The Journal

Erica Van Horn – Living Locally

Month: March, 2018

Water Dog under the Woodpile

 

27 March Tuesday

Sean arrived to collect his daughter to go and visit the mother in hospital, but he was thirty minutes early. She was not home yet.  He went next door to chat with Greg just To Put Down The Time .

26 March Monday

Niall came to look at the heating system. With a bit of fiddling, he was able to get it all working again. The pump was not gone after all. We were relieved. We feared we might be needing a new stove and the amount of money to be spent would be huge. The hardship of a few days without heat are already forgotten in our relief. Then Ned Coady came down with his plug-in generator to fill the fuel tank. As we drank tea together afterwards he joked that Simon was off his mark. Usually Simon calls the oil company and asks for 720 litres or 680 litres or whatever amount is needed. He is always spot-on with his order. He has no gauge on the tank. He only uses a long piece of wood that he sticks into the tank and from that he makes his estimate of the volume required. He climbs up a ladder and stands on the edge of the wall beside the tank to make his calculation. It is a joke with Ned and a joke with the men at the yard and and a joke with Simon and himself that Simon is always correct. He never orders more fuel than can be fit into the tank.  The tank fills to within a few centimetres with the amount he orders. The men at the yard cannot figure out how he does it. Today’s estimate was a bit off. He had ordered 650 litres and the fuel filled the tank about 250 centimetres below the top. Ned was not going to let this be forgotten. He was not interested in our days without heat and the almost broken heating system. He acted like he had won a wager. He was still chuckling when he left the house.

25 March Sunday

The older woman was shorter than me and she was badly bent over. She asked me to lift a box of porridge oats down from a high shelf. She said, “I don’t like To Put In On You but I cannot reach that high.” I did not know the expression but I understood the need for help. I mentioned it to Breda and she defined it exactly in the way I had understood it. To Put In On Someone is to impose upon them. There is always another way to say the exact things that I think I already know.

24 March Saturday

The path is wet and there is water running down it and there are lots of rocks covered with moss. The winter has been long and wet.  The moss is everywhere. But the big branches and the brambles are cut back. It is easy to walk without getting entangled or ducking down low, as long as I look carefully at the mud and the slippery stones.  Up near the top the mud dries up and there is so much wild garlic growing along the way that garlic is the only smell. I cannot smell the mud nor any of the other young green things.  The entire length of the path smells like garlic.

23 March Friday

Simon shouted for me to come outside. He said he’d seen the biggest stoat ever and it was under our wood pile. The stoat stuck his head out and looked at us both and then it went back in. It looked too big to be a stoat. We did not know what it was. It went in and out, and around the back, and in and out again, and it studied us without fear and with a lot of interest. It had a nice face. I took a few photographs as it took off and ran across the grass. When it ran it moved low along the ground with large elongated flexing and bouncing movements, sort of like a hare. It was black and sleek and long. A little later we were down at the shop. I asked the blonde woman behind the counter if she knew her animals. She said she did. She looked and said that she did not know what it was but that it was Not a stoat. She called Marian over and Marian said it looked like a stoat but it was too big for a stoat. My phone was being passed around. I thought it looked like a mink but I did not know if minks were native. Marie had a look and said it is more mink than stoat. There were six people discussing the animal now with each other and with Simon and I. My phone kept being grabbed and the photos studied and enlarged as everyone tried to solve it. Someone suggested a pine marten but others put that idea down scornfully. It was too sleek and too thin to be a pine marten. Without exception everyone disliked the pine marten as a possibility and as an animal. John Condon walked into the shop and Marie said “Here’s the man to sort this!” Someone handed my phone to John. He recoiled from it and said he did not have his glasses. The photos were enlarged yet again and shown to him. We all said what we thought it was or was not. Everyone was talking at the same time. John looked at the phone with care and shouted, “It’s a Water Dog!” There was a group sigh of agreement. Of course, a water dog! I had no idea what a water dog was. They all agreed it needed water nearby and Simon mentioned the stream at the bottom of our meadow. John made a flexing movement with his body and his back. He said, “It moves like this.” He imitated the movement exactly right. I looked up water dog when I got home and found all kinds of dogs, mostly Portuguese, which were called Water Dogs but not one of them looked like our animal. Eventually I found a picture of what we had seen and it was indeed a mink.

22 March Thursday

I admired his fancy designer spectacles. I could see they were new. Since I had never seen him wearing any glasses at all before this, I asked if he had always worn them. In fact, he said he had never worn glasses, but he had been instructed to wear them twenty years ago. He said it was hard enough being gay in school. He said that wearing glasses would have finished him off. I asked what wearing the new glasses did for his vision. He claimed that the world was a new place. When I suggested that poor vision was a liability in his line of work, he looked at me in the mirror and we both fell about  laughing. He said that every head of hair he cuts now is a brand new head of hair even if it is a head of hair he has been working on every week for the last fifteen years.

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The Pump Is Gone on the Central Heating.

21 March Wednesday

The pump is gone on the central heating. We think it is the pump. We hope it is the pump. It might be something more. We are lucky it is not too cold today. No snow. No sleet. No rain. No wind.  We have kept the wood stove going all day. Sadly, that heat does not reach everywhere. Niall, the plumber, cannot come until tomorrow evening. That means anytime after dinner (lunch) and before about six o’clock. All we can do is wait.

20 March Tuesday

After the torrential rain. After the snow. This morning, I spent half an hour outside on the bench. I sat with my back against the wall feeling sun on my face. With coffee. Out of the wind, the sun was hot and lovely. The first primroses are showing in the boreen. It has been a week of high contrasts. Big holes out on the tar roads remain treacherous. The road drops away in chunks. The tar and everything supporting the tar just drops down to somewhere deep. The holes are big and flat, when they are full of water. If they are filled with water there is no way to know if the hole is an extremely deep hole or a shallow puddle. If there is a really large hole, big enough for one or more car tyres to drop into, we might call it a pot hole but more often it is spoken of as a sheep dip.

17 March Saturday

The market was quiet today. There were only eight stalls. The weather did not help. It was cold and sleety and horrible. The big field behind the castle was completely covered with water. If you did not know that it was usually a field, you would believe that it was always a lake. There were few customers. The good news is that Maria, who makes the pates and terrines and wild garlic pesto is now selling cheese. She had five kinds of cheese on one end of her table. They were all Irish cheeses I had not seen before. One was a smoked cheese and one was a hard sheep cheese and the other three were made of cows milk. We have not had a cheese seller at the market since Katherine left to enjoy her retirement and to play more golf. That must be at least four years ago. Maybe five. We bought three kinds of cheese.

Keith was selling long stemmed daffodils. The stems were 24 inches (62 cm long). I measured them when I got home. I have never seen such tall daffodils. He said he grew them in the poly-tunnel. That explains the height. Our own daffodils get knocked down by the wind. Today they are lying flat under yesterday’s surprise snow, but I know they will stand back up again as the few inches of snow melts. They will never grow as tall as Keith’s daffodils. Our daffodils fight the weather so they will always be stunted.

The Apple Farm had Elstars on offer which made me happy. I know they keep the apples in a cooler over the winter, but still, I marvel that last autumn’s apples can taste so sharp and sweet and crunchy in March. Pat had homemade butter from Tinnock Farms in Wexford along with plenty of fresh fish. We complained together about how buttermilk is being mixed in with a lot of commercial butter these days. It is a way to lower production costs. It makes the butter do funny things in a pan. The new egg woman, who is Australian, had two goats in a pen beside her table. They were young goats rescued from an elderly neighbour who could no longer care for them. Their names are Jim and Debbie. I hope they return next Saturday.

15 March Thursday

I had looked ahead at the weather report. I knew there was a lot of rain falling. I knew that copious amounts had fallen throughout the night. Even with this knowledge I was not ready for the reality of so much rain. It is easy to forget how much rain can fall in Ireland if one is away from it for a short time. As we neared the area close to home, all of the roads were flooded. There was water rushing off the fields as though they were always fast running rivers and they were never fields. The gashes that the council digs out of the sides of any road in preparation for exactly this kind of thing were all full and overflowing. The dikes along the road were also deep and fast running.

Peter was driving us from the airport. He was shocked and worried about his car. He was worried about so much deep rushing water. We were not worried as we have seen it so often before. We knew that it could be much much worse than what we were seeing. At one point I got out of the car and walked through a large lake of water which covered the road in order to let him know how deep it was before he drove through it. It looked deeper than it was. I was glad that it did not come up past the top of my boots. My boots are only ankle boots and they are made of leather. It is not really a good idea to wade through water in leather boots. If I had not done it, he would not have dared drive any further, so there was not much choice.

He told us how he and Maud had returned from a winter holiday in the south of France where they had suffered badly from the dry air. He said the aridity day after day hurt their lungs. He said that it was just Too Dry. When they stepped off their plane in Cork, they were glad to be back in the dampness. He said they felt the moisture wrapping itself around them and then they knew they were home. Immediately, their lungs and their bodies felt better.

I listened as he spoke.  I knew that no matter how long I live in this country, I will never feel good about being damp. I was even more certain about this as I surveyed the rain water pouring down our bathroom wall and into the cupboard in the big room and in the little passageway. I have become very efficient at mopping up water with towels and newspapers. I am good at drying things out over as many days as it takes. I know that I will never fully belong here unless I learn to accept all this dampness. That will never happen.