The Journal

Erica Van Horn – Living Locally

Month: December, 2014

The Pouring of Tea

12 December Friday

I watched four men at a nearby table.  They had an ordinary metal pot of tea to be shared out among them.  I was seeing something that I had seen many times before.  One man lifted the pot and offered tea with a word or a little nod of the head to each person before he poured it.  If there had been a woman present at the table, she would have done the pouring but since there was not a woman the men did it for themselves with the same formality and politeness.  It never matters if they are workmen with heavy muddy boots or if they are men in tidy suits.  The pouring and the drinking of tea is a gentle sharing between Irish men.  There is ritual and there is a kind of reverence for the ritual.  This pouring of tea and the drinking of tea together is not like tea shared anywhere else.

11 December Thursday

There is a line-up of cows eating in Joe’s field every other day when I pass.  The field slopes down and away from the track.  The area closest to where I walk is covered with short stubble and the earth has been all mushed up by the feet of the cows.  Each time the single line of cows is there they are farther down the hill and farther down the field.  The cows are eating some kind of leafy dark green vegetation.  I call it The Kale Eating of The Cows but really I do not know what it is they are eating. The fence wire which stops them from moving all the way down the hill keeps them in their line and keeps them from eating too far into the field.  Since I do not see them in this field every day, I do not know if the eating of this leafy crop is rich and therefore they get enough iron or whatever by eating it every other day.  Or maybe they are there every day and I just miss seeing them.  From where I am walking all I see is a lot of cows from behind, one beside another, with their heads down. The chomping cows go lower and lower down hill as the area of stubble gets larger. The stubble and the messed up earth which they leave behind  show how much they enjoy this eating.  They leave nothing green in their wake.

10 December Wednesday

I spoke with an older woman who told me that she hates buttons.  I thought that her dislike of buttons was a result of her age. I thought possibly she had arthritis or some other stiffness in her fingers.  I thought that her extreme dislike of buttons might come from an inability to do and un-do buttons.  I asked her as diplomatically as I could if perhaps this was the reason for her strong dislike of buttons.  She assured me that neither age nor pain had anything to do with it.  She said that as a child she had no opinion one way or the other but as an adult she has always hated buttons.  She said she has hated buttons for as long as she can remember.

Vincent’s

9 December Tuesday

The charity shop run by the organization of St. Vincent de Paul has been re-branding itself perhaps to make it look more trendy and more like a regular shop.  First there was the logo which appeared a few years ago.  SVP was written in a connected text with lots of lines through it. The multiple lines were to suggest speed I think.  Now the SVP is still on one end of the sign but bigger letters announce the shop name as VINCENT’S. It could be just the usual shortening that seems to happen with each saint’s name.  St. Patrick’s Day is just Patrick’s Day.  Stephen’s Day is never St. Stephen’s Day.  It is just Stephen’s Day, the day after Christmas. Since every single day is attributed a different saint in this still very Catholic country, it is redundant to bother to say the word saint. I do not know if the name VINCENT’S will get a new crowd into the shops or if it will just make the regular crowd feel more glamorous.

8 December Monday

There are always too many jobs to do to prepare for winter.  There are the jobs which I know have to be done and there are the jobs which I write down on a list so that I will not forget them.  The list gets long and then it gets longer.  The more I think to put on the list the more other odd things appear.  It is, of course, too late to prepare for winter.  Winter is already here.  Still there are enough jobs not done that there remains the illusion of preparation.

I should fill some empty bottles and the large plastic containers with water just in case the pipes freeze at some point.  It is best to do this before the advent of long-term freezing weather.  I should bring in more fire wood.  Bringing in firewood is a constant.  It is never done.  It always needs to be done again.  I need to fill the bird feeders and I should lay in a good supply of seeds and food for them.  I should gather up all of the terra cotta plant pots and put them under cover so that they don’t get full of water and then freeze which makes them crack.  The plants to stay in pots over the winter need to be carried into the book barn.  I need to get Simon to help me to carry the big ones but I should empty the windowsills so we have room to put them into positions.

I should ring Martina O’Gorman at the office of public works and ask her again to have someone come and fill the very deep potholes in the boreen.  It usually takes three or four phone calls to her before anything happens.  This will only be my second call.  I need to cut down the raspberry canes although I guess that might wait until February.  Most of these jobs are the jobs to be done when there are a few hours with weather that is neither too cold nor blustery nor weather that is too wet.  The mornings are too frosty and the afternoons are short.  There is a small window of time to get out-of-door things done at this time of year.  The days are not long and darkness comes early.  Just because the weather is okay and maybe the sun comes out, it is not always the exact right time to drop whatever else is being done in order to do a few hours outside.

Someone told me today that wood ash from the stove must be scattered at the base of the lilacs.  I have always dumped ash under rose bushes.  Maybe now I will vary the location of my emptying. There will be plenty of ash to go around.

I should do another round of mouse poisoning.  I try to put traps in the house but in both book barns I have been resorting to poison.  Finding corpses is never pleasant but the squished version of mice in traps gets depressing.  Tommie told me that if you have rats you do not have mice.  And the reverse is true.  If you have mice you probably do not have rats.  The lower barn has large shits in one corner so I fear that there might be rat activity there.  There is already the smell of a dead something down there.  We are filling some gaps where the floor meets the wall with self-expanding polyurethane builder’s foam.  The rats might eat through it but if we are lucky they might be annoyed and just give up. One method I have been told is to put broken glass down under a porch or in a similar place where rats are known to congregate.  Once a rat cuts his feet on the glass and the smell of blood is in the air, the other rats attack him and kill him.  Compared to that kind of death, poison  seems almost gentle.

I wanted to direct the growth of some of the fruit trees.  Tying a rock or maybe a brick with a rope and tying the rope to a branch over the winter is a way to condition the branch to grow low and to stay low for the future.  We should have pruned the apples trees after they fruited.  They might have to wait till February now.  Figs need to be snapped off their branches, leaving only the tiniest little ones.  I should have done that in November but it is not yet so long after November.  Even as I write these things here, I know I am not thinking of all of the jobs and even while I write them I know that this is a form of stalling.  Lucky for me it is very dark outside now and wildly windy so there is no chance of doing any of these things that I am thinking need to be done.  All of my Should Do jobs can be done later.

7 December Sunday

Everyone has spoken of the absence of Cocoa.  First one person said something and then someone else said something.  We are all sort of asking each other even while we know.  We are noting Cocoa’s absence. No one has seen Cocoa for a long while.  I keep thinking that I will bump into PJ as I walk out the end of the boreen and just ask about his missing dog.  For a while, I thought Cocoa might be in the big shed or just sleeping under a table when I walked up near the house. I expected him to appear. In truth, he has not been interested in me since Em stopped walking up the track with me.  Cocoa has always been a traveler.  It was not unusual to come across him way down in the village or off on a road in any direction.  Sometimes when I have seen him far from home,  I stopped and he jumped into the car and I took him home.  Sometimes I have just rung PJ to say where I have seen him.  Since Cocoa is a spaniel I think he is by nature a dog who likes to follow a scent and the scent he follows often takes him far.  Donal is the one who used the word Traveler to describe Cocoa.  It is a good description but now we all fear that his traveling has taken him away for good.  He has been gone for too many weeks now.  No one expects Cocoa to reappear.

6 December Saturday

There is a smudge down the middle of one length of the tar road.  It is a green smudge and it appears every year about now.  The smudge is made of a very low growing moss.  In places it does not look like vegetation but more like a bit of colour which has been wiped onto the surface of the road.  The vehicles which travel on the road straddle the middle with their tyres.  The center bit does not get touched very often.  If two vehicles meet and they each move over to their own side they still do not really spend much time in the middle of the road.  The smudge just stays where it is and in this bright eerie light of a grey day, the smudge glows as if it is lit from below.

The Bed Push

5 December Friday

There is a Bed Push schedualed for Saturday. People are planning to push a bed along the road from Goatenbridge to Ardfinnan. Or maybe it is from Ardfinnan to Goatenbridge.  I assume the people pushing the bed will take turns.  I do not think one person will be doing all of the pushing.  I wonder if the bed will be fully made with sheets and blankets and pillows or if it just be a bare mattress on a frame. I trust the bed will be on wheels. The Bed Push is in memory of a young boy who died a few months ago.  He had had heart problems since birth.  Last spring he had an operation. Everyone was pleased to learn that the operation was successful.  Sadly something was not right and a few months later the boy died.  He was only about 12.  So now there is to be this Bed Push in his memory.  Hanging beside the small poster there is a form. People are invited to write their names and to pledge some money. I do not understand what the money is for nor how this boy’s memory will be helped by pushing a bed for 8 kilometers.  Maybe there are large medical bills and the fundraising is to help the family with the expenses.  Maybe the fundraising is for the hospital where he spent time. Maybe it is the boys birthday and it is a way to ensure that he is not forgotten. I spoke to several people and no one seemed to know what was going on. We all agreed that the death of such a young boy was a tragedy.  We were also in agreement in our hope that it will not rain on the Bed Push. We noted that things are slow enough along that windy road what with tractors and farm vehicles.  Getting behind a bed being pushed by people will slow things down to a crawl. The road from Ardfinnan to Goatenbridge is a road to avoid tomorrow.

4 December Thursday

The stream down below flooded during the recent heavy rains.  The water in the stream came up and over the crossing area. The vegetation is all lying down flat and some plants have been pulled right out of the ground by their roots.  The exposed parts of the nettles, wild irises and long grasses are all pale and sickly green, unlike the dark and bright green of their higher parts.  The pale whitish green bits are the places which were not exposed.  Maybe they were underground. There is not a plant still standing upright. The two pallets which we were using as a bridge to cross over the swampy places have been thrown a few metres away by the power of the rushing water.  Now there is no chance to not go through swampy bits.  Everywhere is a swampy bit. Everywhere is wet and both the water and the mud are deep.  The only way to cross if we want to walk up the Mass Path is to sink in deep and get wet.  How wet we get depends on the height of our boots.  All of the plants are stretched out from left to right which makes the whole area look like it has been combed with a huge toothy comb.

3 December Wednesday

The Village Lottery has still not been won.  The jackpot is now up to 9650 euro. Every week it creeps up a bit. People are only buying tickets for one euro a chance and some of the money has to go to the GAA organization which does the organizing.  I do not know how the funds get divided.  Maybe it is half and half.   Every week a few people win the Lucky Numbers.  That keeps the excitement building.  It keeps everyone involved.  A Lucky Number might be 10 or 25 or even 75 euro depending how many people have to share it.  As it gets closer to Christmas and the jackpot gets bigger, more and more people are buying their tickets and hoping to win.