The Journal

Erica Van Horn – Living Locally

Month: May, 2015


31 May Sunday

We walked to the Abbey and down toward the river.  Wild wind sun rain wind sun cloud rain sun rainbow rain sun kind of weather continued during the whole walk.  The barley is thigh-high on both sides of the track.  At the bottom gate we spoke with four Frenchmen in full fishing gear.  They were getting ready to cross through the field full of calves to the riverbank.  They were surprised to see us.  We were surprised to see them.  We never see another person down there except maybe the farmer who owns the fields. They had extremely long fishing rods which flapped about in the wind.  They knew the rain was coming again. They spoke no English. We discussed the weather in French and then we all continued with what we were doing.  We all knew we would get drenched.  I had to change my trousers when I got home.

30 May Saturday

It was cold at the market this morning, but it was dry.  I spoke with the woman who sells knitted things.  A few weeks ago she made a tea cosy that looked like the front of a Volkswagon camper van.  She was very pleased with it. Everyone admired it. Since then she has made two more versions of the camper van.  She says she is trying to get the windscreen wipers right. I like the early version where the wipers are made up of several little stitches but she is working on a longer loop which does look more like an actual wiper.   She has three camper vans and a beehive and little Aran sweaters with buttons up the front, as well as some other styles of tea cosies.  They are lined up on two levels on her table.  They look wonderful as a group.  She rarely sells one.  She says that she makes tea in a mug with a teabag herself.  Maybe no one is using tea cosies these days.  She said she won’t make another camper van until she sells one of the ones she has already knitted.

It has been trying to rain since 11 this morning.  The weather report promised that it would rain all evening and into the night.  Evening is anytime after lunch so we knew the afternoon would be a wet one.  After returning from the market, I stalled on going out to do anything.  Simon rushed outside to do some jobs immediately before lunch.   I stalled and stalled.  It was cold and windy as well as threatening rain.  Just changing into my grubby garden clothes was something I put off.  A few minutes ago I walked down to the book barn and a steady soft drizzle was coming down.  I finally have my excuse not to go and work outside. Now I can settle to something inside.  It is a real relief.  We are so weary of this cold and gloom and sun and rain and no sun and the never-ending chill over everything.  It is not so many hours before the month of June begins and it is not very nice.

29 May Friday

I followed a car pulling a horse box for about 20 kilometres.  On the back of the trailer there was a blue net sack with hay in it.  The sack bounced and twirled as the car and the horse box moved along.  Sometimes the wind caught the hay and made it spin even more than the bumping along on the back of the trailer already made it do.  I could not help but worry if the horse inside the box had some hay to eat during his journey or if his supply was what I was watching bouncing and blowing away in small bits all along the road.

27 May Wednesday

The posters have all been taken down.  The feeling of exhilaration and celebration after the successful YES vote has all settled now.  For the weeks and days before the referendum the topic was never far from our lives.  Directly after the results no one spoke of anything else. People flew from as far away as New Zealand and Australia just to be able to vote.  It was the Yes voters who traveled.  I do not think the No people were as committed.  There were many stories being told.  People were both thrilled and proud to have voted for equality. Now it seems that it is time to move on and to talk about other things.

26 May Tuesday

The driving entrance to some houses is called an Avenue.  I think an Avenue usually has a tarred surface.  If not tarred, it is at least a hard surface.  An Avenue is not a dirt track with grass in the middle. An Avenue simply by its name suggests something a little bit finer and a bit wider.  An Avenue implies something grand.  I never hear an Avenue called a drive nor a driveway.  Nor is a boreen an Avenue. A boreen is too rough.

Our own boreen has become a tunnel.  It is horribly bumpy underneath and it is wildly overgrown on the sides and the top.  The cow parsley has come into its largest and most frothy and effusive mode.  The cow parsley is meeting itself at the top and making a canopy under which we drive and walk.  It is a fluffy tunnel. The blossoms touch the car on both sides and on the roof as though they are some kind of car wash.  An Avenue would never have anything at all touching a vehicle as it drove along.


21 May Thursday

Tomorrow is voting day for the referendum on Same-Sex Marriage.  Both radio and television have been full of discussions and arguments.  The newspapers have been teaming with articles and essays. There are posters up on trees.  Polls report daily on the swings of the Yes, the No and the Undecided.  It has seemed clear that the Yes vote is way out ahead but I think no one dares to feel certain.  The rural vote is less positive than the urban vote. And now we are dropping into this day of silence from the media before voting begins.  The referendum is a huge thing in this old-fashioned but strangely progressive country.  It is a huge thing, period.

20 May Wednesday

Late afternoon sun.  Suddenly at 5.30 it is a beautiful day.  It is almost enough to make me forget the rain and hail and the broken heating system.  It is almost enough to make me forget how unpleasant it is to even be thinking about a heating system at the end of May.  We have had Thor staying for a few days.  It has been so nice to have a dog in the house again.  He is quite deaf so he follows us around because he needs to know where we are.  I find myself looking for him if I do not see him often.  I do not know who is following whom.  I took him out walking. We met Oscar.  Male dogs do not always get along very well but both Thor and Oscar are agreeable animals. They quickly fell into step together.  As a result of their exploring and sniffing, I made the walk much longer.  Thor would look back every so often to check if I was with them.  I could shout out a direction to Oscar and I could be certain that Thor would follow.  It is not possible to shout directions to a deaf dog but hand signals do work.  Oscar became the guide dog.  A guide dog for a dog. We all had a great walk yesterday.  We had another great walk today.  Thor is very small and Oscar is very big but somehow they managed to find a pace to satisfy them both. I was worried about Thor struggling through the cow parsley and the long grasses but he was so determined to keep up that no obstacle slowed him down.  It is so much better to walk with a dog.  Everything is better with a dog.

18 May Monday

Jo Hyland locks and unlocks the church and keeps track of the cleaning.  I do not know if she does the cleaning herself, but I think she does.  She is also the bell-ringer.  She pulls the thick ropes to ring the bells for Mass and for funerals.  She is a very small woman. She is described as being Low to the Ground. I just learned that she is 93 years old.  She will let her daughter or someone else unlock or lock the church if she is unwell or if the weather is wretched, but she will not allow anyone else to ring the bells.

17 May Sunday

We have eaten Lumpers!  Up until now my only experience with a Lumper was in reports of the famine.  It was one of the potatoes which suffered badly from blight. Because there were so many Lumpers planted at the time of the famine, they contributed to massive crop failure.  I understood Lumpers to have a bad reputation.  I have never seen a Lumper for sale in a shop nor at a market, so I was surprised when Simon arrived home with a bag of them.  He was excited.  My heart sank.  I feared that we were stuck with yet another bag of floury potatoes which would not behave properly. I feared that we would complain and moan through this bag of potatoes.  The Lumpers were ugly.  They obviously earned their name because of their bumpy and not beautiful appearance.  To our surprise, the Lumpers are lovely to eat.  They are a delicious potato with a great texture. They are not at all floury.  We cooked them in several different ways and each time the eating was pleasurable.  These Lumpers came from Antrim.  I wonder if we will be able to find them again or if their presence here was a freak.  If no one but us likes them, the shop where they came from might be tempted to say No when next offered a load of Lumpers.

Stand clear. Luggage doors operate.

15 May Friday

I went to catch the 3.45 post.  The village was full of cars.  I parked at the bottom of the bridge and walked in. I thought the cars were lined up for a funeral but I knew that funerals are always always at 11 in the morning.  This was not the right time of day for a funeral.  People were standing in front of the church and across the street in front of the shop and facing the church.  Everyone was talking but there was not much sound.  It was quiet with the waiting.  I nodded and spoke to people as I went along and into the shop.  The entire side of the street in front of the church was blocked off with striped plastic tapes.  I went into the shop and posted my parcels.  By the time I had done that, the lights were turned off, the shades were pulled down and the door was shut.  Kieran pulled the grating halfway down.  I was trapped in the shop.  I did my photocopying in the dim light.  The three of us talked in low voices even though we were inside the shop and we could have spoken in normal voices.  The man who died was 85 or 86 and had been poorly for 14 years.  For the last 8 years he had been badly taken with Alzheimer’s.  He had a large family.  I did not know the man and I do not think I know his family.  I might know some of them by sight but this was not the time to find out.  He had six or seven daughters and one son and they all had children and then there were some great-grandchildren too. The reason that the funeral had to be so late in the day was because they were waiting for the sister of the deceased.  She was 84 herself and had to take several planes to get here from the western provinces of Canada.

When the hearse arrived all of the striped tapes were quickly removed and the family was able to park all along in front of the church.  We watched from a small unshaded area of the window.   Dozens and dozens of floral wreathes and bouquets were taken out of the back of the hearse.  Each one was handed to a young girl.  There were lots of little girls in bright outfits.  In no time they were each holding flowers.  When the coffin was carried into the church, the girls and their flowers followed close behind and then the rest of the family went in and then other people filed in.  Not everyone went into the church. There are always some men who stand outside and smoke and speak among themselves while the service goes on inside. Other people simply take their leave after the coffin has been carried into the church.  That was when I slipped out and under the grating and headed back to my car.  In the thirty minutes or so that I had been in the shop, another 8 cars had pulled in and parked behind me. Cars were parked right up the side of the narrow bridge.

11 May Monday

I am obsessed with the recorded announcement: STAND CLEAR. LUGGAGE DOORS OPERATE.  It repeats again and again for the entire time that the luggage doors are open.  The doors swing upward from the side of the bus whenever there is a stop and when someone needs to get something out or to put something in under the bus. Underneath is the storage place for baby prams, suitcases and other cumbersome packages.  Each time I listen carefully to the announcement.  There is something wrong with the sentence.  I feel certain it should say LUGGAGE DOORS OPERATING or LUGGAGE DOORS ARE OPERATING. I listen hard to try to hear if I am missing a syllable or a word.  I have listened so hard and so carefully so many times that I now find myself saying the words along with the announcement. I repeat the words at exactly the same speed as the recording.  It is more intoning than speaking the words.  If they are repeated ten times I chant them ten times.  I harbour a fantasy of everyone on the bus repeating the words along with me and along with the announcement.  It would be a quiet kind of joining in.  When the announcement stops and the doors return to their closed position, everyone will continue reading or texting or sleeping and not one of us will refer to the chanting which we did together.  The next time the door opens we will all do it again. And again.  All the way to Cork or Dublin or wherever the bus is going.

10 May Sunday

It is crazy weather.  The sun is out most of the time.  The rain is lashing down most of the time.  The sun does not disappear behind clouds.  The rain just falls hard and then not so hard and then just a little.  The rain continues without cease.  The birds keep singing.  Sometimes the noise of the rain on the roof of the big room is so loud that it is difficult to hear myself think.  But beyond the sound of the heavy rain the bird song breaks through.  The wind is gusting and blowing all the time.  The wind never stops either.  Nothing stops.  Rain. Sun. Birds. Wind.  Nothing stops so nothing else stops.

9 May Saturday

As I walked toward the entrance of the market, I saw a man walking away from the market.  He had four leeks in his left hand.  He had nothing else.  He carried neither a bag nor a basket.  I could hardly believe that he came to the market just to purchase four leeks.  I have been thinking about him all day.

8 May Friday

A cardboard box had been cut open and flattened out on the ground.  On top of the cardboard there was a brown rubber backed door mat.  and the whole thing was topped by an orange rubber traffic cone.  I thought it was all covering up a hole in the tarmac, but instead it was covering up a spill.  Someone had dropped a bucket of paint.  Sky blue paint oozed out from the edges of the cardboard.  The apparatus and the traffic cone were in place to protect customers to the shop from stepping out of their car and right into the pigment.  After three days the cardboard and the carpet have been removed.  What remains is a sky blue shaped mess with orange cones on either side of it. I assume that the cones are still there because if the paint was oil based, it might still be wet.

We walked out from The Boulders.

7 May Thursday

We walked out from The Boulders.  There has been a lot of rain lately but this morning was bright.  Everything was squishy underfoot.  The Boulders are large stones beside the narrow tar road about two kilometres up the New Line.  There is a little bit of blue paint on a few of the stones.  We call this spot The Boulders.  The Boulders is just the place to pull off the road and park in order to walk in the Knockmealdowns, in one direction toward the Mass Rock and in the other direction down toward the river.  There is just enough space for one car to pull in at The Boulders.  As we walked we were closely followed by twenty or thirty sheep who must have hoped we were the farmer bringing them something to eat.  After we left the river, we went through a gate and left the sheep to their free wandering. We dropped down through grass roads for about an hour.  We met Michael who was on his way home for his dinner.  We told him that we had heard a cuckoo for the first time this year.  He had heard it too. We reported on the heron which we see every time we are up there.  He spoke of some unknown birds being From Foreign.  He just meant that they were not normal birds for these parts.  After arriving down in the village, I drove Breda back up to The Boulders to get her van.  A tiny lamb tumbled out of the undergrowth and right onto the road.  I nearly ran over it.  Another one had his head stuck out of the vegetation.  I turned in at the next farm and knocked on the kitchen door.  A woman shouted for me to come in.  She was setting the table for dinner. A big table. Six or seven places were being set.  Four cars and a tractor were parked out front.  I explained about the escaping lambs and she asked questions about the location of the breakthrough.  I described the spot and told her which side of the road it was on.  She nodded and said she would ring Johnnie whose sheep are in that field.  Her kitchen was full with the smell of potatoes and cabbage. Today’s walk was both quiet and eventful. We felt fortunate that it did not rain.

6 May Wednesday

For a couple of years there used to be two kids in the SuperQuinn car park in town.  In the middle of a school day there would always be the same two kids.  There was a boy and a girl.  The girl was about twelve and the boy a little younger.  They would pace all around the car park constantly watching for people returning to their cars. One of them would politely offer to return your shopping trolley for you.  It costs a euro to get a shopping trolley and the only way to get your euro back is to return the trolley to the correct place.  The kids must have thought we were all stupid.  Today, I found myself wondering when I last saw them.  SuperQuinn was taken over by SuperValu more than a year ago.  It must be a good while before that since they were last doing their rounds.

5 May Tuesday

Clearing weeds off the patio always seems mad.  The patio is not a patio.  We just call it a patio.  The patio is the remains of an old milking shed.  The concrete floor has grooves in a diagonal pattern to allow for run off.  The places where the concrete meets other areas of concrete are not tight.  Weeds and daisies and all sorts of things grow up from the cracks.  I am torn because I love the daisies when they are all in bloom, but when they are all in bloom there is no way to walk on the patio without marching through all of the plant life.  Increasingly there is no way to walk through the patio at all.  The good part is that the ugly concrete is disappearing.  The plants are taking over the whole patio.  The bad part is that on a wet day it means that our trousers get soaked.

4 May Monday Bank Holiday

An announcement on the radio about failing to pay your TV license ends with the warning that as well as a fine, you risk having your name listed in your local paper.

2 May Saturday

I was told that a sure method for defeating weeds was to throw shells onto a path.  Any sort of shell will do the job: mussels, oysters, scallops, cockles.  The shells break down when pulverized and the weeds will not grow, probably because of the salt or calcium and whatever else shells are made of.   I love the idea of a shell path.  I love the sound of crunching shells.   Today, after shucking some oysters, I took the shells out onto the gravel of the car park area.  Even while doing it, I knew it was a ridiculous effort.  The weeds are so dense this spring that in some places,  it is difficult to see the gravel.  I lined the shells up in a spot where I knew they were going to be rolled over and well crushed by the car tyres.  I have been doing this for years.  It has never stopped a weed. At this point, we could dump a ton of oyster shells out there and I do not think we would defeat one weed.  I looked out and saw the fox arrive about ten minutes after I came inside.  He quickly flipped the shells over and licked out the taste of the oysters.  When he was finished, he left the shells scattered about and walked off into the field.

Spring stick

1 May Friday

Walking up the Mass Path is different every day.  New growth is appearing quickly.  Each day there are more things to note.  There are fallen trees and branches which were not down even a few days ago.    Some I can step over and some I must slip underneath.  Some of the big ones which fell in the autumn are easy to walk under without me bending at all and now they are getting covered with vines and leaves.  They are becoming arches. Everything is adjusting itself.  There are violets in places where I have never seen violets before.  Up near Johnnie’s orchard there are branches of an apples tree blocking the path. Their buds are still tightly closed and they are bright pinky red.  I like them best now just before they open.  Because the branches are across my path, I come upon the buds at eye level.  There is no way not to look at them before I duck down low to go underneath them. There are lots of plants in early stages. There are bluebells, ferns and Alpine Milk Vetch as well as bright moss and all of the other things that I cannot or will not name here.  The orchard itself is a solid blanket of wild garlic with thousands of white flowers in blossom.  Each time I walk up the path, I think that it is perhaps time to carry my clippers with me just so that I can clear the path of the things that grab onto me.  Today I found a good stick and beat my way through some of the brambles.  After the ease of moving through winter vegetation, a stick is suddenly once again both useful and necessary.  After I am free of the bushy stuff, I am happy to march the whole way home with my stick.  I beat at the air and I wave it around. I salute the odd passing car or tractor with my stick.  Sometimes I give it to Oscar when we meet but usually I find him another one as I am always reluctant to give up a good stick.

30 April Thursday

We drove up the New Line to The Boulders with Breda, Siobhan and Molly.  It was cold but clear and crisp as we walked across the hills.  When we dropped down to the the river,  Simon left us and continued alone down the rough track towards the village.  We walked up and down and around.  We were able to see a long way in every direction. As we returned to the road and the van, an old man in a bright orange vehicle stopped.  It was a tiny little pick-up truck with a very small bed behind a tiny cab.  He called it My Kubota which was the name printed on the side. It had no road registration at all.  It was sort of like a dune buggy truck.  He had a sheep dog in the front seat beside him and a dead lamb in the back.  The back was small enough that the young lamb just about filled it up.  It had not much more space than a wheelbarrow back there.  The man was dressed like old farmers are always dressed.  The old man was dressed the way all of the old farmers used to be dressed.  He was not wearing a fleece nor a T-shirt nor jeans.  He wore a woolen suit jacket over a pull-over sweater with a white checked button down collar.  Nothing was very clean but everything was tidy.  He was wearing his working clothes.  He had been out on the mountains checking his sheep.  He asked a lot of questions because he needed to know who we were and where we lived.  Where we lived would help to explain who we were.  Once he knew that Breda lived next door to Jimmie and Esther, he was pleased.  He explained that the dog in the seat beside him was the brother of Rex.  He himself had given Rex to Jimmie as a pup.  A tractor came along and we all had to move off the road so we did not get much further in the game of questions.

29 April Wednesday

I spent a cold hour in the blacksmith’s shed.  The door was open and the concrete floor and all of the piled up metal made the cold feel even colder.  He had been grinding and sanding flat some of the rusty objects from my collection.  We are going to try printing some of them but they were too rough in their found states.  I can draw them when they are rough but to use them as printing blocks demands a better surface. He had the pieces laid out on a piece of wood. As he showed me the sanded pieces, he identified each one by its function.  Several of the pieces were ones I had been certain that I knew the function of.  I was completely wrong about every single one of them.  We also had a conversation about horseshoes and he showed me his collection.  The shed seemed to be in chaos but he was easily able to put his hand on anything he needed.  It was his stuff and he knew where everything was.  I picked up a broken thing with a curved end and he said I could have it.  He said that he and I were probably the only two people in Tipperary who would be interested in it anyway.

28 April Tuesday

A text arrived from the library telling me that the two books I requested were ready for collection.  They were on hold for me to get at my convenience. I had not requested any books.  I am no longer surprised by these messages.  When I receive one it means that the librarian herself has decided that I should read a certain book.  Sometimes the book is one of her own books and she just thinks I must read it.  Sometimes it is one to be checked out from the library.  The librarian is a voracious reader and cannot help but share her finds with other readers.  Most of her recommendations are good.  If I read one that I do not like she is always disappointed.  I hate to disappoint her.   I love rushing in to town to get whichever book is her next offering.

27 April Monday

Yesterday I was happily obsessed about spring and all of the white blossom visible in every direction.  I was not too happy with the hard cold of the day, but at least it was sunny.  Today is wretched.  There is wind and rain and grey sky with only small moments of sun.  There has even been hail. The hailstones were the size of bonbons.  This morning the postman told me that it was snowing in Donegal.  Now the lunchtime radio announces snow in Wicklow.  Winter seems to be getting closer.