The Journal

Erica Van Horn – Living Locally

Month: December, 2017

The Irish Harp

29 December Friday


In 1993, we made a letterpress concertina of this statement for our Coracle residency at the Irish Museum of Modern Art. In 1998, we laminated some of the leftover pages of text that had never been folded. We put grommets and strings on them. We called them Tree Ties. Today I spent some time down by the stream pulling pieces of ivy off the tree so that I could expose the Tree Tie a bit. I do not remember how long it has been attached to that tree. It is in pretty good shape.


27 December Wednesday

There is a lot of moss everywhere. I am not sure if it is because of the mild weather or if it is in spite of the mild weather. The luminous green glows and makes us pay attention to things which we might miss.


26 December Tuesday

We walked up Middlequarter and along the old track which is more like a riverbed than a path. It would have been wise for me to take a walking stick. The rocks were slippery with moss and wet leaves.  We managed to do most of the walk before the rain started up again. The path is lined with holly on both sides.  The sharp edges of the holly scratched at us as moved through them. When we dropped down to the place where the narrow path becomes a farm track we passed Des Dillon’s cottage. As always, I admired his green gate.


24 December Sunday

Every year Anthony makes a Christmas tree from tyres. Anthony runs the motor factors and tyre place in the village. Everyone with a car or a truck or a tractor goes to Anthony for new tyres and for repairs to flat tyres. He is as happy to fix a wheelbarrow tyre as he is to do a bicycle tyre. He has a lot of old tyres. Every year his tyre tree is a little bit different from the year before. The tree is built on top on some pallets and held on with a big yellow strap. It might even be the same tree each year with just slightly different treatment. This year he layered green leaves between each tyre. Every year the tree appears as a surprise.

23 December Saturday

There was a piece in the news about some youths wrecking a church. They went in and smashed things up. The church was in an isolated spot out west somewhere. No one heard them or saw them. They broke every window and most of the benches. They set a few things on fire. They did not appear to have stolen anything. They just destroyed the place. People have been discussing it.  Jimmie was very saddened by it. He did not like the disrespect nor the irreverence. He despaired about the waste. He shook his head again and again. In a quiet voice, he said, “It is the problem for kids today. They are trying to have fun but they do not know how.”

22 December Friday

The weather is all wrong. It is unseasonably mild after a period of deep hard cold. There are daffodils pushing up from the ground. Some are already showing three inches of green. Lilacs and currant bushes have buds. The apple trees have buds and one even has a few blossoms. Roses are showing new growth. None of this is right. There are two snowdrops in bloom. They are also early but at least they are only a few weeks early. They are not as early as everything else. I heard on the radio that a daffodil grower down in Wexford has multiple fields of daffodils in full bloom. He is deeply upset. There is no market for daffodils in December. He said he is a ruined man.

21 December Thursday

The pressure is on. People stop one another to ask if everything is done. These are the Pre-Christmas things to be done. It is not only the things like the tree and decorations and the wreath for the door and the gifts and the turkey. It is all the other things which demand attention before the day. It is all the things to do before the Great Christmas Shut Down. Even though things do not shut down as completely as they once did, people act like the stores and the banks and the Post Office will never open again, and there will never be enough in the house to get through the ten days of the Shut Down. There are so many things which MUST be done before the holiday. I always feel like people are adding completely unnecessary things to the Must Do list just to increase the sense of panic. Every year I try to take note of all of the Important Things and every year I learn about some more things. A list might be the best way for me to keep track of the demands, even though I shall not be doing these things myself.  I shall no doubt forget some things:

  1. The graves of the deceased must be cleaned and either fresh flowers or an evergreen remembrance wreath should be placed on  the grave. This is especially important for the recently deceased.
  2.  The dog, if you have a dog, must be washed and groomed at the dog groomer.
  3.  The car must be washed.
  4.  The car should be filled to the top with petrol or diesel before Christmas Day.
  5.  A haircut is essential.
  6.  A supply of coal or turf must be bought and ready.
  7.  The firewood supply must be stacked and ready.
  8.  Teeth must be cleaned by the dental hygienist.
  9.  The windows of the house must be washed inside and out.

Clean Food.

19 December Tuesday

A box of birthday candles in the shop has been opened and 3 candles have been removed.  Or maybe 4 candles have been removed.  The box held 24 candles when it was new. Near the top of the box the price sticker has been amended to read 21 only.  At the bottom someone has drawn a zero over the 4 of 24, so there are either 20 or 21 candles in the box now. I do not know if the price on the packet takes the smaller number of candles into consideration.

18 December Monday

For as long as we have lived here, we have been run off the road by  enormous shiny milk tankers. It is a regular thing. Some of the tankers are from Glanbia and some are DairyGold. They rush around the countryside several times a week collecting the milk from farms. We are lucky they do not collect every day. Both kinds of these tankers go too fast. They are dangerous if we are walking and they are dangerous if we are driving.  Maybe it is more dangerous to be driving because they take up the entire road and they never slow down for anyone. I never thought the word GLANBIA was anything more than a company name.  Today Breda told me that it is the Irish word for CLEAN FOOD. Knowing this translation does not make the milk trucks any less dangerous.  If anything, it is disconcerting to imagine being run over by Clean Food.

17 December Sunday

I took a cake and a card down to Tommie and Margaret.  Tommie was alone and he looked exhausted.  He told me that Margaret fell outside the house on a tiny bit of ice yesterday and broke her leg. The ambulance arrived within half an hour which Tommie thought was good timing but he said it was a very long half hour for Margaret.  She had to wait on the cold ground as he dared not move her. She is now in Waterford awaiting surgery.  He slept very badly last night with the worry. This morning he went over to Grange for Mass as he could not deal with going in the village as usual.  He would need to be answering questions from everyone and he had no answers to give.  I knew he was not able for the drive to Waterford so I asked if he needed a lift.  He said, “Not to worry.”  He said that Some of His Own will be driving him.

16 December Saturday

The little chicks are growing up at the Farmers Market.  Each week they arrive in a cloth lined box that sits on the end of the table at the egg stand.  There are four of them. This week they are four weeks old. They are fuzzy. Everyone who sees them smiles.  I think this is the third egg seller we have had since David retired.  One of them was charging so much for his eggs that people started to boycott his stand and there was a lot of grumbling among the customers. I had never before heard grumbling at the market.  People said “Can you imagine paying that much for a dozen eggs!  And they are not even organic!” as if they always bought organic when mostly they never bought organic.  It did not take many Saturdays before that egg man stopped coming to the market.  These new egg sellers have a huge stack of boxes out on their long table.  The baby chicks are at one end, the eggs are in the middle and at the far end of the table are jars of chicken broth. David had a tiny round garden table and he only ever had two or three boxes of six eggs out at any one time.  As he sold them he would bring a few more cartons out from the back of his car.

15 December Friday

The sun was out. It was cold but bright. I walked over Joe’s fields. The ground was wet and squishy.  It was not cold enough to be frozen. I stumbled a bit in and out of the deep hoof marks left by the cows in the mud. Cows always churn up mud and when it gets really cold the hoof holes freeze. Because we had the deep cold and now we have this strange mild weather the hoof holes are deep but soft.  It is a different kind of treacherousness than the frozen kind. Later I spent part of the road walk detouring into any long grass to wipe mud and muck off my boots.  As I neared the turn into our boreen, I heard a siren.  It is rare to hear a siren. I stopped to figure out where it was coming from and where it was going. I could hear that it was up on the Ardfinnan to Knocklofty road but I could not decide if it was going towards Ardfinnan or away from Ardfinnan. When I saw a Garda car speeding up the road towards me with lights flashing and the siren going, I waited to watch it pass. It was the only car I had seen all day. The car stopped beside me and the siren was turned off. The Garda opened his window and asked if I had seen a car crash.  I said No.  He asked if this was the Knocklofty to Newcastle road.  I said No. I said, “This is the Grange to Newcastle road.” I told him to take the left at the top of the hill and to drive a short distance, about a kilometer, which is the entire length of that road, until he reached a T-junction.  I said, “That will be the Knocklofty – Newcastle road. The car crash you are looking for could be either down hill to the left toward Knocklofty or down hill to the right toward Newcastle.” He looked a little confused about what to do when he got to that decision-making moment. He thanked me, turned on his siren and set off again, at speed.

The Fermoy Pencil

13 December Wednesday

Ever since the new motorway bypass was built we have had little reason to drive through Fermoy.  As a town it is a little too far away to be useful for everyday things and not special enough for a visit on its own. Today we made a detour into town to take a photograph of the Fermoy Pencil.  The pencil is located on the road leading out of town. It was a good moment for a photo as the pencil had been recently painted.  It looked bright and clean and crisp and the graphite point was perfectly sharp.  The pencil was originally erected as a sign post for the Faber-Castell company just down the road.  The factory opened in 1954.  They made any number of different writing implements. I do not know if the big pencil was erected right away. No doubt it has been replaced a few times.  Kids carve their names in the wood of the pencil at least as high as they can reach. They never get up to the top. The pencil is about two and a half meters high.  Whenever the column is repainted the words and names get filled in and the pencil once again becomes a smooth, new writing utensil. The Fermoy branch of the Faber-Castell factory closed in the early 90’s but people love the Columbus which is the name of this style of pencil.  Tom Martin & Co. took over the distribution of the Columbus throughout the country. I assume the company is responsible for maintaining the pencil itself. I love the Fermoy Pencil.

12 December Tuesday

A damp struggle up the path today. It was not really a walk.  It was a only a struggle. The really huge tree that was blocking all movement up or down has finally been cut and moved by Andrzej with a chain saw.  Unfortunately, he ran out of both time and light to do any more clearing because that one tree took so long. There are still other trees in various angles of collapse.  We straddled our way over one large one which was covered with ivy and very wet. I think it is the ivy that pulls some of these trees down. It strangles and weakens them. Most of the others just involved crawling underneath or a squeezing around. There are plenty of brambles tugging at our hats and skin. Still, after so many weeks or maybe two months, of not being able to walk that route it was a pleasure to be back up there again.  I saw two pheasants and the fox.

Once we were out on the road, we saw Tom Cooney overseeing the moving of hay bales into his new shed. Tom Cooney always wears a big black hat with a large brim so even at a distance it is easy to know that it is himself. His hat is not exactly a cowboy hat, though maybe it is a cowboy hat.  It has a distinctive look.  Not one other person around here wears a hat like that.  Tom Cooney drives a big black Land Rover and he has two large black dogs who go everywhere with him. Mostly they stay inside the vehicle while he is checking on things. If he lets them out to run around he cannot keep his attention on the job being done as he would need to keep all his attention on the dogs. The new shed is much bigger than the old shed. And now he has two sheds where before he only had one. The roof supports off the old shed have been removed. The old galvanized round top has been replaced with a flat roof. The metal was all deformed and bent after the roof blew off in the hurricane. I am glad I photographed it before it was replaced. Seeing the new roof makes it is hard to even remember what the old one looked like.

11 December Monday

Dilly is not the only one who ends her sentences with the words PLEASE GOD. Many people use these sentence endings.  If I say “I shall see you on Wednesday” Dilly always adds the words  “Please God”. Sometimes she says “God Willing”. Both endings embrace the assumption and a certain acceptance that the future is not something that is in your own hands.

10 December Sunday

Our Green Cone is a green plastic cone which is wider at the bottom that it is at the top. It is made so that we can throw bones and fish skin and any amount of horrible stuff which would not be appropriate in the compost heap.  No rodents can dig down and get at anything because of the basket-like container at the bottom of the cone.  The container is dug into the ground. We still use the regular compost heap for vegetable matter. The green cone gets the horrible things.  If I go out to the cone at night I use the head torch so I can have two hands free for opening the top and tipping something inside. Last night my entire bowl, complete with fish skins and bones, slid into the cone.  I closed the top and went back into the house.  It was cold and dark and the contents of the cone smelled. My arm is not long enough to reach down into the cone even if I wanted to. I considered the bowl gone forever.  It was a heart shaped sponge-ware bowl which had been a gift.  Today Simon went out and rescued the bowl with the help of a long spade.

8 December Friday

Wild lashing rain with a bit of sun at rare intervals but really it is the kind of day to get soaked no matter what you do or how long you spend out of doors. Ned came down to fill the oil tank. We have to be at home when he comes.  The generator needed to fill the tank must be plugged in to the house currant through an open window.  A normal sized oil lorry will not fit down the boreen.  Ned was soaked through when the job was done.  He was happy to sit down with hot tea and biscuits.  He spoke about one man giving another man the hard time he deserved for abusing public trust. He said that The one man Lacerated the other man.  I had never heard Lacerate used like this. Ned said, “He gave the fellow a Real Laceration.”

6 December Wednesday

Em hated closed doors.  A closed door inside the house was a personal insult.  She moved through the house at intervals checking in rooms where she thought something might be happening.  The bathroom was on her route.  After years of slipping in and out and rubbing her side along the edge of the door frame, she left a grubby smudge at dog body height.  She has been dead now for three years but the smudge remained.  Even though it looked like dirt on paintwork to anyone else, it was a sign of Em for me.  Now the smudge has been cleaned away.  Another sign of her absence.

A Sparrow On Galtymore

4 December Monday

Simon and I spent an hour or so with clippers and saws trying to work our way up the mass path. We had not gotten too far when we reached a fallen tree.  It was too big for our little saws.  It needed a chain saw and since we did not have a chain saw, we back-tracked and went through Cooney’s wood where tree felling has been going on for weeks and weeks now.  We struggled up a steep banking, got into the field and walked along the side parallel to the path. A small fox run at the top of the hill allowed us to slip back down onto the path.  We were both scratched and bleeding from the pushing and cutting through brambles and branches.  We had thick clods of mud encasing both the top and the bottom of our boots from the field. The very sticky soil made walking hard. The soil is called Clay. No one calls it dirt.  Dirt implies excrement.  Clay is what fills the fields. The way it clumped around our boots made our feet heavy and awkward. We staggered down the road with clay falling off at intervals.  At the fold in the land near Ballynamudagh, Oscar came rushing out to greet us and he walked with us all the home. With sunset at about quarter past four we just made it before dark.

3 December Sunday

I saw Mary at the market yesterday. She is the Mary I usually see at the Farmers Market. I do not think I have ever seen her anywhere else. She is the Mary who loves Edvard Grieg.  She has traveled to Norway to sit on Grieg’s bench. She and Anne baked cakes and pies and scones for the market for at least six years.  They also took baking orders for special occasions. They had a little mobile stall from which they sold their wares.  The stall was small and high off the ground. It meant that they were standing way up above their customers. The cakes were at the level of the top of my head. I could never see what was available.  I had to ask. Mary’s pear and almond tart was a great favourite.  Anne’s husband arrived early each Saturday morning and got the stall backed in and level and secure and then he went home and came back later with Anne and her baked goods. The two women retired a few years ago. Anne and Mary stopped selling at the market and I have never seen Anne again.  Mary comes to the market every week.  She swears she has never baked another thing from that day to this.  When I saw her today she looked a bit lost.  Maybe a bit naked.  Then I realized that she was wearing no glasses.  She too had her cataracts done this year and she has had a bad time since then with infections.  I asked how her eyes are now and she said they are terrific.  She told me they are so good that she can see A Sparrow On Top Of Galtymore.

2 December Saturday

I went down to the post office yesterday afternoon to catch the last post before Monday.  There were cars everywhere. It was the wrong time of day for a funeral. Funerals are always at 11 am.  This was a wedding and everyone was just leaving the church after the service as I arrived.  There were cars parked everywhere all the way up to the bridge and there were people all over.  The men were all wearing suits and ties and looking smart.  The women and girls were all completely underdressed. Everyone seemed to be dressed for a wedding in the middle of summer. There were lots of spaghetti strapped dresses and bare legs with fake tan and high heeled sandals.  It was a bright and sunny day but the temperature was 2 degrees.  It was nearly freezing and in my many layers and my wool hat I was still feeling the cold. These women must have been nearly dead.  I saw a few hats but they were summery wedding hats not wooly cold weather hats. I saw one little white furry cape that covered someone’s shoulders and came halfway down her upper arms.  The shop was full of people laughing and talking and getting warm. They were getting cash and cigarettes and talking about what a lovely ceremony it had been. The wedding was for David John and his girlfriend.  I do not know her.  I do not even know her name.  They have been together for maybe seven years and they have two children.  People save up for years to have a wedding.  They are more apt to buy a house than to have a wedding. That is the current order of things.  DJ is Rose’s son. She had opened the bar for an hour before the wedding and it was going to be open for two hours after the service. That is why people were in the shop getting some cash.  People like to drink before a wedding and they like to drink after a wedding.  Two buses were going to come after the two hours to collect everyone and take them down to Dungarvan for the party and the Afters. Later in the night, or in the early morning, the buses would make a few trips to bring everyone home again and deliver them all to their houses.

1 December Friday

We spent a lot of the morning looking for an apple corer.  We knew we did not own one.  We were looking for something that might work the same way.  I texted Breda.  She did not have one. I texted Siobhan.  She did not have one but she met us for a walk and brought a potato peeler thing which she thought might do the job.  We bumped into Biddy at the graveyard. She did not have one either but she remembered that she used to have one.  She could not recall the last time she even needed an apple corer. There was not a corer for sale at the shop.  Kieren found a short piece of pipe with a sharp end in the hardware shop. The pipe had been part of some shelving unit.  We decided that might do the job.  It was the best solution so far and in the end it worked beautifully.

30 November Thursday

The pumpkin rescued from the ditch was too old to be edible. One side started to rot so I cut it open. The flesh had gone all spongy. I think it had been frozen and thawed one time too many.  I scraped out the seeds and dried them in the oven with a bit of oil.  They are delicious. The pumpkin is in the compost heap.

28 November Tuesday

We walked up the small road past Tommie’s and met Michael at Middlequarter.  He thought we were walking toward the waterfall and he warned us that it was wickedly muddy and slippery up there right now.  We knew that to be true so we said we would wait for another day to do that walk.  He told us that Rose’s mother MaryAnn swore that the waterfall was a Tried and Proven cure for alcoholics. If any man went and stood up under the rushing water at The Gash he would be cured of his drinking addiction.  She used to tell this to anyone who would listen as she stood behind the bar serving drinks. After a bit of laughing, Michael said goodbye.  He was on his way to the stream just below to rinse off his Wellington boots.  He had been with his cows and he had muck and hay and mud coated almost to the top of the boots. He said he did not want to sit into his car with all of that still on his boots.