The Journal

Erica Van Horn – Living Locally

Inside in the water

26 March Sunday

Inside is another word which gets regularly used with undue emphasis. When Inside is used along with In, I think it just says the same thing twice.  I cannot get used to this doubling up of prepositions: Margaret is inside in the hospital. Teddy is inside in the shed. Gussie is inside in Clonmel. The dog is inside in the water. A dog can be in the water. But I do not understand a dog being inside the water.  And inside in the water is a step towards complete confusion.

25 March Saturday

Two baby jackdaws fell down the chimney. They were young. They had no feathers yet. They were naked except for a tiny bit of fluff. No one was near the chimney when they fell. Gavin found them because he and another lad were in and out of the bar painting the loos. It was early in the day and there was no one else around. He showed the birds to Rose. The babies were still alive so she put them into an open cardboard box with an old tea towel. The Inspection Woman made a surprise visit. She came in shortly after the birds got settled into their box. Rose quickly put the box out in the small room that people walk through to go to the outdoor smoking area. She assumed the Inspection Woman would not go that far. The woman was busy looking everywhere for any breaches in Health and Safety. She reprimanded Rose for having an old and barely visible sticker for Silk Cut cigarettes on the underneath of the hinged bar hatch. No one ever sees the Silk Cut sticker except when Rose opens the hatch to go in or out from behind the bar to clear a table. The sticker has been coated over with varnish and old smoke for years and years now. It is barely visible. It is impossible to see where the sticker ends and where the wood it is stuck onto begins. The Inspection woman said that the sticker violates a law about openly advertising cigarettes. She made notes about a few other things and then she walked out the back door to go out to the smoking area. She squealed when she saw the two little jackdaws in the box. She asked no questions. She just said Get Them Out of Here! in a loud and imperative voice. She continued on with her examination. The birds were not mentioned again and Rose wonders if they will be noted in the letter with its inevitable list which the woman will be sending out later in the week.

24 March Friday

I stepped out of the barn to feel the warm sun. It is hard to believe that we had snow on the ground just two days ago. There is a sharp wind but in any sheltered spot the sun is hot. I sat down on the bench just outside the door and turned my face up to the sun. I lasted about three minutes in this pleasant position. Sticks and straw and leaves and little puffs of insulation material fell down onto my face and my shoulders. The starlings have been nest building in their normal spot up under the eaves. The ground is covered with the mess of construction. I was foolish to choose that bench for sitting.

23 March Thursday

We woke up to snow yesterday. About 4 inches of fat heavy wet snow. It looked beautiful and it covered everything thickly. It was a complete freak.  We have entire winters, year after year after year, with no snow at all. Now, in late March, we get this lovely surprise snowfall. I am certain not everyone felt it was lovely. It could not be called a storm. It was a quiet gentle falling and all the time that the snow was falling the birds continued to sing as if it were another spring morning. The snow stopped by mid-morning and in the afternoon a soft rain began. By nightfall most of the snow had been washed away. Today the daffodils are popping back up again as if they had not been completely flattened to the ground by the weight of the snow. A very few of them have had their stems bent and their blossoms are hanging down. The bent daffodils will not recover but most of the others have shown amazing resilience. They are up and blowing in the breeze as if there had never been snow on top of them. The hills and the mountains remain white.

21 March Tuesday

There are two Oscars to meet on each walk up the path and around. The first Oscar is a young sheepdog with chestnut brown coloring. He is always desperate with desire for a tummy rub. He rushes out from the yard running low to the ground. He has rolled over and is waiting for a rub well before I reach him. After that first rub he stands up and hops about with pleasure. He hops with all four feet off the ground at the same time. Then he rolls over for more. If there is more than one person on a walk, we have to do a minimum of two good tummy rubs each before we can continue on our way. The second Oscar is the older dog. He is a big black Labrador. He rushes out from any number of locations, all in close proximity to his house. He greets anyone passing on foot with enthusiasm but he does not seek any rubbing, scratching, patting or touching. This Oscar has little interest in affection. Just being together is enough for him. He wants a person to walk with. I am always happy to have him walk me home. And since he is getting a bit fat in his older age he needs as many walks as he can find walkers to go along with in a day. Living where he lives he is often without any walk at all as there are few people passing by.

There can only be one Front.

20 March Monday

The walls that contained the compost heap have been collapsing for a long time. Instead of another make-do repair, the bin has now been completely rebuilt by Andrzej. He built it in the way that he decided it should be built and not at all the way it had been before. The only thing about it is that is the same is that the structure has been built with the re-used wood of a pallet. The pallet he found to use was a painted pallet. It was bright blue. Suddenly the compost bin is colourful and exciting. And it has a hinged cover.

19 March Sunday

Breda and I walked the lumpy fields again today. We love these fields. We were discussing the fields and how they join up. We know that each one must have a name because how else would anyone be able to say where they were going or where they were putting the cows if they could not put a name to the place. One of the fields has a clash in it. A clash is a kind of saucer-like indent in the land. It looks like it could be full of water but it is not. That is the easiest field for us to give a name to. One is shaped kind of like a corner piece. We decided to attempt a Field Count but we were talking as we were walking and we kept losing our count. We think that we ended up with nine but there are several fields we did not even walk into so we still do not have a total. And anyway I think we might have lost count somewhere between eight and nine.

18 March Saturday

There is a particular way for houses to be built of concrete blocks and then for the front of the house to be clad in stone so that from head on it looks as if it is a stone cottage. It is easy to see that the building is not completely made of stone as the sides remain concrete walls. No one seems bothered that the building has two different finishes. The stone clad front is an attempt for the house to look fancier and better presented to the world. And as Mick declared when admiring a newly built house, “There can only be one Front.

17 March Friday

An elderly dog lives just down the road from Frank’s shop. The dog is deaf and his eyes are not good. He makes a visit to Frank’s shop every morning. A white line is painted on the road. It starts just at the point where the old dog lives.   The line goes right down the middle of the road. Not many of these roads have a painted line. The old dog is fortunate that there is a line because with his poor eyes, he needs the line to get to the shop. He walks right along the white line with his head down keeping his full attention on it. The white line takes him to the shop and the white line takes him home again. When he gets to the shop he wanders around outside for a little while. He smells things and he pees on things. Then he sits down on the step. When Frank sees the dog he comes out and gives him a piece of yesterday’s cake or a bun. After the snack, the old dog takes a nap and when he wakes up he goes to the center of the road and walks along the white line until he arrives back home. We all know this dog and his scheduale. He cannot hear a car coming up behind him so it is up to us to be aware and to be careful if we are driving that bit of road mid-morning.

16 March Thursday

Taking To The Bed is what people do when they are poorly. They might be feeling sad and depressed or they might be ill with a cold or a flu.  When someone is said to be Taking To The Bed, it is best not to ask too many questions.

 

15 March Wednesday

One bit of Joe’s field hovers high above the ditch. A cow standing up there makes the height confusing. It is not like the cow is merely looking over the ditch with its head visible.

14 March Tuesday

It has been four years now since her father died. She was mad at him when he died and she remains mad. She goes to his grave nearly every day to tell him how angry she is. She also tells him how much she misses him and she tells him how much work there is for her to do all because he is not there to do it. Her mother died last year. She is not angry with her mother. She saves all her rage for the father.

Lumpy Fields

13 March Monday

There are daffodils in bud and daffodils in blossom. Daffodils are everywhere. There is the promise of more daffodils to come even while enjoying the early ones. Gorse. Forsythia. Lesser Celandine. Primroses are beginning to bloom down the boreen.  Every blossom is a yellow blossom. Things are burgeoning.  Nests are being built.  The mornings are noisy with birdsong.

12 March Sunday

The moon is full.  It popped up and sat right on the edge of the hill for a long time before it rose any higher. Now it is full and bright and high in the sky.  Tonight will never be all the way dark.

11 March Saturday

I bought the first rhubarb of the year from Keith and Jim at the Farmers Market. I was looking forward to preparing it and eating it.  I poked through the ginger in the supermarket.  There were only a few scruffy pieces and they were shriveled. I was picking through to find the best one I could find.  The young man whose father ran the supermarket for many years saw me.  He has taken over the running of the market from his father and he is eager to be helpful.  He loves his work. He showed me that there were some packages of organic ginger.  The organic ginger looked fresh and firm but it was expensive and there was an awful lot of it in one packet. I told him that I only wanted one piece today.  I told him that I just wanted some ginger to cook with the first rhubarb. I said I would keep sorting through the loose bits.  He came over to help me in the looking. We found a few small pieces which met my approval.  He put them into a little bag and then he threw in a few more.  He said, Now put those right into your pocket.  There will be no charge.  This is between me and yourself. 

10 March Friday

The path up to Johnnie’s has been cleared.  There are no longer horizontal trees to duck underneath.  There are no more fallen branches to crawl under.  The brambles are trimmed way back. There is still a muddy uphill climb over slippery mossy rocks, but now I can stretch my arms straight out from side to side before I touch anything.  It is now a big airy tunnel rather than a narrow tunnel.  It will get overgrown again soon but for now it feels like a whole new place to walk.

9 March Thursday

Breda and I walked over the small unevenly shaped fields behind Jimmie and Esther’s farm.  They no longer keep cows themselves so they rent out the fields to another farmer. He grazes his cows there in the months of good weather. In the winter Breda is free to walk out with the dogs with no worry about electric fences or climbing over gates or meeting cows or bulls. There are a lot of fields. I lost track of how many there were.  Some of them are deep with wet. They are boggy after all the rain.  None of the fields are large.  They are not the kind of fields where the ditches have been torn out to make large expanses easy for big modern equipment to get in and move around. There is no ploughing nor planting in these fields.  Perhaps they are fertilized a bit with a small tractor just to make sure that the grass keeps growing.  Cattle move from field to field to eat and eat all the grass until they eat everything and then they get moved to another field. These fields are never flattened by heavy equipment rolling over them so they are uneven with cow hoof prints and the pushing up of gnarly tree roots. Walking though these lumpy fields in the sunshine was a pleasure even while it was hard work. There were no cows. We saw a buzzard, a fox, and a pheasant.

8 March Wednesday

Dawn lives downhill from a dairy farm. She rents her house from the farmer. Water in the house is at the mercy of the farmer and the needs of his cows.  The water supply for the house and the water supply for the cows both come from the same well. During morning and evening milking times there is no water in Dawn’s house because the farmer must wash the milking parlour and flush out the milking equipment. The farmer calls this Cow Time. His cows have priority over his tenants.  If his cows are grazing in one of the fields which is lower than the house, water gets pumped down to them for drinking.  Then there is not enough pressure for it to go back uphill to the rented house. Keeping water stored in 5 litre bottles is an all year round job at Dawn’s house.  The filled-up bottles of water are kept in the shed so that there is always water even when there is no water.

Leper’s Squint

24 January Tuesday

Three narrow slits in the front of the Augustinian Abbey down at Molough were purposely included in the building so that lepers could watch a mass without entering the church and infecting everyone else with leprosy. I am not sure how much could be heard through the slits.  These slits were called Leper’s Squints.  I assume the word squint was because anyone looking through could only use one eye.

22 January Sunday

All of the plants in their large heavy flower pots were carried into the barn for the winter.  I cut the plants back and tried to give each one sufficient window space to get light through the winter months.  I watered the plants over several weeks before I had to accept that not a single one of the plants was alive.  The early heavy frosts killed everything well before I got around to moving them inside. I can still walk out and into the garden and find fresh leaves of mint, thyme, sage and rosemary.  No amount of frost affects their growth in the ground all through the winter. I am now avoiding the job of carrying all of the heavy pots back outside but I will have to do it.  It is depressing to be working at the big table surrounded by dead plants.

19 January Thursday

There is one traffic light in Ardfinnan.  It was installed last year.  The stone bridge over the river is a worry.  It cannot take the weight anymore.  If the bridge is closed, life is not possible. There is only the one bridge. Many people in each direction will be cut off from one another and from the places where they need to go.  The traffic light now allows a single line of cars and trucks and tractors over the bridge.  The wait is not long.  There are never more than five or six vehicles waiting at any one time.  The short wait takes a lot of stress off the bridge.  If the bridge collapses no one knows how long it will be needed to build a replacement. No one wants to think about a future without the bridge.

Greg was waiting at the traffic light in Ardfinnan today when a swan crashed into the bridge and tumbled  onto the road. He got out of his car and carried the swan across the bridge and down to the green. He lowered it into the water.  It swam away.  He felt that it swam away happily.  No one else crossing the bridge showed the slightest bit of interest. They were not interested in the swan nor were they interested in him. He said when he picked up the swan it’s heart was pounding.  He said that the nearer he and the swan got to the water the more calm the swan’s heartbeat became. Greg felt himself getting calmer too.

17 January Tuesday

Our address remains a problem for a lot of people.  The Dutch post office continues to be outraged about it.  They have refused to deliver things to us as there are no numbers in the address.  We have always made up codes for them and also for the Germans, as well as for any internet ordering.  The made up numbers amuse John the Post. Most times we write our address one word per line. My mother says it looks like a shopping list. Often I have to explain it to people from away.

Ballybeg is the townland.  A townland suggests a small area of land which is locally recognizable. A narrow stream at the bottom of the meadow is the beg. Bally, from the Irish for little town, is the immediate settled area. In this case it is just our one house.  Further down the fields and on the exact same stream there is another townland of Ballybeg, but that is in the village of Newcastle.  Ballybeg is an extremely common name in Ireland.  There are hundreds of Ballybegs. Or if not hundreds, there are at least dozens. The playwright Brian Friel set his plays in a fictional place called Ballybeg.  Ballybeg is so much a work of his fiction now that sometimes people are surprised that we really live in an actual Ballybeg. I am not sure if a townland and a parish are the same thing.  Maybe I should not be beginning this description of place without some research.

Grange is the village.  Grange is another common name. There are lots of Granges. The village center has Frank’s shop, a church, a graveyard, and an elementary school.  After that there are miles of farmland in all dirctions.  We are at one far end of Grange.  We are nearly Newcastle.  If we were to be more specific we could say we are just  below Knockeen or up from Ballynamuddagh or down from Tullameghlan.  These are three other surrounding townlands. There is no sign anywhere with these names on them. Townlands are not identified by signposts. People just know townlands because that is how we all know where we are.

Clonmel is the biggest town nearby. It might be the largest town in the county. I am not certain about that.  It is not a city because it does not have a cathedral.  It has a population of about 16,000.  Laurence Sterne was born there.  The word Clonmel means Meadow of Honey and it is indeed a very fertile area, known especially for apples and a healthy bee population.  It is about 8-10 miles from us, depending how you go.

Tipperary is the county. Tipperary is the largest county in Ireland.  On our license plates we used to have TS or TN to denote Tipperary North or Tipperary South. Now the newer cars just have a T.  Our bit of the county borders closely onto County Waterford.  There is a town with the name Tipperary too.  Any address there would read Tipperary Tipperary.  Sort of like a stutter.

Ireland should be written as the Republic of Ireland, or Eire, to differentiate from Northern Ireland which is still legally part of the United Kingdom.  We live in a separate and free republic which is not ruled by a monarchy.

So, from the bottom up, everything gets more specific and closer to our exact location. To aid in locating places we were assigned post codes last year.  The government was so tentative when they sent out our new codes to us that they told us we did not have to use them if we did not want to.  I am not sure what good they are if no one uses them.

16 January Monday

Snowdrops are fully in blossom now.  They are everywhere.  There are even more than I thought there were when they were first appearing in bud.  Em’s little stone has a lovely cluster of snowdrops all around it. The sheep did not destroy them.  I never heard any more about those sheep after they disappeared up over the hill.  Either the man who owned the sheep came looking for them and led them off home or else enough people spoke of them around the area and eventually the sheep which were missing and which maybe had not even been noticed as missing were claimed and recovered.  Maybe they just found their own way home, eating as they went.  No one seemed worried so there was no need for me to worry.

15 January Sunday

We went off walking in the late morning because Simon had cut his thumb and it kept bleeding on the pages he was folding.  We thought if he walked he would not be using his thumb and it would be better. Which it was.  We went over to Goatenbridge and walked through the forestry where the mosses were bright and glowing green.  Eventually we circled back along the road which was lovely because we were tucked right under the mountains. from inside the forest we could not see the mountains but from the road the mountains were completely present. There were many fields and houses to look at along the road and even a little bridge I had never looked at closely. You do see more on foot.  We walked and walked for much longer than we had planned to walk. It was a beautiful cold day. The sun was bright all the time.  We met several people that we knew and so we exchanged Happy New Year greetings.  One of the people wanted to talk and talk and talk.  He wanted to talk our ears off so he did.

14 January Saturday

Jessie is a lucky dog.  She was rescued by Mick who met a man who was about to move to London.  The man had the dog with him and Mick admired the dog.  The man said “She is Giddy and Lively but she’d swim the English Channel for you.”  The man found it annoying that the dog would jump into any water even if that water was in a bucket.  She simply could not stay out of water.  He also found it annoying that she was supposed to be a gun dog but she was skittish around guns. When Mick asked if the man was taking his dog along to London with him the man said he was not. He said that if she had not been so skittish he might have sold her. The man said he was just that minute taking her over to a local farm and the farmer was going to shoot her.  He said it was too expensive to go to the vet to have her put down. Mick offered to take the dog even though he had no room for her himself.  He delivered her to the animal sanctuary and she was given a foster home for one week.  She has never left that home.  Not only is she Giddy and Lively and A Water Loving Dog, but she is a Lucky Dog.

Snowdrops. Sheep.

sheep

12 January Thursday

Snowdrops have been pushing up daily.  In the last few days they have been appearing all over the place. They seem to be everywhere and many are in places where I do not remember snowdrops.  They have multiplied and they are  forming a blanket over the lawn and through the beds.  Not one snowdrop has blossomed yet.  They are just getting themselves ready. It has been a gloomy and bitterly cold day. A little rain has fallen.  The sun has been out and bright but only for brief moments. The wind has been strong and noisy all day. Some snow blew around for a short time but it was never enough to settle on anything. An all weather day.  On a day like today, the snowdrops make me feel hopeful.  I have made each trip up and down to the barn as quickly as possible.  As I leave the house or go back down to the barn I rush across the wet grass with my shoulders hunched and a wool hat pulled down low.  I took off for another rapid journey after lunch and stopped short when I saw sheep in the grass between me and the barn.  The sheep were surprised to see me. I was surprised to see them. I counted six.  They ran to get under the fence into Joe’s field to distance themselves from me.  Joe does not keep any sheep.  Neither does the other Joe. I made inquiries by phone.  They are not sheep belonging to Donal.  Donal no longer keeps sheep.  Maybe they belong to Paul.  I went to the village with the post and bumped into Tommie.  I told him about the sheep and he was as confused as I was.  He knows for a fact that all the farmers with fields around us are cattle farmers.  He immediately asked what colour faces the sheep had. I told him that there were two with black faces, and two with white faces. I told him I had not really paid attention and I did not know what colour the other two were.  He was disgusted with my lack of attention to detail. The two with black faces had horns.  I was pleased to be able to tell him that. Tommie was certain that whoever owned those sheep would come looking for them once he knew they were missing.  When I got back home the sheep were still in Joe’s field.  They had moved far up the hill near to Scully’s wood. They were almost out of sight.  They had not returned to this side of the fence. I inspected my snowdrops and was glad to see that the sheep had neither eaten them nor trampled them too much. If it had been cows there would have been a terrible mess but even fat sheep are quite light on their feet.

11 January Wednesday

Oscar joins us if we walk the road near his house. He hears our voices or our footfalls and he comes rushing down his drive and out around the corner.  He walks along the short length of road until we get to the turnoff for the boreen.  Most times he continues with us and walks all the way to the house. Lately, he has taken to turning around and  returning to his house when we leave the road.  It might be that he is getting old or it might be that he is just getting lazy. He is a bit fat in that way that labradors often get fat. When he walks in the road Oscar does not pay much attention to the cars.  He does not chase them but he does little to move out of their way. Today a car slowed right to stop while I attempted to convince Oscar to move out of the way. The motorist opened his window and shouted at me to get my dog under control.  I told him that this was not my dog.  He went on for a while about hitting a dog and the damage it might do to his car.  I told him that this was not my dog.  He said money was tight enough in January without replacing car parts.  I told him that this was not my dog.  He sputtered on a bit longer about this and that and then he apologized.  He said “I failed to wish you a Happy New Year.  That was rude of me.” I answered, “And Many Happy Returns.”  He rolled up his window and drove away. I have never seen this man before.

10 January Tuesday

Few is the word used to define a quantity.  It there are a crowd of people or animals or things they will be described as A Good Few.  Or A Fair Few.  No one ever says A Lot when they could say A Fair Few. And if someone sneaks something by without anyone seeing or knowing about it the comment will be “….and few would be any the wiser.”

9 January Monday

The woman is a strange and timid woman.  If she sees us walking towards her she sometimes tries to change direction with her two dogs.  One of her dogs is a Jack Russell and the other is a sheep dog. She holds them tight on their leads and never lets them run loose even in the big open fields.  I think she is shy.  She is skittish. I see her often. We are not strangers. If I say good morning or hello she rarely responds.  She looks at the ground.  This woman is not old.  But she acts and moves like an old woman.  Today we were walking up the track approaching the big shed.  The shed is made of corrugated metal.  The shed is huge and high.  It is maybe three stories high.  It has three closed sides. One long side is open to the weather.  The shed is stacked to the top with bales of hay. As we approached we could hear the dogs barking like mad.  Even with all of the hay which might have muffled the sound, the metal walls and ceiling amplified the noise.  The metal made the wild barking much louder and much wilder.  As we reached the open side of the shed we saw the woman crouched down low far back between the hay bales.  She was squeezed into a narrow space with the two dogs held close to her.  They were barking like crazy. She was looking down and holding tight on the leads. We did not say hello. We just walked past as though we had not noticed her and her dogs. I think that is what she wanted.

 

tea-cosy

7 January Saturday

It is not everyday someone brings you a tea cosy. It is a very special day indeed when someone brings you a tea cosy.  I have never had anyone arrive with a tea cosy.  Niamh not only brought the tea cosy but she knit it herself. This tea cosy is the first tea cosy I have ever owned. I am especially pleased with the little turn-up at the bottom.  The tea in the pot stays warmer and I am sure it tastes better.

Ear Tag

wreath2

6 January Friday. Little Christmas. Epiphany.

Traditionally, Little Christmas is the final day of the Twelve Days of Christmas.  Traditionally, this is the day when the women of Ireland go out together for drinks or dinner or tea, and the men stay at home and take care of all the things which the women usually, traditionally, do.  Traditionally, this is a well deserved respite from the whole holiday palaver of endless food and feeding and family and washing up and taking care of every little thing.  The day has evolved and is now called Women’s Little Christmas.  One day does not seem like much, as rewards go.  Little Christmas is also the day when the decorations and the tree, if you have one, and the cards and the wreaths and all manner of decorations get put away or thrown away.  The last day of Christmas is the last day of Christmas and after today things are schedualed to return to normal.  As well as clearing out the decorations, it is the time for clearing out the refrigerator and eating up all of your last scraps of holiday food.  If the scraps have already been taken care of, then it is the day to eat something completely different from what has been eaten over the holiday. I guess that is where the going out to a restaurant comes in.  I am not sure how the women get to accomplish all this clearing and cleaning and then still consider it a day off.   Traditionally, the idea is to put Christmas and all it entails behind you.

Since we barely celebrate, I have not got much to get rid of as far as seasonal stuff goes.  I was pleased to notice an old evergreen wreath from three years ago hanging on the outside wall of the sauna.  I moved it to a nail on the front of the round-topped shed and I felt it looked fine.  It is dead and brown.  The needles are falling off.  But from a distance it looks like a cheerful wreath.  I may leave it where it is for another week.  Then I will return it to where it was.  Maybe it will still have some needles left for next year.

5 January Thursday

We all enjoy spotting the Whooping Swans in various fields at this time of year. They arrive in enormous numbers with a big group wing flapping noise.  I do not go searching for them but I enjoy their surprise appearances. They choose a field and return to that field day after day. Each year they choose different fields. At various times of the day they move to a different field where they were the day before at that same time.  We heard one farmer complaining that they were eating everything in sight. This year Breda has become obsessed with the Whooping Swans.  She is keeping track of their stopping places all around the area.  She has been getting up in the dark and going to one particular field to be there when they arrive. She loves the silvery quality of their bellies as they settle down out of the darkness.  This morning someone she knows but not someone she knows very well came along while she was standing beside a gate before dawn waiting for the field to fill up with birds. I saw her in the afternoon and she was still feeling embarrassed at having had to explain herself.

4 January Wednesday

The winter sun was low but very bright as it came through the window.  I thought the bathroom light had been left on.

 

eartag2

 

3 January Tuesday

I have had a plastic ear tag in my jacket pocket for a few years now.  I cannot remember when I picked it up.  I cannot remember exactly where I picked it up.  I think it must have been while walking up Joe’s track toward his barns.  That is where the cows walk so one of them must have lost it.  I know that I dug it out of the mud because the bright yellow plastic caught my eye.  It showed up so vividly against the mud and muck.  At the time of finding it, I thought maybe I should tell Joe that I had found it and I should see if it was important for him to have it back.  Then I must have forgotten about it because there are always other things to think about on a walk.  Each time my hand located the tag in my pocket I probably had the same thought but I never had the thought when I was speaking with Joe.  Now I think it has been a very long time.  The cow who had that number and that tag might not even be around any more.  The cows each have two of these ear tags. One for each ear. There is a bit that goes through a hole in the ear and clips into the back part of the tag. The two parts of my tag are very tight. I cannot separate them so I think this tag must have torn a part of the cow’s ear in order to have ended up in the mud.  Farmers must get allotted numbers or maybe they apply for numbers when a calf is born.   Each calf gets a number and then they can be kept track of.  It is a form of registration.  I assume that any movement of a cow can be traced back to this number and this tag.  If each cow has two ear tags, one can be lost and the animal can still be identified. I love my ear tag. I love finding it in my pocket again and again.  A few months ago, I considered sending it to my friend who was recovering from heart surgery. I knew she would love it as much as I do.  Selfishly, I just did not want to let it go.

Drab Brown Birds

 

shophours

1 January 2017

We have been saying Happy New Year to people since the day after Christmas. We shall continue to say Happy New Year for at least two more weeks. Every year I feel it goes on and on and every year I am determined to note the day when everyone stops saying it. It is probably not a single day but still I would like to recognize when we stop saying it.  Saying Happy New Year is a politeness, like The Salute.  It is polite to say it and rude not to say it so it is best to keep on saying it until you have said it to every single person you meet. The light is getter brighter and longer each day. Saying Happy New Year several times each day is a cheerful thing.

31 December Saturday

There was a wedding in the village.  There is always a wedding at this time of year. Actually there are often quite a few weddings because there are a lot of people home From Away.  The McCarra family have gathered together from London and South Africa and California and Australia, as well as from other parts of Ireland. It is a good idea for them to do all of the celebrating that might need doing while they are Home since they have come from so far away.  There is no question that these same sons and daughters and babies will travel back in a few months when the weather might be better simply for a wedding.

The idea of Home is always at the forefront of everything. Christmas is the most important time for Home. Everyone must go Home for Christmas.  We spoke with Rob and Geraldine about their plans.  They were going to Waterford.  Geraldine was going to stay at her mother’s house with the twins.  Rob was going to stay with his parents.  On Christmas morning he would join her and the boys at her mothers house and then he would return and have his Christmas dinner with his parents.  He would stay on with his parents for several days.  She was planning to remain with her mother for at least a week, maybe longer.  Going Home from Newcastle to Waterford is not the same as returning from somewhere like Australia. It is only a 50 minute drive away.  Going Home is the thing.

29 December Thursday

The seasonal closing of the world goes on and on. Some places are open sometimes.  Today and tomorrow the post office is open. The post men are delivering the post.  After Friday the post office will stop again until next Wednesday.  I went to the shop and the postman was parked out front. He was standing near his van and handing out letters to people in front of the shop.  If someone stepped toward their car, he shouted Don’t Go!  I have something for you!   It was not our postman John. A different man does the village route. I do not know his name. Since it was not our postman I felt a little left out. I knew I would not be shouted at and summoned over.

28 December Wednesday

She studied the card carefully.  Her eyes are poor so she held it right up close to her face. The card had a bright red cardinal on it.  The cardinal looked extra bright against a background of snow. She looked carefully at the card and she kept repeating that the cardinal looked like a lovely bird.  She might have been sad but instead she sounded angry. She said It is a pity we have no cardinals here.  We have nothing but drab brown birds. 

27 December Tuesday

Twice now I have walked up the Mass Path and past the house of the Killer Dog. Twice he has not rushed out onto the road. He is no longer on the loose. I have been nervous about taking that route.  Each time he is not out I feel better but I wonder if I shall ever be completely relaxed about that stretch of road again.

 

bull

26 December Monday

A bull has been in Joe’s front field for a few weeks now.  Twice in the time that he has been there I have seen people standing beside their parked vehicles out on the road looking at the bull. I assume they are admiring him.   As bulls go I do not think he is the biggest I have ever seen but he is large and black and strong and he does command attention. I have no idea how to judge a bull.  I just look at him.  I say hello whenever I pass if he is near enough to the track to hear me. He seems interested and he seems to respond to my voice.  I do not think it is me.  I think any voice would cause his head to turn.  In the last few days, he has mostly been in a narrow little finger of the field which seemed silly as it was the smallest place he could be.  He is sort of crammed into the space.  There does not look like enough space for him to turn around.  His face is coated in mud. Then I realized that his attention is directed across at the cows in the lower field. He is either longing for the company of the cows or he is longing for some kale. This little space is probably the only spot from which he can view the herd.

The cows are in what I call their winter Cow Kale Field. They eat the specially planted kale in a long line as they eat their way downhill. They eat together one cow beside another in a long line. There is nothing to see but the backs of the cows. Their bottoms and their legs and their tails. It will take many days maybe weeks for them to reach the bottom of the field. It is a big field. It is four or six acres. Joe once told me how big it is but I have forgotten. Each day Joe moves the little white string and the metal posts. The string stops the cows. I have never really known if this white string has a little electric charge in it or if it just looks like wire which might be electrified and that is enough to convince the cows to go no further. I do not know if a visual deterrent is enough. I do not know how visually alert cows are. However it works, I marvel that a herd of cows can be stopped by one fragile string when the other side of the string is full of things they want to eat and the side they are on holds nothing but trampled mud and stalks. Each day they eat the allotted amount of kale and then they wander off to find some grass in the next field.  The bull is watching closely from across the track. There is a stone wall and a ditch and a strong fence between him and the kale eating cows.  I do not think a white string would be sufficient to stop him if he wanted to get out.

25 December Sunday

We set off to walk up in the Knockmealdowns. On the way, we saw heavy cloud cover settling over the mountains and felt some light drizzle. The walk plan quickly changed.  It became a different walk.  The new walk took us along a side of one hill. Every walk has a name. We call this walk The Des Dillon as it starts on the road out of the village and it passes his cottage before the rough track gets rougher and before it becomes a rocky muddy riverbed. We met one farmer who was off up the hill to tend to his animals.  He shook Simon’s hand and wished him a Happy Christmas.  I received a salute, from a distance.

Holly Not Holly

24 December Saturday

I am avoiding the Mass Path. I am worried about the killer dog. I do not like having him control my movements. I do not like this fearfulness. John told me that I am Planking It.  I think Planking It is a way of saying that one is very nervous. Or maybe it means one is terrified.

 

photo-1

23 December Friday

The Farmers Market took place today instead of on Saturday because they thought people would not want to come out on Christmas Eve. It was too windy for the market. A sign had been put up near to the entry with the single word TODAY.  It was early when we arrived but TODAY had already been destroyed by the wind. The threatened storm named Barbara was encroaching. Very few tent stalls were in place.  Stella was selling her bread and cakes out of the back of the car.  Jim was packing up and leaving. He had only a few turnips to sell anyway and he had no patience with the wind.  He was worried and he wanted to go home. Everyone was sort of frantic. They wanted to get their food stuffs and go.  The girl from the Apple Farm was happy. She was in the back of a horse trailer with her apples and juices and vinegars and ciders.  She was out of the wind. Her feet were warm for the first time in weeks and weeks of market days. The rain was coming from several directions at once.  Everyone spoke of Barabara as if she was someone they knew.  There was the very real worry that we all might lose power. We had a quick coffee before heading home. Someone had wrapped fairy lights all around the railing on the stairs at the cafe. It was not possible to walk up or down the stairs without grabbing onto wires and lights.  Electrocution by Fairy Lights seemed a very real possibility.  It added to the manic feeling of the day.

22 December Thursday

I bought the bunches of holly from the man at the market last Saturday even though I knew the bunches of holly were not holly.  He knew that I knew so neither of us used the word holly. We just made our little transaction.  He was selling the bunches of greenery strapped together with black tape as a bit of something extra and seasonal along with the wooden bowls and egg cups which he usually has for sale. I knew the holly was not holly but I was pleased to see red berries in such abundance.  I can step into the woods and cut loads of holly but there are never any berries on any of the holly I have ever found.  Maybe it is the particular breed that grows here.  I brought the holly which was not holly home and left it on the table outside the kitchen while I decided what to do with it.  In the day or two of lying around the birds have eaten every one of the red berries. If the holly I purchased had been real holly the birds would not have touched those berries and if they had eaten them they would be dead.   So now I have some shiny green leaves which are not holly leaves waiting to be used in some kind of seasonal way.  I have no red berries. I should have just gone out and cut some real holly and tied little red ribbons on to it which is what I usually do.

photo-3

21 December Wednesday. Winter Solstice.

Today is the shortest day.  Today is the day which brings with it the promise of longer days. I kept meaning to go for a walk and I kept putting it off as I found other things to do. In the back of my mind was the apprehension about the big dog.  I worried that he might be out again. I rang PJ Shine who is the neighbour up there.  He said the dog should not be out.  He was surprised and not happy to hear the dog was loose but he felt it was probably not too serious. He told me not to worry myself.  PJ only passes by in the safety of his tractor so he did not feel particularly threatened.  Then I saw the other PJ who said he had walked up by there the day before I did. He said he had been shocked to see the dog in the front yard.  It was barking and snarling but it did not come out on the road.  He felt unnerved by the dog.  I decided to go down and walk the Abbey walk. I decided to do the Abbey walk to avoid any chance of meeting the dog.   I parked at the cemetery and noticed that I had left it all a bit late. The light was really dropping.  I walked as far as the ruins of the Abbey and then I told myself I would just walk to the farm gate.  Then I said I would walk the track to the first barn.  Then I walked on to the lower gate. But the time I got there the sun had dropped behind the mountains and it was dusk.  I walked up hill with the light dropping by the minute. There were no lights anywhere.  No street lights of course. No house lights. No houses.  I walked the last part with a sense that the road was there. I could kind of see it but it was more about feeling it.  I was not afraid. There was nothing to be afraid of.  The dog was far away and on another road. There was nothing else to be afraid of.  By the time I reached my car at the top it was fully dark. If anyone had asked I could have answered There is No Fear in Me.

20 December Tuesday

Early afternoon broke through bright and sunny.  The whole day looked different. It was suddenly cheerful.  I walked up the mass path to enjoy it.  Sometimes it is gloomy walking through the wooded path. I like all of the mossy rocks and fern and the secret quality of the shaded rocky trail.  I even like the dangerous rotting rolling apples.  Little rays of sunshine through the trees are a bonus. There were views across Cooney’s fields where a fox has broken through  making his path.  I knew that arriving into full sunshine up on the road would be a fine thing. And it was. It was a fine thing.  I pretended that I actually could feel heat from the sun but really it was the heat of my up hill exertion.  It remained a cold day.

Before I got very far along the road an enormous dog came rushing out of Carbuncle’s yard and lunged at me.  It was a scary dog.  It was big and it was scary and it was barking and growling and baring its teeth at me.  It was either a Bull Mastiff or a Rottweiler.  I know very little about these dogs.  Carbuncle always has two large guard dogs inside the fenced in area behind his house.  When he built his house the land he bought was advertised as having panoramic views. It was true. The aspect across to the Knockmealdowns was spectacular.  It turns out he neither needed nor wanted a panoramic view as he quickly built high fences and filled his yard with cars.  Smashed up cars are piled high.  Some cars are not smashed but they are not visible over the fence. These get worked upon, repaired and sold. He keeps two dogs in the fenced in area all the time. They prowl around and bark when someone walks by the house.  They are protecting the good cars and the smashed cars and all of the tools and machinery which I assume must be in there. One is a big Alsatian and the other must be this monster on the road.  I do not know how he escaped.  I do not think he was supposed to be out. I tried to speak sweetly to the dog.  I used a gentle voice and I said nice things quietly.  I told him he was a good dog even though I was certain he was not a good dog.  I was terrified.  After several attempts at stepping along the road I gave up and turned around.  I walked slowly away from the snarling dog. I went back down the muddy path looking behind me every few steps.  I feared he might rush after me.  I had no doubt that he could tear me to shreds. There was no one around.  No one would hear if he tore me to shreds.  No one would know.

I was still shaking when I arrived home. I went over the fence and made a perimeter walk through some of Joe’s fields. I needed to calm myself and I still wanted to be outside in the sun. I tried to remember when was the last time I had met a dog that scared me.  Most of the dogs I see daily are walking free with or without a person. They are friendly gentle dogs.  They are simply going about their business.  They are as happy to see me as I am to see them and if the dog I see is a stranger I can always speak kindly and the dog will respond with a wagging tail.  I am shaken by this aggressive dog in my day.  I am nervous about my next walk up the path.  I am never happy for dogs to be locked up but I am really frightened by this dog being out on the roam.

Brown Coins

19 December Monday

Another grey and gloomy morning.  The grey sky is heavy.  I cannot animate myself.  I should not complain.  The weather continues to be unseasonably mild.  Some days are bright and crisp. Some are drizzly and wet and grey.  Day after day the temperatures are higher than normal. It is cold but it does not feel one little bit like December. Today the birds are all over the feeders.  They are lining up and waiting for their turn to eat nuts.  Most days they have been racing around without much interest in stopping to sample whatever is on offer in the feeders. There has been no desperation in the bird population yet.

18 December Sunday

Three hunters were out in the Long Field today.  They were all three dressed in camouflaged clothing and they had four dogs with them.  The Long Field is long and it is also wide. It is a result of many walls and ditches being broken down over the years.  We call it the Long Field but really it is two fields. Over time all the fields were combined to make two enormous fields with a rough track separating them. There is one place kind of in the center where the land dips before it climbs up again. There is a large outcrop of rocks and stones and growth in the dip.  More stones and rocks get dumped there as the farmer finds them in his ploughing.   The edges of the fields on both sides of the track are a long way from the middle. The three camouflaged men were walking up the dirt track.  There was not much chance that there would be any birds anywhere nearby for them to startle much less to shoot. Just as we began our walk downwards they veered off to the left around the rocky place and they headed for the edges in the hopes  of flushing some pheasants.  The area of fields is so large we were able to walk without ever getting near to them, nor them to us.

17 December Saturday

It was cold.  The morning had been white with frost. The hard cold lasted all day.  I stopped in Ballyporeen where there was some kind of Christmas party or maybe a wedding and a lot of people rushing around in fancy clothing.  People were in and out of the nearby pub. The church was close by.  I could not tell where they were going as everyone seemed to be on the move all the time.  The young women and some of the not so young women were all dressed in skimpy dresses.  Many of the dresses were sparkly. There seems to be an agreed upon behavior that women take off their coats before going indoors to an event like a night in a pub or a disco or a wedding.  I do not know if it is because a coat might ruin the look of a fancy outfit or if the women fear that things will get so exciting and out of control that they might forget their coat later. Coats get left in the car. These women and girls all had bare legs and little high-heeled strappy sandals to go with their flimsy dresses. They all had fake tans to make their legs look glamourous rather than white and goose-pimply.  As I walked out of the shop an old man in a tweed suit and a heavy jumper and wearing a wool cap pulled down low on his head stood in the doorway watching the chaos in the street and shaking his head .  He said “Just look at them. They’ve Nothing On Them, and it’s Gone Freezing Out and their legs are All Orange.”

16 December Friday

Up Yourself is an insult.  To be told that you are Up Yourself is a kind of a warning. To describe a person as being Up Himself is to imply that he is taking on airs and graces. It suggests that someone is stepping outside of their place.  Or the place that others think that person should stay in.  The man in Cahir who was not allowed to carry a small back pack when he was out walking was told by his wife that if he went about wearing a pack on his back people would think he was Up Himself.  It was okay for him to carry a back pack when on holiday because then the people who saw him would not be the people who usually saw him.  Anyone who saw him while he was on holiday would not be anyone who might know what place he was supposed to be kept in.

15 December Thursday

There is now a bus service called the AirCoach which goes back and forth between Cork to Dublin Airport. It only makes a few stops so it is efficient and fast. Each place where the AirCoach stops is well marked with an orange sign.  The sign now tells us where we have always been stopping on the regular bus but we did not know the name of the place.  It was always just The Bus Stop, which was outside a particular bar or a shop in a particular town or village.  When the Bus Eireann bus stopped today in Mitchelstown I noticed the AirCoach sign said it was Mitchelstown New Square. I never knew the big square was called New Square.  Thursday is market day in Mitchelstown.  The square which I now know to call New Square was busy and full of stalls and people. Unusually, a huge crowd was waiting to board our bus. There were at least thirty people.  Everyone who was already on the bus got very excited.  They discussed amongst themselves that this was the most people they had ever seen boarding the bus in Mitchelstown.  Everyone worried that they might not all fit onto our bus.  The driver worried out loud that it was all taking too long to get them loaded. Some did not have the right money and others had awkward bundles or baby buggies.  He feared he might be late for his arrival in Cork.

 

photo-3

13 December Tuesday

No one wants the Brown Coins.  Stella said that her house had been burgled. The robbers had come in and made a mess. They did not take much. They ripped into the airing press in hopes of finding a hidden safe.  They threw a lot of things around. They found the jar of small coins.  The jar was full of the 1 cent, 2 cent and 5 cent coins that no one uses anymore.  The coins are made of some sort of alloy.  Maybe it is copper and nickel. They do not look especially brown but they are spoken of as the Brown Coins.  No one wants the Brown Coins.  Children do not stoop to pick them up in the street.  Most of us save the Brown Coins in jars and eventually we cash them in somewhere. The Brown Coins may not be used much as currency but they cannot be refused. The robbers could have left the Brown Coins sitting in their jar.  They could have ignored them. Instead, they took the jar of Brown Coins and scattered them around the house in disgust.

12 December Monday

Annie told me that she was going to be an artist when she got older. She said her mother was certain that she would be a very good artist. Annie said, “She says she knows that I will be a good artist because I am easily distracted and because I like to glue pom-poms onto pencils.”

Little Cups and Saucers

gate-loops

11 December Sunday

Mardhea is the spelling.

I think.

It is pronounced Mah-re-Ah.

I think.

Someone might say Mardhea, I was watering the flowers.  What they mean is AS IF I was watering the flowers.  To preface an action with the word Mardhea means to say that you are doing one thing in order to find out something or to be on the watch for something happening or something which might have happened.  You are not really watering the flowers because they need watering.  You are watering the flowers so that you can keep an eye on the activity next door or down the road. It is basically a way to admit to being nosy. I do not think I can incorporate this expression into my daily conversation, because few Irish words sit easily in my mouth, but I am quite pleased to know what it means. I am glad to be able to listen for it.  When I next hear it said I will know that it is a kind of code and I will feel included.

10 December Saturday

The barber poles were not made of plastic nor of glass. They were not rounded.  They were not lit from within.  These barber poles were simply painted red and white stripes on two inch by four inch planks. They were planks not poles.  There was one nailed flat onto the wall just beside the door so that it was visible head on and especially from across the road.  On the other side of the door there was another board mounted on its narrow side.  I guess that one was to attract passing trade.  There was a third one which was about one and a half inches by one and half inches square right over the door. It was long and it sort of stuck out at a bit of an angle.  The word barber was not visible anywhere but the red and white stripes did the full job of advertising.

9 December Friday

This is the message received on Text Alert today:

Please be mindful of Elderly Friends and Neighbours who today may be receiving double Christmas payments from the Post Office and report any Suspicious Activity.

The elderly and any other people on benefits receive extra money to help them get through the holiday period.  It helps them to purchase special things as well.  To announce it like this might be a good thing or a bad thing.  Everyone knows the extra payments are made and in rural areas there are no banks.  People can only take their money home and hide it.  Any robber would know this and any robber will know there are just so many places that cash can be hidden. I am sure the Garda mean this alert as a good thing but it seems like it might be a bad thing.

apples

 

8 December Thursday

It is slippery and dangerous walking over the last of the apples falling off Johnnie’s trees and onto the path. The apples which fall on that side sort of roll into the gully which is the path.  Or the path is a gully and it is where we walk. Every day I tell myself I should use a walking stick for walking through the rolling apples and the slimy mud but every day I forget to take one along with me.  Rats or mice are eating out the flesh of the apples and leaving the tough skins spread around like delicate little cups and saucers.  I slipped and  landed hard on my hands and knees today which gave me a good chance to examine the tidy nibbling and the fragile remains. I am hoping the rats hurry up and eat the rest of the apple flesh or at least that everything rots down into moosh before I take another tumble.

7 December Wednesday

The days continue mild.  Ever since the recent spate of frosty frozen bitter days, I feel I have had my warning.  I am now saving and filling water bottles.  Water pipes are not buried very deeply here.  A week of freezing temperatures mean that the outdoor water pipes might well freeze.  Each winter I fill water bottles Just In Case.  Sometimes we never need the bottles of water but sometimes we do and then we are glad to have them.  I fill each bottle as we empty one.  We buy bottled water for drinking.  We do not buy bottled water as a fashion choice. I would prefer not to buy bottled water.  We buy it in big five litre containers.  We use our well water for cooking and making tea and for everything else but for drinking a glass of water we drink bottled water.  We need to have the well tested again.  We probably need to have the well cleaned again. Last time we were told the e coli content of our water was a bit high. We were advised not to drink the water. So as well as filling water bottles to guard against the possibility of frozen pipes I must also buy extra bottles of drinking water to have on hand.  I am not doing too well. I have only 25 litres, three large bottles, stored so far.

6 December Tuesday

A totally gloomy day all day.  The light never changed. At any moment, it might have been dawn or it might have been dusk.  The sky was heavy and grey.  The sky stayed heavy and grey.  Sometimes it rained a little and sometimes it did not rain. In the early afternoon, I took a walk up the boreen and around.  I felt I could not wait any later to walk as it might not be any better later and there was a good chance it might be worse. It was difficult to focus on anything because of the uncertain quality of the light.  It made me feel like there was something wrong with my eyes.  It started to drizzle as I left the house and it kept drizzling all the way around.  It was never proper rain. It was soft. It did not feel like rain. When I reached home I was soaking wet.