The Journal

Erica Van Horn – Living Locally

Month: May, 2016

Visiting Dogs

photo 4


27 May Friday

Cow parsley is everywhere.  It is the time of year when every road and field is lined with it. Everything everywhere has frothy soft edges.  I struggled up the path through much too much of it. I am too short for the cow parsley.  It has grown up high.  It has grown up over my head. The only way I could keep going was to hold my arms up in front of my face.  My elbows were at chin level and my fingers were pointing straight up.  I was looking out through a narrow slit between my forearms which was just enough for me to see what was ahead but not wide enough to allow any of the blossoms and stems to slap me in the face.

26 May Thursday

Greg’s rubbery wet suit hung on a curtain rail suspended by two ropes from a tree in the rain.  It was flesh colored because it was turned inside out. The flesh color made it look exposed and very naked. It was sort of a surprise but not really a surprise.  Wet suits are everywhere on this island now.  Everyone can swim in the freezing cold sea or they can go kite surfing all year long because having a wet suit makes it possible. Not long ago it was unusual to see a wet suit anywhere at all.  Today wet suits are sold in supermarkets, which is the most surprising thing.

25 May Wednesday

I had a plastic container full of dog treats. It was labeled Visiting Dogs with thick black marker on brown paper tape.  It had all sorts of things in it.  Some were things that Em never liked and some were things she was unable to eat in her last months. There were sections of pig’s ears and rawhide chews and little straw-like things.  I kept the box around for a long time and whenever I remembered I would offer a treat to a Visiting Dog.   It took me forever to use up this mish-mosh of odd things because I usually just went directly to the big box of biscuits. I kept forgetting the plastic container. After a while I dumped the odd things in with the biscuits and that way whatever I pulled out for a dog is what he or she got offered. I removed the piece of brown tape from the empty container and stuck it up on a shelf.  The tape itself was not a reminder of Em. It was a reminder of life after Em. Now the tape is peeling off.  It is dry and the words Visiting Dogs are less and less visible as it curls up. The tape is peeling off the shelf and soon it will just drop.  I could pull it off and throw it away.  I should pull it off and throw it away.

24 May Tuesday

Arriving back from away is always new. The arrival itself and the place itself are completely familiar. The familiarity is both comforting and comfortable. Things are always changing. Things are the same but they are never exactly the same. We got home late afternoon. Simon kept repeating: It is so quiet here. It is so quiet here. It is so quiet here. I though it a bit noisy myself as tractors were racing back and forth up in Joe’s fields getting silage in and some cows were bellowing in another field and the birds, well, the birds were making a racket. But he is right.  It is quiet here.

Dusty Cards




17 May Tuesday

Tommie described the new car which Jack had bought. He was impressed and excited about the car.  He was as excited as if the car was his own car. He said it was a great bargain. It said it was old, but it was perfect. He explained its level of perfection by saying that it was A Woman’s Car before Jack got it.

16 May Monday

Nine Egg Morning.  Eggs have been broken open all along the path. They are pale blue.  Every day there are more. This morning is the first time I have counted while walking.  Nine eggs seems like a lot.  Some are Thrush eggs and some are Blue tits.  Or maybe they are all Blue tits or all Thrushes.  The shades of blue vary from very light almost white to bright almost aqua.  I am not any better at identifying eggs than I am at identifying birds. I am most excited if I find a really large portion of the egg shell unbroken, or broken into two tidy  parts.

15 May Sunday

Cleaning The House has taken on a new meaning. We got out an extendable mop thing which I believe is intended for washing windows but which we have never used for washing windows. This is the first time we have used it for anything.  One side of the house was completely splattered with white bird excrement.  The windows and the walls were covered with enormous white splashes. It was not just six or eight splashes.  It was more like sixty.  All of the splashes hit the wall at the same diagonal. It looked like an enormous flock was passing and the wind was blowing and they all let go at the exact same moment.  Actually the splattering splashes did not all appear at the same time. I think they built up over a week.  It just looks like it all happened at once. And since the house is painted this peculiar pinky-purple color, which would perhaps look normal at the seaside but here looks a little strange, the white splashes stood out as very loud.

14 May Saturday

I went into the shop in Cahir looking for a newspaper.  The English paper I wanted was not there.  It had not been in the other two other shops either.  Either it was already sold or it had never arrived today. I knew that meant there was not one to be found in the whole town. I stopped to look at the postcard rack on my way out.  When I rotated it a little bit to get a more complete viewing, three large folders fell down.  They were leaning up against the back of the rack. The man at the counter whom I assume is Mr. Sampson because the shop is called Sampsons and I have never seen anyone but himself in there, said that it did not matter. He said everything was always moving and falling in the shop. I chose two cards of a pony named Bridge Boy who was three times adjudged Champion Connemara Stallion.  The information on the card also told me that the Connemara Pony is the only indigenous breed of pony in the country.  He looked completely unreal against a bright blue sky which looked equally unreal. I took the two cards up to the counter and the man who might or might not be Mr. Sampson commented on how dusty they were.  He pulled out a rag and started to wipe them off but then he stopped because they were kind of sticky.  He said he was not any better at cleaning than he is at making displays and if the cards were too dusty for my taste I need not feel obligated to buy them. I told him I have no problem with dust and I purchased both cards.

The Teeth in the Shrine

photo 2

13 May Friday

Sharon was outside.  She was outside wearing a fluffy pink bathrobe. Her two small dogs were on leads.  She never lets them run free because she knows they will take a scent and be off to who knows where.  The leads were the long kind which stretch as far as the dog wants to go.  Both animals were all tangled around her legs. She commented that I must be missing Em whenever I am out walking.  She told me how she still misses dogs from her past even thought she now has these two.  She told me that she has a small shrine on the wall in the house, one for each of the canine pets she has loved.  One includes the teeth of a particular dog.  She then told me that she and her sister are fostering a rescue dog which had been abused.  They took turns having him stay with them. She said he is a small Staffie. Horrific things had been done to him.  His feet are bent up in a forward direction. As a result, he can hardly walk but hobbles about and now seems to be in less pain and he is putting on weight and the terrible burns, probably from cigarettes, are healing.  She kept telling me more and more details about the abuse. I did not want to hear it but how could I not listen and anyway she barely took a breath in the telling.  It took me quite a while to realize that she was suggesting that I might want this dog to take the place of Em. I said that I was not ready to replace Em.  I said that I really did not think I could own a Staffordshire Bull Terrier no matter how desperately it needed a home.  I did not say that a dog who cannot walk is hardly the dog for me. I had said enough to refuse her kind offer. Oscar was waiting and we rushed off up the road together. I was happy to be with a dog who could run and jump with pleasure.  I have been thinking about the teeth in the shrine ever since.

12 May Thursday

I am curious about the Unemployed Workers Party.   I am not really curious enough to look it up nor to even ask anyone about it. I mostly just wonder if when a member gets a job does he or she have to leave the party?

11 May Wednesday

Johnnie Mackin’s orchard is looking fine. The trees are full with apple and plum blossom. The ground is completely covered with the long leaves of wild garlic and the garlic flowers are all in bloom so there is a twinkling of the white star-like blossoms against the dark green.  And in between and around the edges there are masses of stitchwort.  More white flowers. It is a world of white polka dots on a green backdrop. It looks planned. Oscar wading through it all is so very big and black.  He is like a cut-out shape of dog amidst the green and white. He makes it all look greener and brighter and whiter.

10 May Tuesday

I was having a cup of coffee and reading after lunch when I heard crunching on the gravel. Then I heard tearing and snuffling.  I looked out the window and saw a young cow on the lawn. It was one of the frisky teenagers. I ran outside.  There were five more young ones with the first one. They ran when they saw me running.  Simon rushed out too.  We both shouted and waved sticks. The heifers ran around behind the barn in a tight group. Then they were stuck because behind the barn was a dead end. They clumped together and could not figure out how to escape. The stone wall, the fence and the building had them trapped. It is not easy to get cows to change direction if you are in a position behind them. I climbed the fence into the field to encourage them from the side while Simon hid behind a bush.  When they saw there was no longer anyone behind them, they rushed out from their entrapment to escape my noise and waving arms and waving stick.  Simon stopped them from running down into the meadow with his flapping arms and flapping stick.  We got them onto the boreen and chased them off in the direction of the farm.  They did not go very far before they were distracted by edible young green things around them. I got into the car and drove up the track slowly with them scurrying and bumping each other along in front of me. It was lucky for us that they were young and not too heavy. The damage to the soft wet lawn was not too bad.  It would have been much much worse if they had been full-grown adults.  My coffee was cold by the time I got back.

9 May Monday

I drove down to the village just before noon.  Cars were parked everywhere.  Even as I crossed the bridge I could tell it was a funeral. Funerals are always held at eleven am.  This funeral had just finished.  Some people were disappearing around the corner on foot as they followed the hearse down the road to the graveyard.  I could not park. I could not stop because there was no where to stop without being in the way of  someone. The bread man had arrived to deliver bread to the shop. He parked in the only available spot which was directly in front of the church and which the hearse had just vacated. He was trying to unload his bread. There were people standing everywhere talking to one another. They were on the pavements and in the middle of the road. The day was warm and everyone was happy to be out and seeing one another for some conversation. No one looked sad.  Some cars were trying to pull out and some were trying to turn around. I could barely get through the cars and the people. I would not have driven to the village if I had known there was a funeral but I did not know there was a funeral, and I did not know the woman who had died even after I was told her name and where she lived.

8 May Sunday

Last week I went to Bob Fitzgerald’s.  It was just after nine o’clock. The outside shutters were still down. The door of the shop was open but there were no wheelbarrows or ladders or sacks of grass seed out on the pavement.  I was not sure if they were ready for business.  It was dark inside but the shop was full of tradesmen getting stuff for the day’s work.  There was a feeling of imperative and rushing in the place. That is why there was so little light.  Everyone was too busy to finish opening the shop.  They were too busy to open the shutters and they were too busy to turn on the lights.  I bought myself a pair of knee pads in the gloom. The knee pads are made of some heavy foam.  They are made for roofers and people who do jobs on their knees.  I felt very pleased with myself.  I wore my new knee pads around the house all day yesterday. The pads attached around the back of my legs with elastic straps and velcro. It rained all day so I did not even consider working outside for one minute but I wore the new knee pads just because I was so proud to own them. I only took them off when I went for a walk at the end of the afternoon.  I could not pull my waterproof trousers on over the new knee pads.

Today I strapped on the new knee pads and I went outside.  The morning was bright and sunny but that did not last. The rest of the day was overcast and balmy.  Even though it was grey, it was warm and after yesterday’s non-stop downpour, I can call today a fine day.  I worked away at this and that.  Clearing the scutch grass and the creeping buttercup from beds and edges is a thankless and never-ending job.  My new knee pads were a disaster.  They just kept slipping down my legs each time I walked.  I decided that they must be made for grown men.  I decided they must be made for grown men with thick legs.  I wondered about how to fix them. I wondered if perhaps I could make the elastic shorter.  I wondered if they were slipping down because my trousers were sort of slipping down.  I  wondered if I should just put the knee pads into the shed and pretend I never I bought them.  I adjusted them every so often and then they were great but they always slipped away again. I was disappointed and I was very very quiet about them. I had been so happy anticipating how good they were going to be.

Late afternoon, I went indoors to make a cup of tea.  I waited for the kettle to boil and I looked down.  I realized that I had been wearing the knee pads upside down, all day yesterday and all day today. I turned them around, re-attached the velcro and suddenly I had the knee pads I had been dreaming of.  I went back outside for a few more hours just to enjoy how well they worked.

7 May Saturday

The Emigrants Rest is painted in large letters on the the side of the building. The building is not attached to any other buildings and it is on a corner which forces a turn in the road.  The Emigrant’s Rest is the name of a bar.   The sign is visible while driving into town. If one is driving out of town on the same road the painted sign over the door on the front of the bar is Bernie Mac’s.  If a person is looking for Bernie Mac’s on the way into town that person will never find the place. If a person is driving out of town and looking for The Emigrants Rest that too will not be found. It is as if two different places exist in the same building. I cannot help but wonder if some of the customers go for a night out at Bernie Mac’s while others go to The Emigrants Rest.

Dead Jackdaw



6 May Friday

Pascal has six calendars hung up in the kitchen.  He has all six hanging up in a very tiny kitchen which has not much wall space. They are the only things on the walls and Pascal’s wife is not very happy about having so many of them. She agrees that it is a fine thing to have a calendar on the wall because you need to know the day and sometimes you need to know about a day a week from now, but one calendar is surely enough for that.  Six calendars do not tell you any more than one tells. Actually there is a seventh one.  Pascal’s wife says the seventh one is the most annoying one because it is right over the taps.  It is the kind with a bright red number and each day the number gets pulled off and that days date is exposed.  Pascal loves to pull yesterday’s number off each morning before he even drinks his tea.  He reprimands her for splashing water on the pages.  The whole year of little pages is swollen and looks much bigger and longer than a year really is.  She tells Pascal to put the little calendar somewhere else where it will not get wet but every year this is where he puts it.  They squabble about it week after week.  She pointed this out to me right away before she Wet The Tea in the pot. Wetting the Tea is how she describes the pouring of boiling water over the leaves to make a pot of tea. This morning is not the first time I have been told about their soggy year. It will not be the last time I am told about their soggy year.

5 May Thursday

I have never folded up an Irish flag. I have never watched anyone else fold up an Irish flag.  There are more flags around than usual which I think is a result of the 1916 Rising anniversary commemorations. Pat told me that the people of Ireland have recently taken back their flag. She said that the IRA had sort of co-opted the flag for many years so people did not want to fly it and to perhaps be misunderstood.  Flying the flag in all sorts of places and on private property has never been a habit. I was surprised to see there was not even a flag in the courtroom when I was there on jury duty.  Now there are more flags and people are okay about flying them.  This morning I overheard a conversation about folding the flag.  A man was telling a small boy that one must always fold the flag so that the orange does not touch the green. I gather the green can touch the white and the orange can touch the white, but the green and the orange cannot touch each other.  There must be a particular fold that makes all this happen. I do not know if this was the man’s own rule about flag folding or if it is fact.

3 May Tuesday

One day last week we drove up and walked in the mountains at five o’clock. It was too cold to stay long but the late light was beautiful. We lasted about forty minutes before the wind defeated us. We stopped in at Rose’s for a quick drink on the way home.  The bar smelled terrible.  We immediately started looking at the floor as it smelled like something rotten from a farmyard had come in on the bottom of someone’s boots.  We couldn’t see anything on the floor so we figured it must be on someone’s trousers. There were only four or five people in there. Perhaps someone was spreading slurry all day and had stopped for a drink before going home to change. We drank up quickly and did not stay for another.  Today I talked to Peter.  He had just come up from Rose’s. She had asked him to stop in before the bar was open and before the fire was lit to check out the smoking of her chimney and her woodstove. She did not mention a bad smell. What he found in the chimney was a dead jackdaw. The jackdaw was squished into the chimney in a nearly impossible position.  Peter could not figure how the bird could have squeezed herself in and out of the very small available space as many times as would have been needed to build a nest and then to sit on the nest and lay the eggs.  He said the nest was made of all kinds of stuff: beer mats and cigarette ends and string and rags as well as the usual plant stuff. The jackdaw was sitting on eight eggs. The eight eggs were stuck to the body of the dead jackdaw and the whole mess was now in a skip outside the bar for anyone to see. Quite a few people had been out to have a look.

2 May Monday Bank Holiday

I have been in and out and back and forth and in the barn sewing books and packing parcels all day long all the time dressed in my garden gear.  I have carried my grubby gloves in my pockets at all times. At one point I passed near the washing line, admired the flapping laundry and I thought that today was a perfect drying day and then I thought I must get to work out here in the sunshine and by the time I came out of my room a few minutes later, the rain was lashing down and it was cold and bitter and horrible.  Again.  In between attempts and downpours I have done a lot of other things but now at 5.30 I have changed out of my Welly boots and my wet soil encrusted trousers and I am no longer going to try to do anything out of doors, even if it stays perfectly sunny until 9 pm as it probably will do.  I am giving up.

1 May Sunday

I am sorry to learn that John has died. I thought of him as The Ancient Man for a long time before I knew his name. He died two weeks ago.  He had a fall and broke his pelvis and after a while they brought him back from hospital but he only lasted three weeks at home.  Anyone who walked the river path spoke with John over the years. He knew everyone and everyone knew him.  John walked with his old dog Sally and then he walked without her when she died some years ago. He said he could not start again with a young dog. All of his dogs had  been called Sally and at the age of 92 he forgot how many Sallys he had had. John walked five miles a day every day until last year when he reduced his walking to five days a week instead of seven days a week. Even with all that walking John looked much older than 92. He walked very very slowly and he stopped often for a lot of conversations. I knew quite a bit about John just from meeting once a week over the years, but I did not know his last name.  I did not know where he lived and I did not know his family. I would not even know that he had died if I had not met Dora, who also walks with her dog on the path.

30 April Saturday

I had already decided that the last full bucket of nuts was the final bucket of nuts.  The cold and the bitterness is supposed to end.  They keep telling us that this cold cannot go on. The birds do not stop eating and eating.  As often as I fill the feeders they are empty again. This morning I felt mean when I looked out at the nearly empty feeders and all the birds waiting to get a turn.  I took the bucket down to the shop and filled it half-full. I decided that half-full was still a lot of feeding. It is a big bucket.  This time it really would be my last bucket of the year.  I was waiting to have it weighed.  There was no one in the shop except a man with a long white beard standing around.  He was waiting to be served too. While we waited I told him of my dilemma about not wanting to buy more bird nuts but buying more bird nuts anyway. We both waited and looked around. I saw a lovely soft brush with a wooden handle.  It was all by itself, not in any kind of group with other brushes. There were three sections of brush on the flat wood. Each one was complete in itself so it was three brushes on one handle. I picked it up.  I loved it and I wanted it but I did not need it. The man with the long beard saw me looking at it and he told me that it was a distemper brush. Then he told me how his mother and his grandmother used goose feathers for the same job because they were strong and long.  He said everyone had a theory and a method for applying distemper to their walls. When John came in and asked which of us was first the man with the long white beard pointed to me and said She’s in a hurry. She has birds needing feeding in this desperate cold.