one with him. He just had the flowers. Now he was boarding the bus and taking the flowers somewhere else. The entire bus smelled of his bouquet. It was a bit much. There were enormous lilies and something else with a strong smell. The man wedged his bouquet high up into a crack between the two seats in front of him so he could enjoy the journey and have his hands free while the flowers were safe from any crushing and damage.

Before leaving Dublin we made a stop at the bus station. Two people heavily laden with plastic carrier bags stuffed full of things got on the bus. A terrible smell arrived with them. Suddenly the flower fumes that had seemed overwhelming during the journey from the airport to the station seemed not so bad. There would be at least two hours between leaving the Bus Aras and the first stop. No one would be able to get off the bus. This was a daunting prospect. I wondered if I would be able to stand it. A older woman leaned across the aisle towards me and she sort of cooed: “Oh the Poor Poor Misfortunates.” Then she sighed heavily and went back to her book.

Traffic was bad and the bus was slow. The two hour journey took three hours. I was sitting near the front of the bus. The bouquet was propped up in its position of safety in the center of the bus. The Poor Misfortunates sat all the way in the back of the bus. I suppose I was lucky in a way. From where I sat, the smells cancelled each other out and I was far enough away to able to forget about them, at least for some of the time.

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It is Nice to be Nice.


12 June Wednesday

I went into town to get a new tax disc for the car. The old one expired at the end of May. We have until the end of June to get a new one. A one month grace period. I was feeling a little bit confused. Maybe this is the old way and things have changed while I failed to notice that they had changed. I felt certain that the one month grace period somehow does not apply any longer and that instead of me being a few weeks early to get my new disc, I am actually a few weeks late. I asked the woman at the counter if this was still the system. She said Yes, of course. I asked her why we are allowed an entire month after the date of expiration. Shouldn’t the tax expiring mean that the tax has expired? Why do we get a whole month extra to sort ourselves out? She explained that everyone is always so very busy with things to do and deadlines and life in general, so why should the motor tax office put more pressure on people? Then she added, “And, anyway, it is nice to be nice.”

11 June Tuesday

A starling is caught in the blind of an old empty house in Irishtown. It must have gone down the chimney and got itself caught in the blind trying to escape out the window and now it is dead. There is not a thing to be done. It is too late for anything to be done. I look at it every time I pass. I try not to look but then I do. It has been hanging there for a long while now. It does not seem to get any more decomposed. It just hangs there. Dead.

 

10 June Monday

The tiny calves are together in one field, without their mothers. They have two little white plastic houses to go into to get out of the rain. Or to get their food which might be in there to keep it dry, or to keep it from being blown around. These are the reasons that I thought they have the little houses. Today under a steady soft, but persistent, drizzle, I saw all of the calves huddled in a tight group in a far corner of their field. They were moaning and bellowing together in voices louder than their small bodies seem able for. And they were all wet. So much for my theories about shelter.

9 June Sunday

Elderflowers are everywhere. Except when they are not. They look like they are everywhere. The cream colored blossoms are polka-dotted all over the landscape. Everywhere in every direction, there are elderflowers. Their omnipresence is deceptive. The big floppy flowers are all high up on the trees. Today we had a few hours of bright sun in the midst of all the rain and the grey darkness and cold days. When we do get some sun, it is watery sunlight. It is not strong hot sun. I decided I must gather the flowers and make at least one batch of elderflower cordial. The weather forecast is promising ten straight days of rain and no sun. And this on top of all of the cold and sunless days we have already had. I decided I had to use today’s sunlight to get the blossoms while I could. Popular wisdom says that blossoms picked in overcast light will make a cordial that smells like cat pee. I did not want to risk that. I went out with clippers and a basket to collect 20 or 25 blossoms, which is not very many. It was really hard to even get that small amount. Everything was high up and way out of my reach. I eventually got my flowers and made my single batch. It was far too difficult. I can only hope the rains move off and I will have a second chance to make more.

8 June Saturday
I went to the vet’s office to collect some bubble wrap. They are happy to save the bubble for me as it is a kind of recycling. It is a slow job for me to go through it all and remove the tape from the bunched up bits, but it is free. I try to remind myself that the time I spend untangling and folding up the bubble wrap is cheaper than the money we would spend to buy brand new rolls of it. They seem to have less bubble these days. Maybe the vaccines and the liquids for the cows and horses are being shipped in plastic instead of glass containers. Or maybe there is another reason. Anyway I need to stop in more frequently than I used to and I get less per trip than I used to.

As I waited for the young girl on duty to stuff my bubble into a bin liner, I met a 3 1/2 year old mixed breed Whippet. I fell in love immediately. I have been vaguely looking for a new dog. I have mentioned here and there that I am ready for a new dog. I have mentioned here and there that I am no longer happy to live without a dog. I have mentioned that when I see the dog that is to be my dog, I will know immediately. Seeing this dog gave me that feeling. Unfortunately, this dog was happily owned and loved by the two people with her. But now I have a whole new breed of dog to be looking at and for. I did not know I wanted a Whippet, but now I do.

7 June Friday

The bee hives from the bee man in Burncourt are back on the tops of Mike’s wrecked cars in his work yard. These hives are different from the ones that the same man brought last year. One is covered with tar paper. Another looks like a picnic cooler painted yellow. The third one is just a wooden box with a red top. The bee man is looking to attract a new swarm. None of the boxes have attracted any bees yet. I think this weather is too cold for bees.

Wet Rain.

 

6 June Thursday

All week, every single time I look out the window or walk out the door I see a rabbit. There is never not a rabbit in my line of vision. Simon has been adamant when he assures me that there is only one rabbit and that I am always seeing the same rabbit. Tonight I walked across from the barn and I saw three rabbits in a little group quietly eating grass together. Another one was hopping over near the white lilac.  I should know better than to believe Simon.  Rabbits often look alike. And rabbits are known to multiply. Pretending that there is only one is silly.

5 June Wednesday

A motorcar had turned in at the end of the lane. There was a tractor and another big machine cutting and collecting silage in the adjoining field. Jobs like cutting silage get contracted out. I recognized neither the machinery nor the men. They machines both rushed over to the corner of the field when the car arrived. A woman and a small boy got out of the car. The woman stretched up on tip-toes to pass a couple of plastic containers over the stone wall to the young man. He climbed down from his tractor to meet her. Then she handed a flask and two big plastic bottles of some fizzy drink over to him. He put one container and one bottle up and into his tractor. He walked over and handed one of each of the things up to the man in the other machine. Then the woman lifted the little boy over the wall. The man reached and lifted the boy the rest of the way over and into the field. The boy was about 6. I am guessing his age from his size. Maybe he was younger. Maybe he was older. I did not know the woman, nor the man, nor the other man who never left his machine.  I had never seen the little boy. I was only out for a walk by myself. The man, who might have been a brother or the father or an uncle swung the boy up into the tractor and then he climbed up himself. The little boy stood high on the seat beside the man and he waved wildly with both hands at the woman and at me.  He was delighted to be in the tractor in the midst of the important work of bringing in the silage. He wanted to be seen to be high up in the tractor. The woman and I stood and waved at the boy as the machines turned away from us and started back into the work of cutting grass and circling round and round the field. We waved until the boy stopped waving and directed his attention to the job being done.

4 June Tuesday

Today has been all day Wet Rain. People might think that all rain is wet.  There are different kinds of rain. There is Soft Rain. Rain can be Desperate. It can be Lashing. I do not think there are as many words for rain here as some northern places have for snow but there are a lot of ways to explain and describe rain. I doubt I have heard all of them yet. Wet Rain is a particular sort of soaking rain. It is the kind of rain which means you will get wet no matter how you dress or how you move.  A Wet Rain will drench any person out in it. This is a certainty. The daisies are drooping down with this all day rain. They are drooping and dripping. They are lying down flat with the excessive water so they are tangling into each other and sometimes tripping us when we try to move through them. We get wet simply by walking out to check to see if the post has arrived or going down to the the book barn to do a job. It is much too wet to go out to trim these flopping daisies out of the way.  We have the choice of changing our trousers with abnormal frequency, or else we just stay in the house.

3 June Monday

Morning. How are you? Are you well? This quickly spoken greeting comes out like one long word with little space for breathing or differentiation. The you is pronounced as ye. MorningHowareyeAreyewell?

2 June Sunday

There is a big black bull in Joe’s front field. I call it the front field. Probably Joe does not call this field the front field. It is the first field as I enter the boreen from the road. It is the field on my right. When there is a bull in residence, the bull is always in this field. I do not think that Joe owns a bull. I think that he rents or leases a bull for a month or for a few weeks for breeding. The bull arrives from another farm in order to inseminate cows. I do not think they say inseminate. I hear it said that the bull is here to Cover the Cows. This is not the same bull as in recent years. The previous bull was brown and white. This bull is black. He is so black that he looks like a silhouette against the green pasture. He is so black and so big that it is almost hard to see him. He is like an absence cut out of the field.

31 May Friday

I could not sleep last night. It was the jet lag. Coming from west to east is often a problem. Reading had not worked and listening to the radio had not worked. I finally got out of bed. I played solitaire for a while. This usually tires me. I get bored and sort of hypnotised by the cards and then I get sleepy. I did not become sleepy. I just kept playing. I worked on a crossword puzzle from yesterday’s newspaper. I read yesterday’s newspaper. After three hours I finally went back to bed. I did not sleep. The room was getting lighter and lighter. The birds were making an enormous noise outside. I should call it the dawn chorus but it sounded too noisy for a chorus. It was cacophony. I got up again. It was about four o’clock. I made a cup of tea and I went outside. It was too chilly to sit down so I walked around and looked at things. There was plenty of light to see everything that had been growing in my absence. The ox-eye daisies were rampant. They are the wild flowers that just take over everything at this time of year. It was really getting light but it was not bright. It was only a little after four in the morning. I could see the white blossom of the daisies and the pink roses against the grey stone of the book barn. There was plenty of light to see colours and to see details. It was subdued light but it was light. Joe’s cows were not in the near field but they were just a little further along in the second field across. They were all standing around along the rounding of the hill pulling grass and eating. I wondered why they were not sleeping. I wondered if cows sleep. My thoughts kept returning to sleep. There were more cows down in Donal’s field. That is the field I call the Low Meadow but Jim Trehy told me that a field like that is known as the Bottoms. I try to think of it as the Bottoms but as often as I remind myself of it, this name does not come naturally to me. It is still the low meadow and this morning it was full of Donal’s cows. I could see them clearly. Their black and white hides showed bright against the green. I walked down the orchard meadow and through the apple trees and I considered getting out a rake to gather up some of the long grass which had been cut down around the trees. I was wearing my dressing gown over my pajamas and a shawl around my shoulders. I was wearing low rubber boots. It did not seem the best outfit for raking and anyway I was too tired to DO anything. The only thing I wanted to do was to sleep and since I could not do that I was happy to look at all of the variations of white blossoms against all of the green and to watch a rabbit hopping and to listen to the birds singing and screaming. I finished one cup of tea as I walked so I went  inside to make another. It was 5.15 and there was no chance that I was going to get any sleep.

Your Own Name

14 May Tuesday

The woman at the desk asked me: “What is your own name, so?” Anywhere else a person asking for my name would be enough. Your Own Name is a kind of double possession. A double descriptor which never fails to surprise me. It should not surprise me any longer but it does.

13 May Monday

I was paying for my milk and newspaper when I felt eyes upon me. I looked to my left and there was Peggy, right beside me, and staring intently at me. The minute I turned towards her, she averted her head sharpish and marched across the shop to the magazines. She picked up a magazine and began flipping through pages rapidly. It was a teen magazine. Peggy has no children and she has no grandchildren. I am certain she has no interest in a teen magazine. It was obvious that she just grabbed the first thing that her hands touched. Peggy has not spoken to me for four or five years. The last time was a phone conversation when she rang and said that she did not want to fall out with me. We spoke on the phone for 45 minutes that day. We parted on good terms. Or I thought we parted on good terms. Since that day she refuses to salute if we pass one another in the car. She does not just fail to salute, she turns her head abruptly and looks away even if she is driving in a forward direction. It is a dangerous kind of head turning while operating a motor car, but she is making a point. In the last two years she has extended the snubbing to Simon. Her problem is with me and not with him, but he is now tainted by association. I wave and I greet her with a smile wherever and whenever we meet. This friendliness on my part has no effect. I have been told by another neighbour that Peggy fell out with the neighbour’s cousin over a jar of jam. That snubbing and feud lasted for twenty years. It only ended when the cousin died.

12 May Sunday

There have been thundering and thumping noises throughout the afternoon. All week there has been silage cutting. After it was cut the grass has been left to dry in piled up lengths through the fields. The fields looked like corduroy. Now machines are racing through the fields and picking up the piles and spitting them into huge trailers. The trailers are huge and blue and they are pulled by blue tractors that rush along beside the grass collecting machines. It is a dangerous time to be on the road or driving through the farmyard as the speed of the activity keeps everything moving at top speed. From here in our valley it sounds like planes on a runway. Sometimes it sounds like thunder. Sometimes it sounds like rumbling traffic from afar. The noises are a shocking change from the usual deep silence.

11 May Saturday

Ned painted his van. He painted it red. It already was red but he repainted it, just to brighten it up. He painted it with some red gloss paint from his shed and he used a paint brush. It is not well done. There are saggy bits where the paint was too heavy and it drooped in kind of sideways puddle. He did not do the small area around the letters on the back of the van because his brush was too big to get in between the letters. Around the chrome letters it is possible to see the old, not glossy red that was the previous colour. The van sat behind him at the Farmers Market as it always does. There was a lot of discussion of his van and his painting skills and not much of any attention paid to wooden bowls for sale on his tables. He got a lot of teasing but he did not seem to mind. I think he enjoyed it.

Old Linoleum

 

10 May Friday

There is a small piece of printed linoleum outside my work room.  It is old. It might have come from Johnnie Mackin’s house.  It might have come from Tommie Halley’s house. It might have come from some other old house where people had lived but where no one is living any longer. Maybe it was stuck onto the bottom of something and it fell off once it arrived here.  I have had it for a long time already. I keep it on the step. It is not useful for wiping feet. It is not useful for anything. I like the pattern. I think of it as a little welcome mat.

9 May Thursday

Pat flew to Paris on a mission. She went to Paris to buy herself a Hermès scarf. She spent nearly three hours in the store deciding which scarf to buy. She said that the staff were wonderful. She said they had nothing but patience. A friend went with her to help but he was not involved in the final choosing. That was her job alone. The friend stepped outside to have a cigarette break now and then. While smoking, he was able to keep track of the limousines and other fancy cars arriving at the shop. Most of the other customers were wealthy Asians and none of them were traveling alone. Maybe they were with family or perhaps they were with friends. The shop was spacious and well organised. The staff could manage all of the buyers and the entourages who came along with them. The scarf was Pat’s gift to herself for her 60th birthday. It was not a casual decision. It was a special, long-dreamed of and costly purchase. She wanted to get it right. It has been several weeks now but she has not worn the scarf yet. She opens the box on her kitchen table to admire it and to show it to friends. She unfolds the scarf and look at it spread out large. Then she folds it up again and puts it carefully back into the box. She is simply overjoyed to have it here in her house in Tipperary. She has invited me over for a viewing.

8 May Wednesday

The rain bucketed down all night and well into this morning. This soaking is much needed by the farmers and much appreciated by me. It has been cleansing and cleansing is what we need. It is that time of year again. I do not know what causes it or who is the culprit. Is it one type of bird? Or is it all of the birds? Once again the house is covered with lashings of excrement. The car is covered with excrement. Every piece of washing that goes out to the clothesline gets hit. The birds must be flying extremely fast so every splash is long and diagonal and white. What are they eating to make such milky white liquid poop? How fast are they flying to make it all land with such splatter? And why does this last for a few weeks and then, as abruptly as it began, it stops. It just stops. Every year it is like this. It starts and then after about ten days or two weeks, it stops. I have theories about young birds and young digestive systems but these theories are not based on facts.

 

7 May Tuesday

There is a fine looking triangle in the long field. The triangle was dug out and filled with gravel. I guess it is for drainage.

6 May Monday

Election posters have appeared everywhere. I like the variety of suddenly having language in the landscape. The posters are tied onto trees, fences and telephone poles. Some of the posters have the words RECYCLED POSTER along the bottom edge. I assume this means that the candidate has run for office before. It does not look like a new head has been struck onto an old one. Almost every poster has a photograph of a head on it. That is how we know who is who. There are small mobile units with a poster on each side which get moved around the area. Just as we get used to seeing somebody’s face on the little tent device on a particular corner or stretch of road the whole display disappears and is driven off to another location. We might see it in a new place but we might not. We may not drive that way so we may never see it again. I love the element of surprise as these trailers move around the countryside.

5 May Sunday

The black and white farm cat ran across the path in front of me. She had something in her mouth. At first I thought it was a small rabbit. It might have been a shrew but it was big enough to be a rat. Whatever it was, it was not dead. It was struggling hard to be released.

4 May Saturday

Tom used to come to the Farmers Market every Saturday. He did not buy anything at the market but he stood around for an hour or more talking with the various people who had stalls or with the other people who were there for the shopping. He spent most of his time talking with Ned Lonergan who makes things out of wood. Ned makes fine bowls and egg cups and walking sticks from local timber. He and Tom would usually discuss where a tree had fallen recently and who Ned might have to approach to get access to some of the wood. Today we met Tom in the SuperValu car park. We talked for a few minutes and mentioned that we missed seeing him at the market. He said he had stopped going to the market because Eileen does not care to shop at the market. She thinks it is certain to be too dear and that it is a kind of exclusive affair altogether. She says that if you begin to buy from one person you will have to buy from everyone or else you will make enemies. She says the market itself is nothing but a problem and a way to be forced to spend money that you do not have anyway. Eileen never did come to the market for her shopping and Tom only came to meet people and to have some conversation. She has told Tom that it is not right to go there if he is not there to buy things. So now he does not go at all, but he wishes he did.

 


3 May Friday

Tiny calves cluster together in the fields. They are so small that their legs wobble. Their legs are not yet strong. They tumble into one another. They seem too young to be away from their mothers. When Joe arrives with the teat trailer full of their formula they rush and jostle to get a suck. The once bright red teat trailer is now a faded pink. It looks like a miniature fairground carousel. With rubber teats.

1 May Wednesday

It is the first day of May but the nights are still cold. It does not feel like May. I brought in several wheelbarrow loads of firewood just to be ready. I hope we do not need a fire in the evening but the probability is that we will need a fire. My new method for unloading the wheelbarrow is to wheel it right into the house. The old system of armloads or baskets or buckets full from the doorway seems silly now. I wish I had been doing it this way for years.

Passing Blustery Showers

30 April Tuesday

Hay barns everywhere are empty or they are nearly empty. There is not much left to offer to hungry cows. The cattle are mostly out in the fields but when the weather gets bad they disappear back into barns and under the roof for a day or two. It is like this spring cannot decide to settle.

29 April Monday

I am distracted just now by Simon on the phone to FedEx about a parcel pick-up. The person on the other end of the line is somewhere in England. The person does not know where Tipperary is. Simon explains to him or her that Tipperary is in the Republic of Ireland. That does not seem to help. He cannot believe that this person has never heard of Tipperary. He explains that there is even a song about it. He asks if the person has never even heard this song. Now he is singing the song. Simon is singing Its a Long Way to Tipperary over the telephone to the FedEx person in England. I doubt it will help.

28 April Sunday

Large piles of grey stuff have been dumped in various fields. Every time that I see these piles I am startled and I worry that cement has been dumped in someone’s field. I think it is cement because it looks like cement but it is not cement. It is agricultural lime for spreading over pasture fields.

 

27 April Saturday

Friday was really cold. We spent the entire day anticipating the arrival of Storm Hannah. The winds were ferocious well before anything  had even started. The radio advised everyone to stay at home for six hours starting from 6 o’clock. We were also told to stay well out of the way of power lines and falling trees. Some places were given an Amber Warning. Western parts of the country were given a Red Warning. We knew there was a good chance that we would probably lose our electricity. It was a good night to be going nowhere.

By this morning the worst of the storm was over.  The sun was out and it was bright and cold. The winds were still wild. As expected, the west of the country got hit badly as Hannah blew in off the Atlantic. Our local damages were small in comparison. It took us a lot of driving and detouring and backing up and turning around to get to Cahir but we were determined to get to the market. There was a large tree down on the Ardfinnan road. We were told that the tree knocked down the power lines and took out the electricity for most of the village. Big branches and small branches were strewn everywhere. Flower pots and buckets and garden furniture have been blown all over the place. The Castle car park was littered with geraniums and other bedding plants that had blown right out of the soil. Everyone was discussing who had power and who did not have power.  The market stalls were all pushed up against the wall for protection from the wind.

Jim started to tell me about Speedy and Rattles, two brothers who live close to him. Their elderly mother lives not far from the brothers and she lost her electricity last night. Speedy works for the ESB so he knew just where to go and what to do to get his mother’s power back on. He jumped on his bike and sped off into the wind. Jim never finished the story because one of the market tables full of scones and bread and cakes blew down and we all rushed to help to set it back upright and to save the baked goods. I would like to hear the end of the story but until I do I have been enjoying the names Speedy and Rattles in between the Passing Blustery Showers which we were promised.

26 April Friday

The young man told Anthony: “I gave him a Crossbar!” I heard this and I imagined a great whack with an iron bar. I imagined violence and blood. I imagined a hearty beating. I was relieved to be told that Giving A Crossbar was nothing more than providing someone with a sideways seat on the crossbar of a bicycle.

25 April Thursday

It is a fact that when any workman comes to wash his hands at the kitchen sink, he always reaches for the washing-up liquid. The washing-up liquid can be sitting exactly beside the bar of soap but no one ever uses the hand soap.

24 April Wednesday

There is a grey squirrel at the bird feeder. As a result the birds hardly have a chance to get at the nuts. This squirrel has found a way to crawl out onto a thin branch and to balance himself upside down while gnawing at the side of the feeder. This is a new thing. We have never seen grey squirrels here. I thought maybe it was just me who had not noticed them but everyone says the same. And now that we acknowledge them we understand that this is not good news.  It is bad news. The grey squirrel is an invasive species that pushes out the native red squirrels by eating the same things as the red squirrels but eating them before the red squirrels can digest them properly and by bringing diseases which eventually kill off the red squirrel population. Grey squirrels are not native. They were brought to Ireland from England and have spread slowly throughout the entire country. They are almost everywhere but not quite everywhere yet. 100 years ago, six pairs of grey squirrels were brought to a castle in County Longford as a wedding gift. It is difficult to imagine someone thinking that twelve grey squirrels would make the perfect wedding present.

23 April Tuesday

It is sometimes hard to tell people who do not live in the country how much death there is out here. Last night I woke to the sounds of a screaming struggle just under the bedroom window. There was a final high-pitched shriek followed by complete silence. A fox had killed a rabbit. These are familiar noises. I am sorry that I know these sounds so well. The shrieking makes my heart race with fear and with helplessness. The rabbit cannot help what is happening to her and I can do nothing at all to help. Even hearing the sounds means that it is already too late. There was no sign of the struggle in the morning. Instead, I found a dead mouse in the book barn. He was caught in a trap under the table. His body was swollen and smelly. This was not a recent death. Just outside and near the door I found a dead bird. Some other creature had torn the front of the bird open and ripped out his organs. There were feathers everywhere. I walked up the path later and found a tiny rabbit with its head bitten off. I expected to see the head further along the path but I did not. There is not always so much death visible in one day. In between all the corpses, I am finding many broken eggs of varying shades of blue. Thrush eggs  and blackbird eggs and probably others I am not able to name. Young birds are popping out everywhere. The pieces of shell and the sky filled with birdsong make all of the death seem less grim.

A Roundy Birthday

22 April Bank Holiday Monday

The fox was zig-zagging up the field. He wandered a bit to the left and then he wandered a bit to the right. He was always heading uphill but he did so in a desultory manner. He was in no rush to get anywhere. He moved slowly while looking around. He did not notice me beside the fence or maybe he did notice me but he did not worry about me because he had the advantage of four legs. I was close but not close enough to be a threat. This is the same fox I have seen every single day this week. Most days I have come upon him when walking down the boreen. I always see him at the same corner. He sees me and he jumps up the banking and away into Scully’s wood when I approach. This fox is young and shiny with a dark orangey-brown coat and a dark brown tail. I have no proof but I feel certain that this fox is a male fox.

21 April Easter Sunday

We met Tommie outside the shop. I thought he would be going to an Easter Mass either in the village or in Fourmilewater, but he said he was going into town to visit Margaret in hospital. He said that she has been there for three weeks already. The doctors cannot determine what is wrong with her. She felt dizzy while she was having her hair done at The Hair Den. The hairdresser called the ambulance and Margaret was taken away and ever since then he has been visiting her every day. He did not seem unduly upset. He has had a difficult time taking care of her at home because she is blind and mostly deaf and she cannot move around easily. She had a broken hip and even though the hip is healed, it has never been right. He said that it will never be right. Tommie says that he spends a lot of time shouting at Margaret when they are at home together but since she cannot hear much of what he says she does not notice that he is shouting and he just gets more and more angry. These three weeks have been like a holiday for him. He was in cheerful mood this morning. He was wearing a sweater tucked into his high belted trousers. The sweater and the trousers were covered in food spills. He looked down and said that if he were going to Mass he might change his clothes and put on a jacket but he said Margaret will not see what he is wearing and anyway he will be sitting down all the time that he is in the hospital visiting her. He lowered his voice when he told us that each day they give him his dinner on a tray while Margaret gets her dinner. He was looking forward to a special feed today since it is Easter.

20 April Saturday

Ter is a common nickname. It might be short for Teresa, or it might be for Terence.

Ger might be short for Geraldine, or for Gerard or for Gerald. It might even be for Jerome, but then it would be spelled with a J even though the pronunciation would be the same.

Phil can be short for Philomena or it might be for Philip.

Pa is shortened from Pascal, or sometimes from Patrick.

Pa is never used as a name for Father.

19 April Friday

Niamh explained The Nun’s Embrace to me. Or she tried to explain it but then she had to do it to me to show me because she could not explain it and now I can not explain it either but it is a kind of gently pulling the person with one arm while pulling stronger with the other arm. It is not a hug and not an embrace but it is a two-armed pull not really a hug and traditionally a way for the person being embraced by the nun to have no doubt that the nun is the one is charge.

18 April Thursday

The waitress told the people at the next table that they did not take any credit cards in the restaurant and that they would need to pay for their lunch with cash. She thought she should warn them before they ordered their food. The man was foreign. Maybe he was Dutch. He said he had no cash. The woman with him had no cash either. The man said he would go immediately to find a cash machine. The waitress said, Oh, there is no rush for money. Order your food and have yourself a good feed and then you can go out and look for some cash. There is a machine out on the main street. She said, Why they might even give you some money up at the petrol station.

17 April Wednesday

Any birthday that ends in a zero is called A Roundy Birthday.

16 April Tuesday

Today was the first day this year that the cows arrived in the near field. Maybe it was not the first day but it was the first time I have seen them in this field so for me it was the first day. I was in the book barn when they came rushing over the hill. They ran and jostled one another. The long winter days and weeks under cover mean that each new field marks a joyful adventure. They have been out in some other pastures before today, but today was the first day in this particular field which is their geographically-furthest-from-the-farm field. The cows pushed and rushed at each other and ate bits of grass erratically from all over the place and they lined up and looked in the window at me and then they all lay down at the same time. They stayed laying down for about twenty minutes and then they all got up and ran back over the hill and out of sight.

The Borrowing Days

13 April Saturday

The wind is brutal.  The wind is unrelenting. Every time I think of something that I might do out of doors, I change my mind. Instead I find myself something more to do in the house.  I do not want to even walk across to the barns. The light is inviting but the wind is wicked. The birds have disappeared. They cannot land on the feeders. The wind gusts and drops and gusts and drops. The sounds of buffeting and blowing are constant. It is difficult to remember life without this wind.

12 April Friday

The weather continues to be changeable. It should not be a surprise anymore but it is. Each morning starts cold and bright and bitter. It might rain. It might get warm. There might be sleet. The winds are ferocious in turns. Then there will be something else or there will be a repeat of some sort of weather that occurred earlier. There is no way to be prepared for what might come next. Tommie says that the weather is In And Out Faster Than A Fiddlers Elbow.

11 April Thursday

The woman was clutching a piece of paper in her hand. It was windy. She was holding it tight so that it would not blow away. She was a bit bent over and moving in a sideways direction even while she was going straight ahead. She walked over to me on the pavement in Thurles. I assumed she was going to ask me how to get somewhere. I do not know Thurles well so I was prepared to tell her that I could not direct her to wherever she was going. She did not ask for directions. Instead she stood up tall right in front of me and said, “I’d be very short of The Money.” I watched her continuing around the square approaching various people. Each time she said the exact same words: “I’d be very short of The Money.”  She kept the piece of paper in her hand. I guess it was a prop so that each person would think that she was in need of directions, and not just asking for The Money.

10 April Wednesday

The doorway at Clonfert Cathedral was well worth the detour. It is not a large building but nevertheless it is called a cathedral.  It is more like a small chapel with an amazing entrance. The Romanesque carving offers an fine variety of animal heads, motifs, foliage and human heads. We were unable to go inside as a woman in the nearby house holds the key and she had gone out to do her shopping.  The farmer in an adjoining field directed us to her door but he said that he had no way of knowing when she might return.

Raggy Trees appear here and there around the country. They are also called Wishing Trees.  There is always more than one name for anything. People use the trees to make wishes or as a form of prayer to get something they need or want. They make an offering in order to pass an exam, to get a job, to regain health or just generally to ask for good fortune. The tradition is that one should return to the tree three times with a request to ensure that the wish or prayer will come to pass.  I do not know what makes one tree into a Raggy Tree and another nearby tree just a regular tree. How does its power become established?  St Brendan’s Tree, just through the little gate beside the cathedral, is a horse chestnut tree. Maybe proximity to the cathedral is enough to have given this tree it’s magic. It is a real mess. Perhaps it is a mess because a lot of the offerings have been there all winter. They have been rained upon and the wind has beaten them. There are coins hammered sideways into the bark of the tree and lots of rosary beads and caps and photographs and toys and packets of pills and bits of fabric. Things are hanging off the tree and things are strewn all over the ground. For some reason there are a lot of socks. A LOT of socks. Pairs of socks and single socks. Maybe socks are the easiest thing to tie onto the tree.

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8 April Monday

The two woodcutters who have been felling the ash trees for hurleys were back at the edge of Cooney’s wood today. They were loading up some of the sections they had cut. They put a few into the front end of their van and when I walked by they were putting a few more into the back of the van. I did not stay long enough to see if they would fill up the entire space. One man had a long beard and he did not talk at all. The other man talked enough for the both of them. He told me that some trees are thick enough to make as many as five hurleys, but that two per tree is more normal. This man had been to cut ash trees in Romania and Massachusetts and England. He said that ash trees everywhere have been hit by a disease and soon there will be no more of them to harvest. He does not know where future hurleys will come from when all of the ash trees are dead. He said he is worried for the future of hurleys but at least he won’t be out of a job because by then he will be sitting at home and collecting his pension. The job ahead of the men in the next days and weeks is to slowly drag out the rest of the hurley wood, and then get back into the forest to cut everything else up for firewood.

7 April Sunday

Dead shrew on the mat outside the kitchen door. Dead bird outside the door of the book barn. At first look, the bird seemed like it might be simply stunned, but it was dead.  The shrew had a big bite taken out of its side.

6 April Saturday

A busload of German tourists arrived at Cahir Castle. They walked over to the gate but they were not allowed to go in. There were security men at the gate. This is not normal. There were more security men around the back in Inch Field. The men were wearing high visibility jackets and they were turning away anyone who approached the castle. The tourists were confused and some were a little angry. They all took photographs of themselves in front of the castle. They took photographs of themselves with the geese and without the geese. They wandered around for a little while and then they all got back on the bus. They were all grumbling. No one at the farmers market seemed certain about what was going on at the Castle. Someone said that maybe there was an important dignitary inside and they needed protection. Someone else said they were in there filming an advertisement for a car. I walked over to one of the security men and asked. He said that they were filming a scene for a movie. He said that they needed a castle and this castle was as good as any and better than most for the purpose. He said it might be Walt Disney who was making the movie or it might be someone else.

5 April Friday

The starlings are back and they are busy building nests in the roof of the book barn. A wren is building a nest in the yew hedge. We watch her from the kitchen window. She is busily taking twigs and things into the private place she has found. All of her movements are full of purpose. We cannot see the nest but we can see that she is very busy. I have been busy too. I am sewing up the sections of a book with red thread. This morning I noticed that the wren has collected my tiny off-cuts of red thread from the compost heap to use in her nest. She dropped a few strands on her way into the hedge. Now her entrance is brightly signposted.

4 April Thursday

The Skinning of The Old Cow. The Irish expression for this is Seannrioch or Seanriabhach. It is used to describe these first seven or ten days of April. Some people say seven days while others swear that it is always ten days. The expression comes from the idea that everyone expects April to be warmer and good and nurturing but in fact it rarely is. It is more normal for April to have borrowed some days from March to continue with the bitter, wild and harsh weather.  These days are also called The Borrowing Days. Hay supplies have run down in the sheds and some of hay barns are completely empty, while the grass in the fields is not really long enough to feed the cattle. There has been no rain. The word April implies springtime but the actuality is much more haphazard. There is wind and there is the sharp, desperate chill. These are thin days for eating and they are colder than any of us would like.

3 April Wednesday

I attended the coffee morning at the Community Hall in Grange. It is a newish event planned to take place on the first Wednesday of each month. Since Frank’s shop closed down there is less and less opportunity for people who live in Grange to ever catch sight of one another. The entire hall was set up with tables and chairs in little groups. It looked like they might be expecting as many as 60 or 80 people. There was easily enough food for 60 people. There were heaped up plates of scones and there were seven different kinds of jam, along with butter and margarine, and brownies and biscuits and flapjacks and all kinds of home-baked goods. For 2 euro you could eat as much as you liked and you could drink coffee and tea for the whole two hours if you wanted to. There were not 60 people in the hall. There were more like 16, not counting the ones who had done the work of setting it up. I saw some people I knew and I met a few people I had never met before. The older people were firstly interested to know where anyone they were introduced to lived. They needed to locate the person in the landscape of the townland. I explained to one elderly man that I lived in Willie English’s old cottage, just down the boreen from Johnny Mackin. He was delighted at the information that I lived below the late Johnny Mackin. He was not interested to know another thing about me. He was happy to tell me what he knew. He said Johnny was not like any other man in all of Tipperary. He said that to have been Johnny’s neighbour was a good bit of luck.  He told the small group of people near to the cake table where we were standing several stories about Johnny. He said it was a known fact that The Man Had Buckets of Brains.

A Low-Sized Woman

2 April Tuesday

I set off for a walk this afternoon in the bright cold. There was a sharp wind. It felt chilly for April. I was not worried about the wind because I knew that once I started to move I would warm myself. Nor was I bothered about the wind because I was wearing a wool hat, gloves and a jacket. I was surprised to see snow across the tops of the Knockmealdowns. After less than a kilometre, clouds appeared and the sky went completely dark. Sleet lashed down on me. I turned around, walking straight into the downpour heading for home. I was frozen solid by the time I arrived and by then the sun was back out and the sky was blue.

1 April Monday

Two older women were talking. The first woman was a little confused. She could not remember the name of a lady she was making reference to so she attempted to describe the woman’s appearance. She hoped if she could describe the woman well enough the woman she was talking to would recognise her and provide her with the name she had forgotten. She was unable to offer much by way of description. She said, “You’d know her yourself. She is A Low-Sized Woman.”

31 March Sunday

It is a small field with ten or twelve sheep in it. The lower half of the gate is cluttered with clumps of wool. The gate has a wire mesh fence attached to it so that the sheep cannot slip underneath. It looks as if some of the sheep tried to squeeze through the fence and their wool was pulled off them by the wires. Or it is as if the wool has blown off the sheep and the wind has dashed it all against the fence and the gate. Only one of the sheep looks scruffy as though she has lost clumps of wool. The others are fat and fluffy and do not look like anything is missing.

30 March Saturday

I saw Mary at the market. I had not seen her since before Christmas. She was looking distressed and confused and then she straightened up and announced to no one in particular because no one was standing very near to her, “It’s in the car. I left my stick in the car. It is okay. I have not lost it. My stick is in the motor.” I offered to go and collect her stick for her but she declined. She was happy enough just to know where it was. Mary’s husband never gets out of the car. He drives as close to the market stalls as he can get and he sits in the car and waits for Mary to do her shopping and have her conversations. He never seems impatient. He just waits for Mary while he stares straight ahead through the windscreen. Maybe he is listening the radio. As for Mary, she was looking well. She looked like herself only much thinner. I think perhaps the winter has been hard on her. Her coat was the same winter coat as she always wears. It is the very end of March but it is still cold enough to need a winter coat. The coat looked enormous on Mary, but the coat is the same size as it always was. The coat is big and she is not.

 

29 March Friday

The wild garlic is everywhere. It tastes like spring and it smells like spring when I walk through it.

28 March Thursday

I needed to get the saw and cut some branches down near the stream before I could walk up the path. A few trees and branches had toppled in and over the stream and over the path. I was not in the mood to crawl through the mud to go underneath them. It was the cutting of the timber in Tom Cooney’s forestry that had caused the trees to fall into one another and knock some others down. The men who were doing the felling had come down the Mass Path from the top on a Quad bike. The normal single track now looks like a road. A muddy road. The men are not just cutting trees for firewood, they are felling ash trees for hurleys. PJ explained part of it to me. The trees are cut about one and a half metres from the ground. In order to do that other trees have to be cleared all around the desired ash tree. Then the bottom of the tree is cut as low into the roots as possible. This cutting is done with a series of cuts to allow for the curve. The cutting goes almost under the ground. The strange looking stump left after the felling is called a hurley butt. A finished hurley has a curve at the end of it and the curve has to already be a part of the natural flare at the bottom of the tree. First a curve and then straight up. The stick is kind of like a hockey stick but it is rounder, maybe fatter, and shorter. Ash wood is both strong and flexible and apparently it is the only wood that makes a proper hurley. I understand very little about hurleys. I understand very little about the game of hurling. The game is so popular that there is a need for at least 400,000 new hurleys each year. The rest of the ground around where these trees have been carved out looks like a massacre.

27 March Wednesday

Annie shouted hello across the wall. She declared that she was far too busy from one end of the day to the other. She blamed the longer days and the extra light. She said, “I haven’t the time to bless myself!

Daily Bread.

25 March Monday

The bread man was delivering at O’Dwyers. Both of the back doors were open. There was plywood fitted inside the back windows with charts telling how to store and to locate the bread in the back of the van. I guess each side of the van demands a separate stocking system.

24 March Sunday

Breda announced that she was a real Go The Road.  I was not exactly sure what she meant. I felt I had to ask. She told me that it just meant she was busy all the time and all of her busy-ness involved Going. She was always going somewhere by car and never ever staying home. I liked the fact that a Go The Road was a name for a person and not simply an action.

23 March Saturday

We had porridge in the café. We were sitting upstairs where there was only one other woman sitting at the far end by herself. Other than that the place was empty. A second woman came heavily up the stairs with a cup and saucer rattling in her hand.
She shouted across the room, “Oh, Margaret! It is good to see you!” Actually she did not shout, she just used her voice in what was probably her normal way which was extremely loud. Her voice boomed. She made the entire upstairs of the café into her own place. We immediately felt like extras as she and Margaret settled in to talk and catch up on things.

22 March Friday

Yesterday was the vernal equinox and we were promised a full moon. Before bed, I went out out to look at the moon. There was no moon to be seen. Solid cloud cover blocked out all the stars and the moon. I walked down through the meadow taking the route I always used to walk with Em. I did not feel frightened to be walking alone in the dark, but I did wish that Em were with me or at least that she was off barking in the darkness and that she would be back beside me soon. I did not feel frightened but I felt lonely. I felt my isolation. I felt the deep silence surrounding me. The darkness was complete. I could just barely discern the whiteness of the birch trees at the bottom of the path. When a moon is full and bright there are usually shadows on the land. Last night there were no shadows.

21 March Thursday

Ned arrived early and un-announced with a delivery of heating fuel. He usually rings to say that he is coming. He needs to let us know because someone needs to be at home when he comes so that he can plug the generator in through the window. A regular oil truck will not deliver down this boreen. A normal oil truck is too large to drive down here. We have to have our fuel delivered in a small truck with its own generator for pumping. If no one is here when he arrives, Ned’s trip is wasted and he has to take his fuel all the way back to Piltown.

He quickly explained that the reason that he was so early and un-announced was because he had had to rush into Lidl right away this morning. They were having a special on protective helmets with drop-down face visors and sound-muffling ear protectors. The price was only 20 euro and he knew full well they would be popular. He knew they would be Flying Out The Door.  The advertisement had said the helmets would be in-store from Monday morning, so he rushed along in order not to miss getting one. The store opened at 8 am and he was there waiting, with our oil in a big plastic tank on his truck, at a quarter to eight. He was not the only one. There were six or seven other men waiting. They were all waiting for the helmets.  The men stood at the door and discussed the high quality of these German tools and work products. They all agreed it would be a crime to miss out on such a bargain. Ned was so impressed with the helmets when he saw them that he bought three instead of the one he had come for. He pointed into his truck window to show them to me. There were two on the floor and one on the seat beside him.

I was still wearing my bathrobe when he arrived, so he told me to give him my car keys so that he could move the car and get his truck into position near to the oil tank. When the tank was full, we all had tea and biscuits while Ned further explained the various merits of the new helmets for outdoor work. Before he left, he loaded up the old cast-iron bathtub that we had moved outdoors in September. It has been siting out there ever since. The oil truck had a hydraulic lift on the back. That made it possible for him to get the tub up and into the truck.  I was sorry to see it go but glad it has found a new function. He was taking it for his brother to use as a watering trough for the cows.

Before he drove away, Ned patted the boxed helmet on the seat beside him. He said, “It has been a grand day already and it is early yet.”

19 March Tuesday

The smell of slurry is everywhere. The acrid burning smell makes me gag.  Lingering outside is not pleasant. Lingering outside is not possible. Daffodils are in bloom. There are primroses all down the boreen. I want to be looking at everything and savoring the springtime but I shall have to wait for another day.

———————
20 February Wednesday

Oscar took a turn in the night. He was taken to the vet but it was all too late. I was saddened, but not surprised to receive this news. I am more  surprised that he lasted so long after his stroke. I feel so lucky to have had the chance to know dear Oscar. To have walked with him and to have had him visiting on his own irregular regular basis. He was gentle and loyal and undemanding. His absence is a loss for the whole neighborhood.

This particular kind of dog is disappearing from the lanes of the countryside. These are the dogs who walk out and visit somewhere maybe several miles away and maybe for all day, but they always go home again because they know where they belong and they know where they are fed.  These are the dogs who walk only along the very edge of the road where the grass and the soil meet the tarmac. They do not walk in the middle of the road. It is no doubt a little softer for their feet just there along the verge and, anyway, they are well aware that they need to be safely out of the way of motorcars and tractors. Oscar did have an unusual habit of stetching out across the road in one particular place in front of The White Cottage, but even if he was sound asleep he could be seen by anyone driving along from either direction. His death was not a result of being run over. He died because he was old and tired and unwell.