The Journal

Erica Van Horn – Living Locally

Month: April, 2017

Rainlessness

24 April Monday

It rained for six minutes today.  A tentative little drizzle that barely started before it stopped again.  Everyone speaks of the lack of rain. It is an endless topic of discussion.  The fields seem to be growing with barley and corn and various crops but nothing is growing as quickly as it should be growing. The cows are eating grass faster than it is coming up. Most days are cool, overcast and grey.  It looks like it should rain. It feels like it should rain. We wish it would rain or we wish the sun would come out.

23 April Sunday

The field across the meadow is very steep.  It is so steep and so straight up and down that when Paul’s cows are walking along the top edge of the field in a long drawn out single line, they look like they could tumble off the field. The field looks like it is vertical and flat.

22 April Saturday

There is a squished thing in the road.  It has been there for months now.  Maybe it has been there for a year.  It was the kind of long narrow tube that is used for squeezing silicon or adhesive or bitumin or some other building stuff. The tube gets fitted into a sort of gun and then whatever is inside gets squeezed out through the nozzle.  From the first time I noticed it flattened on the tarmacadam it was already too late to know what it had held.  It had been run over several times and the printed information which described its contents was already faded to an all over grey. There was nothing to identify what had been inside.  The nozzle is unbroken. Whatever it was that was inside was tough stuff. It has survived in its flattened condition for a long time with tractors and lorries and cars rolling over it. It has not broken down at all. It is well stuck to the road.  In the midst of my spring time walking and my noting of each new kind of flower as it arrives, I check to see that the squished tube is still in place. Speedwell. Vetch. Apple Blossom. Bluebells. Garlic flowers. Primroses. Stitchwort. Cow Parsley. Flattened tube.

21 April Friday

The man on the radio was giving advice about calling in to visit elderly people just as a way to make certain that they are all right and that they know someone is keeping track of them. He said that this is important in the country where houses are far apart but it is important in the city too where the neighbours are not who they used to be and the person still living there might not know anyone around any more even if once they knew everyone on the street. He said that calling in did not have to mean going in. He kept repeating that there is no need to go into the house. Just a brief hello and A Standing Up Tall on the step was enough.  He said, “You don’t have to go and live in the house.”

20 April Thursday

As always, it is slippery and wet going up the Mass Path. It is the only place that is wet. I was walking carefully through the mud when I was pushed hard from behind.  I knew I was alone so the hefty nudge startled me. It was the big yellow labrador who appears every few weeks. He wanted to walk in front of me not behind me. I have no idea who he is nor where he lives. We walked together as far as the tar road and then he turned and went off into a field. I have not seen him since.

19 April Wednesday

I took a short cut down a street in Clonmel.  At the corner a plastic sleeve folder was wired to the hedge.  Inside the sleeve was a sign which read WALL GREASED DO NOT SIT.  The wall beneath the hedge was about as high as my thigh.  It had been daubed with globs of some kind of grease.  Maybe it was axle grease. It was not dry. It would probably never be dry.  It will make a terrible mess of a person’s clothes if someone sits down on it. There is a school across the street.  Perhaps the resident of that house is weary of school children sitting on the wall.  But what about an elderly person who might need a rest on the way home from the shops? Both the wall and the hedge and the grease continued right around the corner where there was a second sign, exactly the same as the first one.

Wild Garlic

17 April Monday

It is still dry.  Nights are cold and mornings are chilly.  Some days get warm but mostly the wind keeps things from warming up. I walked through Joe’s fields carefully trying to step around the lumpy mashed down hoofprints of the cows and in between the cow pats.  Under the fence and through another field. Under another fence and through another field.  I went through four fields and then got onto the dirt track which is just for tractors and cows.  It is rocky. Between the hoof indents and the stone it is all rough walking. The only place where it was wet was right down in the hollow where there is no where else for water to go. I think the water and mud there just came from a leaky water pipe leading to a drinking tough. Everywhere things look green and lush. Nothing looks dry but all conversations keep coming back to the lack of rain.

15 April Saturday

She is a very shaky elderly woman.  I do not know her name but she comes to the market every Saturday. She has been getting more fragile in the last few years.  Today Jim mentioned the lack of rain and she launched into a long tirade about the problems of the dry land. She quickly worked herself into a rage.  The grass was not growing and the cows were not making enough milk and once their bodies got into the habit of making less milk they would not easily return to making the amount of milk that their bodies should be making.  The variations of this problem went on for twenty minutes and then she stopped talking abruptly and she walked away.

There is some sort of big Easter family event being set up for Easter Sunday and Monday. Right at the edge of the farmers market there are suddenly toilets set up for the public. Two for women and two for men.  Each cubicle has a little sink included. They will not be there by next week.

14 April Friday

Today is Good Friday. There have been all the usual discussions on the radio, in the papers and over the counter. It seems certain that this will be the last year when the Good Friday Alcohol Ban is in effect. After ninety years, the government is passing something soon and apparently without much resistance to say that none of it matters any more. Bars and restaurants and shops will be able to sell and to serve alcohol. People are already bemoaning the passing of this outdated law and it has not yet come up for a vote. For years the Thursday night before Good Friday has seen packed pubs and shops selling loads of drink. The idea seemed to be that if people were told they could not drink they would do everyhting they could to make sure that they did drink. A bit of it was about defying authority and a bit was about the joy of the forbidden. It was well known that people could drink in hotel bars if they were registered guests or if they knew the bartender. And with a ticket to travel the bars in railway stations or airports were another possible drinking place. I just learned that the Dublin Dog Show, formerly held over Easter weekend, was another place where drink was served but only to people who had dogs in the competitions. It became the norm to borrow a dog for the day if you did not own one and to take it along with you just to have a place to sit and drink. Boring and a bit confusing for the dogs. Normal access to alcohol will make the country a little bit more like everywhere else but no doubt the stories of outwitting the ban will continue for a good many years. Poor Rose.  Christmas Day and Good Friday have been the only two days of the year when she could sleep late.

13 April Thursday

It cannot be very long since the first swallow arrived but I cannot remember seeing it.  Already the swallows seem to be back with such a lot of busy swooping that I cannot remember them not being here. Some people mark the first swallow on their calendar so that they can check this years arrival with last years arrival and maybe with the last four or five years of arrivals but even though I do not usually mark the day I do tend to remember the first one I saw in a year.

12 April Wednesday

Michael was rung by the hospital. A woman informed him that he was still on the waiting list for an electro-cardiogram. He was asked if he was happy to still be on the waiting list. He said he was happy to wait. He then spent two days fussing about the phone call and the question. Of course he would rather not be waiting. Of course he would rather the electro-cardiogram be done and over with. He worried out loud and he worried by himself. Finally he rang back and he spoke to the same woman. He said, “Maybe I did not really understand your question.” He said, “If I am not happy to be on the waiting list, what is the alternative?” She said, “There isn’t one.”

11 April Tuesday

Jer informed me that it is common knowledge that a pregnant woman never enters a graveyard. It may be common knowledge but it is new to me. Even if a woman’s own father has died she will not enter the graveyard for his burial. She will be at the funeral but not at the burial. It is something to do with not letting Death and Life touch. But a tiny baby can be taken into a graveyard for a burial with no worries. Once there, the baby will have a tiny clump of the soil for the burial plot put on him or her, just above the heart and underneath the bib. For a baby this is good protection.

10 April Monday

There is a curtain at the kitchen door. During the day it is pulled over to the left side. It is tied out of the way with a wrinkled blue ribbon which I always intend to replace but I never do. At night I close the curtain because the stable door is a homemade door. It was once a regular door but Simon cut it in half and made it into a double opening door. It is draughty. That is not the fault of the top and bottom parts of the door fitting. They are pretty snug. The sides are a little less tight fitting than is normal. In the winter and on any cold windy day there is a breeze coming through the cracks. The full length curtain pulled across the door at night keeps a lot of wind out. Perhaps it keeps the heat in. I made the curtain. It has long loops of fabric sewn onto the top edge. The idea of the loops was that they be generous so they would be easy to slide across the wooden dowel which I used as a curtain rod.   But it is not easy to slide the fabric across the wood. Maybe metal would have been better. It might have been more slippery. I have to use both hands to tug the curtain open in the morning. I have to use both hands while I stand on tip-toes. Sometimes it is just too hard to get the loops sliding across and I am not able to stretch myself tall. I think rubbing a waxy candle along the wood might make for easier sliding. I think of it and I always mean to do it later. It is quicker to drag out the little two step ladder. The curtain was supposed to be a simple thing. Instead it takes two hands and a big stretch. Tip-toes. Step ladder. Open in the morning and close at night. Some people have doors that fit tight and do not let in the wind. But I do not.  This is where I live.  I live here and nothing is easy.

9 April Sunday

More and more often I find Old Oscar lying across the road. When he hears or sees a car or a tractor he gets up slowly and carefully.  He is older than Young Oscar but he is not an old dog.  He is not stiff and slow.  He can run as well as any dog. He gets up slowly to show that he does not like being interrupted.  He wants others to wait. His deliberate careful movements give me time to think about his way of being in charge.

8 April Saturday

Things are dry. There has been no rain. Or there has been a bit of rain here and there but it is never a soaking rain. It has not been the kind of rain to water the crops. The dirt tracks across Joe’s fields are dry. There is mud up the path even though no where else is wet. A little spring half way up the hill feeds into the mass path so it is always muddy and mossy. Walking up makes me look down. I have to keep track of the slippery stones and the squishy muddy places. I have to watch where I put my feet. At this time of year it is good to be looking down anyway because there are so many new things to see. Each day new plants come up. There are primroses, wild garlic, violets lots of violets, several kinds of ferns, wild irises and many broken birds eggs. The eggs are open and the small birds are gone. I want to gather up the different shades of blue halves but unlike lichen or horse chestnuts, I know the shells will smash in my pocket before I get home. Instead I scoop up big handfuls of wild garlic on each trip. The white blossoms are starting to open so a handful of garlic leaves now looks more than ever like a lovely bouquet. If I meet someone out on the road, I am asked what it is.   I explain and describe its many pleasurable uses. No one looks enthused or interested. Without exception, I offer them the wild garlic. When I offer my handful to anyone, they accept it but I do not think they want it. A mistrust of food found free in nature is ongoing. People are accepting it to be polite to me. They might not even put it into water when they get home. They probably drop it on the side of the road as soon as I am out of sight.

 

Since God Was A Child

7 April Friday

When someone says something has been the way it is “Since God was a Child” you can be sure that there is no chance of it changing now.

 

3 April Monday

A soft boiled egg is called a Guggy Egg. The word Guggy means the yolk of the egg will be runny.  The man in the barber shop talked about making Shepherd’s Pie and serving it with a poached egg on the top. He said that when the egg and the pie are cut into the Gugginess comes running down into the pie. He said that this is a wonderful thing. He announced firmly that anyone who eats Shepherd’s Pie this way will never again eat Shepherd’s Pie without a Guggy Egg on top of it.

2 April Sunday

We were having a cup of tea together. Pam asked each of us what was our favourite kind of potato crisps. She was happy to agree with everyone’s choice. She said she loves every kind of crisp that has ever been made. She especially likes the ones with chili flavouring. What she really likes is to eat crisps in bed when the lights are out. She loves the sound of crunching in the dark and she loves the salt on her lips. I asked if she did not worry about scratchy crumbs in her bed later in the night. She said she has been eating crisps in bed for longer than she can remember. She rarely drops one in the bedclothes. She said that at 93 years of age, she feels certain that she has perfected her method.

31 March Friday

The cows had been milked and they were on the way to a field somewhere further down the road. I waited as they ambled along. I did not see anyone driving them from behind so I kept the car rolling slowly. If any of the cows stopped or turned too far left or right, the proximity of my vehicle convinced them to keep walking. After a few minutes someone appeared on a quad bike. He slipped in front of me and zig-zagged along the road. The lad was young. He was wearing a bright red wooly hat pulled down low on his head and he was standing up on the quad as he held the handlebar in one hand and he texted onto his phone with the other hand. Every so often he shouted to a cow who wandered to the ditch on the roadside. He whooshed back and forth from left to right with the quad and he texted and he shouted and he never stopped doing any of these things. The cows did not stop either or if they stopped it was not for long. They did not walk any faster but they did not go slower either. After a while they all turned left into a field and I continued on my way alone.

29 March Wednesday

This house is difficult for me. It has always been too big. It is not a large house but I am small. Many things are out of reach. I spend a lot of time unable to get to things. I can only turn on the light over the kitchen counter by using a long wooden spoon to press the on/off switch up on the plug socket. A short wooden spoon will not do the job. There is a second light above the stove. To turn that one on I have to get out the step stool and climb up on the counter. Once on the counter I balance on one knee while I plug the light into its socket. I have to do the same thing in order to turn it off. It is a precarious bit of balancing. I keep meaning to find an easier solution or at least to find a different light.

28 March Tuesday

The well cleared path which was so wide open is already closing in again. There are two fallen trees. One pretty much blocks anyone getting past it. I made it through this morning but with difficulty. I was only able to do it because I crawled underneath on my hands and knees. This tree needs a small saw and about thirty minutes of work to clear a walking way through it. The other place is not really a fallen tree. It is just ivy covered branches which toppled because of the weight of the ivy tugging on the dead wood. It only blocks a portion of the path. A narrow space around the right of the the ivy clump allows enough room to pass. Cow parsley and the Alexanders are growing fast.  They seem to be getting taller by the minute. I think they will be waist high within a week.