That we can transport ourselves to an entirely other reality never ceases to amaze me. We literally drop all that seems so necessary and demanding to awake where it is possible to feel whole again. I am reminded repeatedly of childhood as I walk from place to place. The same flowers appear that I hardly ever see anymore but were among the first I had come to know—buttercups, clover, daisies, maidenhair and fiddlehead ferns—all in and amongst themselves through fields and the edges of roads, appearing in miniature throughout lawns. As this month’s landlord mowed his in a great circle around the upstairs bungalow in which I am staying even the sound made me think of my father. I flashed back to an afternoon when he was repeating this same ritual and I asked him not to mow the forget-me-nots. He assured me that they would indeed return, but did leave me a clump near the front fencepost so that all might feel right in my little world.
Along the walk to my studio and the soulful community of this college the sound of a gurgling brook leads me to notice something left as a marker to the spot where fresh water may be found. Again I recall my father bringing me to such a place outside the city where we could likewise capture cool, delicious water to bring home. There was no need for this extra effort when water was plentiful from our own kitchen tap, but the noting of the possibility, the sense of specialness in this extended moment, left an indelible marker in my mind.
As my father would likewise find “loam” in a secret spot somewhere, fill his trunk with it and spread it across the lawn of our humble home in what would become a desirable area of town, he was repeating the work of his ancestors. The raking of good soil over bad echoed centuries of nurturing the earth as he worked toward creating eventual beauty where there was once merely a building site and start-up house. Here in the Burren many different microclimates exist to produce a vast array of vegetation. Some soil is less than inches deep, yet seeds take hold and thrive. It seems that the intentional tending of soil, eeking out from her what Nature is willing to give while she simultaneously offers unexpected splendors in the entire surround, is meshed into the DNA of the Irish and their place on this planet.
All around me are reminders to garden, recycle, be active through walking and biking, with evidence of each every day. Groceries are taken home in recycled boxes, the groceries themselves reflective of health, organics and quality. Here we turn off the power switch after using an appliance in order to preserve electricity. It is from here that the phrase “no worries” must have been born. The words sound somehow wrong in America, false to me when I hear them said by people who do not usually speak that way. When I thank a couple for giving me directions at a turning point in the road here, however, the phrase rings authentic. A genuine friendliness and sense of calm exists. It may be that the environment of beauty and space generates an even keel in everyone. The midwest coast of Ireland seems like that of fairy tales (and I haven’t even been further north). There can be no coincidence that films about the magical past are made on location in such a place that actually exists.
The residue of the torturous past is here too. The “dead” houses, some with torn lace in windows, others with no windows, roofs or intact walls. Like the melting adobes of New Mexico, they dot the landscape as reminders of those who once lived there, causing me to wonder about their circumstances. As I still seek the story of my own ancestors’ leaving I wonder, what kinds of homes might they have left behind? Taxed per window, how many openings in their walls were they able to have? What was their view from within the midlands and the cities? My friends from Laois have alluded to a story regarding Viscount de Vesci in Abbeyleix and my great-great grandfather. Perhaps they were testing the waters of my willingness to eventually hear something that might disturb me. I await the fuller tale that lies hidden as so much else does behind the open land that was once so full, within the soil, rich with the blood of battle and sacrifice. Meanwhile, I venture out to explore it all and spend hours in the studio as calm as a baby in her mother’s arms.
John O’Donahue, whose writings initially led me to the rocky southwest coast of Ireland and now to his own homeland above it, knew how to describe what I see. “The wonder of the Beautiful is its ability to surprise us. With swift, sheer grace, it is like a divine breath that blows the heart open. Immune to our strategies, it can take us when we least expect it…The animation of the Beautiful is so immediate and fulfilling that we simply enjoy it for itself; it never occurs to us to ask what purpose it serves. Our joy in the Beautiful is as native to us as our breath, a lyrical act where we surrender but to awaken.” (The Invisible Embrace of Beauty, pg. 8)
©2016 Janet Maher / Sinéad Ni Mheachair