The Journal

Erica Van Horn – Living Locally

Month: August, 2017

Fire Depot

Today is the last day that I need a contact lens. After forty five years of using them it is odd to know that I will not need to buy them, put them in, or take them out ever again. Monday is my second eye operation. I went to see Mr. O’Reilly this week. He was pleased with the first eye. He said it is perfect. He was not so pleased with me. He said that I fought him during the surgery. The local anesthetic did not relax me enough. The day after the first eye was done he said I would have a choice, but this week he said I have no choice. He wants me to have the general anesthetic for this second eye. I asked him about the change in colours and he said that was normal. I wanted to know more about how my two eyes will function together. I wanted to know if the blacks and greys would still be full of blues and lavenders or if everything would settle down. I wanted to know why the road in front of me looked grey and the road in the rear view mirror looked lavender. I guess these sorts of questions are no longer interesting to him. He knows how things go. He looks very young but still, he has been doing these operations for a long time. None of it is new and exciting for him. Mr.O’Reilly told me that I ask too many questions.

26 August Saturday

This morning Michael is sitting on the table while he eats his crumbs. He sits on the table the way a mother bird sits on her nest. His left leg has gone off into the same uncomfortable looking angle it was at a week ago. We thought it was fully healed. Now it looks like a bit of wire hanging off his body. It does not look like a leg. It is worrying. When he stands on the dish taking sips of water, he can hardly stop himself from falling into the water. Balancing on one leg is no treat. Luckily flying is no problem for him. I use a piece of Kilkenny limestone to gently smash his biscuits into small pieces. He does not fly away when I mash. He stays close waiting until I stop so that he can begin eating.

25 August Friday

Way back when Mick the electrician installed sockets in this house he was eager to install more then we thought we needed. He said “Better To Be Looking At Them Than Looking For Them”. He said this again and again and again. I was reminded of Mick and his words this week. Peter Ryan said he did some work at a house. The work he was doing was not electrical work. He saw there were 38 sockets installed in the bedroom of the house. He said “I do not care what people get up to in their bedrooms but no matter what way you think on it, 38 sockets are a lot of sockets.”

24 August Thursday

There is a lot of talk about Lollipop Ladies. School is starting next week. No one speaks of Lollipop Ladies in the summer. Now young children must be trained to pay attention to what the Lollipop Lady tells them. For me, the person who stood at the crosswalks to stop the cars and let the children go from one side to the other side safely was called a Crossing Guard. It was ages before I understood what a Lollipop Lady was. A Lollipop Lady has a long stick with a round sign on the top of it. The sign says STOP. When the Lollipop Lady walks into the road and holds up her sign the cars must stop and then the children can cross. The round sign on the thin stick looks like a lollipop so that is where the name comes from. There are Lollipop Men as well as Lollipop Ladies.

23 August Wednesday

This is not a country for figs. I remind myself of this again and again. I am always hopeful that the summer will be so hot that the figs will be juicy and wonderful to eat in the hand. This will never happen. After all the squeezing and waiting and throwing away of moldy figs I finally got the right amount for a tart. There was extra fig juice to pour over it. The tart was perfect. I have now begun collecting for another one. And all this while the raspberries keep coming and the blackberries are ripening by the minute and the ditches are full of honeysuckle. Sadly we have not one apple on any of the trees. The few that appeared have been attacked by birds and have fallen to the ground. It is a shock to have eight leafy trees all devoid of apples. The late frost in the spring is what we are blaming but when I see that other people have heavily laden trees I feel extreme Apple Envy. I wonder if there is something other than the frost to blame.

22 August Tuesday

The Fire Depot in Clogheen occupies a tiny building. The building is attached to a house on each side. There is no chance that even the smallest fire engine could fit inside the depot. When I see it I wonder what is kept inside. Maybe it is full of shovels and buckets and ladders which can be collected in any old vehicle on the way to a fire. Perhaps there is a hose and a small water tank which can be hooked up with a trailer hitch too.

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Eight figs are not enough.

21 August Monday

I saw Kevin this morning. He has had a messy swallow’s nest on his roof. He had been grumbling about the droppings and the mess. He came out one morning and found two dead baby swallows that had fallen down the drainpipe. There were two more on the ground. They were still alive so he brought them into the house and placed them in a shoe box with a pair of old socks for padding. He tried to feed them something but they were so tiny they would not eat. He rang his daughter for advice. His daughter rang the woman at the animal sanctuary over in the Nire Valley. The woman rang him back herself. She asked Kevin if he had been out for a drive recently. He said he had indeed been out in the car just the day before. She told him to go to the front of his car and scrap off the dead insects and to swish them around in his hand until he made them into a little paste. He did as she told him to. He collected the bugs and made the paste and tried to feed it to the baby swallows. They ate a little bit. The woman arrived and collected the box and took it away with her. She said if the birds survived she would return them to Kevin and then they would be ready and able to fly off to Africa with the rest of their flock. Since she has never returned with the birds, Kevin believes that the birds will never get to Africa. He said Sure, they only got as far as the Nire.

20 August Sunday

Rain is running down the wall in the bathroom again. We were promised a bit of a hit from Hurricane Gert. Gert has been driving her way across the Atlantic. It has been raining all day. I am not sure if this rain is Gert or if this is just rain. I have gotten into the habit of keeping the towels well over to the right hand side of the copper pipe towel rack. If I let them hang towards the left they get soaked when the rain comes in. I keep towels on the right all the time now even if it is not raining. Newspapers get spread across the floor only when the rain is falling hard. Because the floor is made of rough Killenaule stone, it is a very uneven floor. Once water hits the floor it goes off in several directions. Someday the mystery of exactly where this leak is will be solved. I hope it gets solved before we need to move from newspapers to buckets.

19 August Saturday

As I approached the place where the road starts to climb again, Oscar came rushing out to greet me. We both hopped and danced around for a few minutes. I was delighted to see him. He was delighted to see me. I had been told that he was so old and so fat and so awkward in himself that he was spending all of his days lying prone in front of his own house. He was no longer hanging around at Sharon’s nor was he sleeping in the center of the road in order not to miss anyone on foot. He looks terrible. There are huge clumps of fur coming out all over him. The clumps are nothing more than the result of the seasonal moult but for some reason they are all reddish in colour. He is normally an all black dog so I do not know why the hair he is losing is red. His tail is now red too. I feared he might be too idle to walk with me but he came all the way down the boreen to the house. He gasped with heavy raspy breathing all the way. Maybe he has a lung infection or maybe it is just his extra weight. When we got here, I tried to brush him to get some of the clumps off and out but he was not interested to stay still for that kind of thing. He just drank some water and took off for home.

18 August Friday

Eight figs are not enough. I continue picking any that are squeezable. I cannot wait for full ripeness because if I wait for a fig to fully ripen the birds eat it before I can pick it. If I pluck one On The Squeeze and bring it indoors to ripen I can usually collect enough for a tart. I had eight but Simon told me he really needed a minimum of twelve. Yesterday I threw one out. This morning I found three more had rotted. They were covered with hairy mold. Worrying that we might never have even one fig tart this year, I went to check the bush and came back with seven. Now I have thirteen and there are three others that might be ready by the end of the afternoon if the heat continues.

Michael sat on a low leaf while I collected the figs. His leg looks much better. He still favours it, but it no longer sticks out at that terrible angle. He sat on leaves or on large stones while I picked raspberries. He has no interest in eating fruit. Maybe robins do not eat fruit or maybe he is just too young to know that he might love it.

17 August Thursday

The baby swallows have begun to fly. They are racing in and out of the nest and lining up along the edge of the grass roof. I no longer have to worry about the mother protecting her brood. I thought it was safe to go into my room again. Instead I now I have five adolescents racing and rushing. The wind is wild today so it is hard to even sense which direction they will dive from next. I was only inside the door for a few minutes when all five of them rushed in and began to swoop around me. There was no chance I could catch them so I just sat down and waited until they flew out again.  My next job will be to get a shovel and brush to clear the large pile of crunchy excrement from the bottom of the door and from the floor directly under their nest. It seems foolish to do it until I am certain that they are no longer returning to the nest.  I have already cleaned the handle so that I can go in and out without grabbing a handful of crunch.

16 August Wednesday

It was a wet morning so I did not mind putting on a rain jacket to walk up the path. I figured it would keep the foliage drips off me. It would protect me from the blackberries, wild roses, nettles and anything else. Most days have been too warm to walk while wearing a waterproof coat and long trousers. I felt happy to be heading up the Mass Path. I wanted to see how things were doing after the heavy growth of summer. My feelings of pleasure were quickly dampened. I had water down my neck and thorns pulling at me from all directions. They ripped at my coat and they ripped my skin. They ripped through my trousers. When I reached the path outside Johnnie’s orchard I found myself completely trapped by the nettles and brambles both the ones hanging down and the ones climbing up. I was really stuck. I could not move forward and I could not move backward. I could not even fall down. I wiggled and wriggled and I wondered how long I might need to wait before someone came along. I could tell that no one had been up or down the path for weeks and weeks. I feared I might have to wait for weeks and weeks trapped and held in position by thorns, unable even to reach into my pocket for my phone. Eventually I escaped. I staggered the last bit of the path out and onto the road feeling wet and hot and beaten up and not very happy.

15 August Tuesday

Michael is here to greet us. Michael is here to greet us whenever we return to the house. It does not matter if we are coming back from ten minutes away or from three days away. He arrives and hovers close and comes indoors and generally lets us know that he is glad to be nearby. I have now been told that it is normal for young robins to adopt people. I thought we were special and that Michael was special. I still think he is special. It is just that it is not such an unusual thing to have him want to be with us. I do not mind that. Michael flies away when the other robin comes to frighten him but nothing we do frightens him. He has graduated to sitting on Simon’s shoulder now. He has not sat upon me yet but he is happy to sit very close to me.

Michael

11 August Friday

Michael was late arriving this morning. Every day he has been waiting on the table outside the kitchen before we are even up. He was doing the morning waiting for a long while before we realized that it was the same bird out waiting out there every morning. Today there was no sign of him until noon. We were worried about his leg. We are still worried about his leg. One leg is now at a wonky angle. The displacing of the leg happened some time yesterday. A bigger fatter stronger robin had been rushing onto the table and chasing Michael away each time he was there. That was when we realized that Michael is not an old bird as we first thought. He is a very young bird. The older robin who was pushing him out of the way had seniority. At the end of the afternoon we saw that Michael’s left leg was sticking out at a right angle. He kept falling over while trying to eat crumbs. We think he flew at a window and knocked himself down onto the ground. But we wonder if the older fat robin chased him and frightened him and forced him into the window or the wall of the house. It must be the impact with the ground that damaged his leg. We were happy to see him back today but we are worried about the leg. We are worried and we have no idea what to do about it.

 

10 August Thursday

No one speaks of Bathing Suits or Bathing Costumes. The garment that a person wears to go swimming is called Togs. A person puts on their Togs. When someone is changing clothes before going swimming, that person is said to be Togging Up.

9 August Wednesday

The robin has a name now. He is Michael. He joins us by the back door and he sits with us at the large table over by the fence. Wherever we are out of doors, Michael appears and is committed to Staying Near. He sat on a branch while I picked raspberries. He came into the kitchen and rested on the windowsill while we were preparing food and cleaning up. He jumps when there are sudden movements or loud noises but he seems to enjoy quiet words or nonsense syllables babbled softly in his direction. We are not getting too much done because we are constantly popping in and out or looking out a window to see where Michael is. We crumbled up crackers on the table for him. There is water for him to drink. He came with me as I went all around the tree and up the stone steps squeezing figs to test them for ripeness. He appears to pay careful attention to every single thing that is done out of doors.

8 August Tuesday

We walked over Joe’s fields today. The track was slippery with mud and muck. I found two fine round things to draw but they were too muddy to carry home. One was a wheel made of wire with spokes and the other was a wheel made of wire with spokes that had been run over and mashed into a more useless shape. I felt a bit bad about my new boots getting so muddy and coated with green manure. The old boots had been Letting in Wet for so long that I had to stop wearing them. I had to stop pretending that they were fine when they so obviously were not all right. Even on a dry day I was coming home with wet feet. I spent a good part of the walk dragging my feet sideways in the long grass trying to wipe the muck off the sides of my new boots.

 

It Would Put The Heart Across You.

7 August Bank Holiday

An elderly robin has become a friend. He stays nearby whenever we are outside. Mostly he sits on the back of the chair where one of us is sitting. Then he moves to sit with the other one of us. He hops along the tabletop. His head and wing feathers and his red breast are scruffy looking. That is how we know he is not young. His scruffiness is what makes him distinctive. It does not matter which table we are sitting at or whether we are drinking tea or coffee. He seems to like the companionship. Or maybe it is the sound of our voices.

6 August Sunday

The clock in Cahir has not worked for a while. It is at least three years since I looked up at it expecting to see the correct time. Now the clock is gone. It might have been absent for a long while already. I got out of the habit of looking up to see the time because it was always wrong no matter what the clock showed. It might have been a year since the clock was removed. There is some black plastic tacked into the space where the clock was. I shall now try to keep an eye on that space to notice when the clock is returned.

 

5 August Saturday

Cate’s mother suffers from bad arthritis. She is 91. Terrible pain in her knees makes it difficult for her to walk. Cate had heard about a cure. She offered to try it on her mother. Her mother was willing to give it a go. She was ready to try anything to stop the pain. Before bed, Cate wrapped her mother’s knees in leaves of cabbage. Then she wrapped cling film around the cabbage so it stayed nice and firm around the knees. She did not want the cabbage to come loose in the night in her mother‘s bed. In the morning she went upstairs and found her mother still in bed. Cate was looking forward to news of the miracle cure. Instead her mother had had the worst night ever and had barely slept a wink because of the excruciating pain in her legs. I have no plan to recommend this cure to anyone but I did need to ask if the cabbage was cooked or raw. Cate said it was raw.

4 August Saturday

The nest by the door into my workroom now has baby swallows in it. The mother gets angry when I attempt to enter the room. I have given up. Anything I need to do in there can be done another day or next week. I have decided to just wait until all five children have left home. None of them are even flying yet. They just sit in the nest and wait for their mother to return.

3 August Thursday

Fergal came to collect some boxes. He asked where our dog was. He told us his own dog had died last month. He is still mourning. The dog was an Alsatian. He had had it for twelve years. He misses it every day. He has two other dogs but he does not love them the way he loved the Alsatian. The other two dogs are Rottweilers. He claims they are sweet and gentle. He saw that he was not going to convince me about the sweetness of any Rottweiler. He said he lives on a housing estate outside Dublin. He said every house in the neighbourhood has been robbed but his own house has never been robbed. He said his dogs terrify everyone. He said that just hearing them bark Would Put The Heart Across You.

2 August Wednesday

I never see slugs in the morning. I get used to not seeing them. I certainly do not look for them. The slugs are back. It is good weather for slugs. I should not say the slugs are back. The slugs are never really gone. They disappear in the day and they reappear in darkness. We just get accustomed to not seeing them. This kind of weather that is not too hot and not too cold is ideal for slugs. They enjoy damp evenings. I should remember to close the bathroom window. There are no screens on the windows. The few insects that come in neither bite nor sting. The slugs enter through the open window or maybe they ooze up through the drain hole in the tub or the sink. They might just spend the day sleeping somewhere in a dark place like under the sink waiting for dusk. This evening there was one lying across my little plastic containers of contact lenses. The slug was about two inches long and the usual drab brown colour. The lenses on the shelf are only for my left eye. The right eye has been done. It was done on Monday where I was the youngest person present and there was not a nun to be seen.  I am now seeing the world with bright colours and a stunning clarity. Black things now appear to have a lot of blue in them. Some greys appear violet. I do not know if this is the actual colour of these things or if the colour will settle down and go back to what I believed it was before the surgery. Have I been seeing colour wrong all along or am I seeing it incorrectly now? The colour of the slug is the same as it has always been. I shall never need a contact lens for the right eye again. But as long as I need these lenses for the left eye I would prefer not to have a slug recline upon them. It is a worse thing to find a slug stretched out on my toothbrush bristles. Once I see one in the bathroom I know they could be anywhere at all so it does not matter where they are when I see them as I know that they have already been oozing over anywhere and everywhere as and when they like.