Clip-it-ti-clop, clip-it-ti-clop. The sounds of the city filter through my window. I lift my hands off the keys and exchange a view through the window of the worldww for the window of the world. I stretch, lengthening my body from its desk side curl. My eyes search the grey sky above me, triangle peak and red brick in front of me until they settle on the cobbles below. A smile tugs my mood upward as I spot the source of the noise interrupting my staring contest with the screen. A horse, saddled, with its owner are the only traffic between my building and the next.
The cobbles and the hooves have been here longer than the metal strips placed between them and the ding-ding of the Luas sliding by. The new city resembles these. It has reconstructed the inherited streets so that glass, metal and plastic can whisk us through them fluidly … in a hurry … forgetting to look outside … forgetting to listen. But the windows were not forgotten in construction. They have been built into our modernity. The sounds can still seep through them. Our legs can still carry us and feet can still bridge the cobblestone gap. And the horse outside, it can still clip-it-ti-clop, clip-it-ti-clop. They can still disrupt and entice me to the window where I give thanks for the sounds of the city.
The snow drops, crocuses and daffodils are teasing us with their greenery peaking through and yet the temperature is as cold as it will likely get during the year. There is something incredibly special about the end of winter and the promise of spring in Ireland.
As evening begins to descend the shadows seem to reach out over the earth in a sleepy stretch. Trees in particular cast long shadows, gathering into their dark arms new growth on the forest floor. (photo: Coole Park, Co. Galway)
Snowdrops & New Growth
Bright red and green tips begin to form on bushes creating blankets of colour along the roads. They look so vulnerable in their newness. Buds appear on the trees and flowers begin to push through the ground as spring is ready to be born again. Delicate white petals form a covering that is a gentle teasing reminder that winter is never harsh with snow here. Just when we are making more cups of tea and are knocking the heating on once more today, the snowdrops let us know that it won’t be for long. (photo: Burtown House, Co. Kildare)
Following the harsh winter storms where wind and waves beat against the western sea coast, the sea swirls around in chilly playfulness. Crisp sunsets paint the horizon in soft blues, whites, greens, greys and pinks. (photo: Lahinch, Co. Clare)
Giant trees stand exposing the gnarls in their branches and their windswept growth. They display the incredible strength that helps them to stand with heavy summer loads. To me, these are the most beautiful of the late winter beauty. They have stood for decades watching over the changing decades and centuries, welcoming spring over and over again after having been stripped bare of all their finery. (photo: Slane, Co. Meath)
Time to prepare ourselves for spring!
As a little girl I loved my stash of costumes and fancy clothes. I wore my best pink dress and frilly socks while keeping up with the boys as we hunted rabbits in the woods outside my place. If there weren’t any there, we’d pretend that there were. The costume box never seemed to be too far away and imagination was always closer. In this world of make believe we worked through our problems and dreamed of possible futures. One week we would suit ourselves up in Olympic hats and imagine the crowds cheering as we were the finalists competing for the gold medal. The next week it was time to play teacher and help students work out their math equations. When inflicted with boredom, we were forced to play, to become.
In a world of “should haves,” I probably should have grown out of the desire to play and dress up. But I didn’t. There are just too many stories that I’d just love to jump into and try out for a while! Who wouldn’t want to step into a scene from one of their favourite movies, tv shows or books? Take Downton Abbey for example. Imagine living in this upstairs, downstairs world … where of course I would live upstairs. And without all the terrible drama. I could do without the drama! Ok, just give me the costumes, the house and the setting. When I heard that my friend’s hen party was going to be at a place that advertises as a Downton experience, I was over the moon!
The Victorian Escapade at Clonard House was so much more than it advertised! From the outside, the house is just a large country home. Except it did have the huge vine spreading possessively across the entire front, made only more beautiful in the winter as it bared its skeleton. As one of the people in the last car to arrive, along with the bride-to-be, I felt the full impact of entering the house after her! At least 10 others stood in two perfect rows just inside the door ready to curtsey as soon as the guest of honour stepped inside. It even took me a minute to realise that it was the rest of our party dressed in black and white with their hair tucked away in their caps. We soon joined them in costume and were brought downstairs where the laughter really began as we tried to out-do each other in baking apple cakes, scrubbing out stains and tossing rings. Following our final outdoor task of chamber pot racing (in which we lost all the contents onto the ground … and each other) we were told that we would just not do as downstairs help. Upstairs we entered a room filled with satin, silk, lace and fur. In order to play parlour games and sit down to afternoon tea we had to look the part.
When we finally entered the dining room we were convinced that this was no ordinary hen party. The table was set with an exquisite array of sweet and savoury foods that tasted as good as they looked. The staff were so genuinely kind and played their roles perfectly throughout the entire day. Never once did it feel like we were in a cheesy role play or crude costume party. When it was time to re-enter the present and leave all the house behind we were all satisfied with a fantastic day of play filled with laughter.
Child development scholar Joseph Chilton Pearce wrote: “play is the only way the highest intelligence of humankind can unfold.” I’d like to think that he is right not only for children but also for adults.
Meet “The Pilgrims”: First there is Susan. Originally from a farm in Wexfored, she now lives in Lahinch, a little surfing town just south of the Cliffs of Moher in Co. Clare. Optometrist by trade, musician and seeker of Jesus in all things. Christian cliches don’t do it for her. She wants a real faith with a real God. I don’t know if I adopted myself into their family or if they adopted me … or when that was exactly. Her sister, who was my first and closest friend in the family, left us for life in New Zealand. Enough time has passed that Susan now introduces me as her friend … instead of “This is Liesel, my sister Rachel’s friend.” Nice. And then there is me. No further explanation needed since this whole blog is about me – I named it when I was young(er) and couldn’t bother changing it.
Introducing “The Pods”: Top of the Rock Pod Pairc and Walking Centre is located way down the road in West Cork, about four hours drive from Dublin. By the third hour I was thankful for my hands free set for my phone so I could get a few phone calls made. And then I called my brother at his work in Canada just because I had international minutes on my phone that needed to be used. I think it was 8:30am there. I arrived to the site with few expectations of what to find – mostly because my head has been busy thinking through too many other things to anticipate the pod getaway. I hadn’t even researched what was all in the area to see and do. All I could think of was, ahhhh, rest. I walked towards Droimeann, our pod named after an old Irish bread of cow. With each step on the grass of our little “yard” towards the pod it felt more and more peaceful around. When I stopped on the deck and righted the sturdy white chairs I looked out across the valley and the hills and felt like the only person in the world. The slight overhang at the front of our pod framed the view of pastures, stone walls, trees and rows of fuschia. When I finally turned around and unlocked the doors to our pod I was greeted with the sight of simplicity and the smell of wood from the panelled, sloping walls. There was just enough room for two small, comfortable beds pushed against the walls and our suitcases. It was perfect.
Over the next couple of days we took advantage of a couple of the walks in the area. We followed streams and waterfalls. We spotted bright red holly berries heavy on the trees. We got caught behind a herd of cows on the road and had to duck off to the side to let them pass. We found a castle. We visited Glenilen Farm and bought fresh butter. We got to know the other guests in the mornings and the evenings. There is a certain sort of person who stays at these places and they are all really lovely people! We even managed to find some of the best food in Ireland at a small restaurant in the middle of no-where! We went to Bantry on market day and followed the road to Gougane Barra. Somehow I even managed to get a bit of work done as well and emailed it out 5 minutes before the main building was being closed for the night.
We didn’t follow the pilgrim trails in the area. We didn’t even spend time thinking about the historical significance of the structure of the pods we were staying in. We just were, for those couple of days, two pilgrims in a pod. We were two people who stumble in pursuit of Jesus where ever the road or conversation might take us.
“Once the soul awakens, the search begins and you can never go back. From then on, you are inflamed with a special longing which will never again let you linger in the lowlands of complacency and partial fulfilment.” ~ John O’Donohue
Walking towards my car after visiting the Medieval Museum in Waterford this past weekend, a friend and I noticed that the rear, passenger side wheel was flat on my car. My mood deflated a little in that moment. Having just had one slow puncture fixed this past week, and not exactly being an expert at changing tyres, I had to consciously gather together handfuls of optimism until I was motivated enough to just get on with it. Thankfully:
- I had a spare tyre in the boot that was full
- There was a jack and tools there too
- I wasn’t alone
- It wasn’t raining
An older man in a suit saw us pull the tyre out of the boot and came to ask if he could help in any way. As he started loosening the tyre a couple of younger Wexford men came to join in. Not even asking if we needed help they just took the tools and said they would take care of it for us. One quickly fitted the jack while the other proceeded to remove the tyre and replace it. In under 5 minutes the tyre was replaced, the car returned to the ground and the tools were put away. I just stared in amazement and shook their hands in thanks.
While my tyre was being fixed the following day, we adventured around the area. Mount Congreve was a garden set apart with the pond lilies and hydrangea walk in full bloom, the secret garden with the pagoda set deep in its sunken floor and summer fruit ripe on the trees, just waiting to be tasted. Within view of the Metal Man we joined others in jumping into the choppy sea just before the rain returned. Through a camera lens the feeling and beauty can be captured in part. But I have yet to capture the true beauty of adventure – the friendship, strength and heart of those who invite me to explore this life with them every day.
But fundamentally, life off Earth is in two important respects not at all unworldly: You can choose to focus on the surprises and pleasures, or the frustrations. And you can choose to appreciate the smallest scraps of experience, the everyday moments, or to value only the grandest, most stirring ones. Ultimately, the real question is whether you want to be happy. ~ Chris Hadfield, An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth
Hidden away in the Wicklow mountains is a lush valley set aside for locals and hill walkers – I would call them mountain climbers but that might be a bit of an exaggeration after just having been through the mountains of British Columbia. Just down the road from the pub and inn is a place to park. Those are also exaggerations. The road is more like a one way barely paved street for two way traffic. The place to park is more like a meter of warn down area from people having parked there before. The pub and the inn are just as they sound. And actually, the old white building is quite long, with a considerably large car park.
Glenmalure is a little gem just tucked away nicely.
I was staying with friends down in Wexford this past long weekend. We’d determined that Sunday was adventure day. Looking at the sky we had to determine whether to wear our waterproof jackets or if our light t-shirts would be enough. After voting for bringing the jackets along we started down the hill towards the cottage at the base of the waterfall. You might have even called the waterfall “roaring” after the torrential downpour the day before. It slowed to a wide and shallow pool just in front of the cottage. There were seemingly two directions we could have gone. Only one of them had the “allowed access” sign on it. The property belonged to someone and there was only one way through it that wouldn’t have been considered trespassing. We zigzagged with the path up the hillside. At times it sounded like the whole mountain was nothing but a waterfall. Under the dense ferns water flowed steadily all around us. At times the path was even a secondary stream.
It’s good to catch up with friends and share life.
As we reached the top of the hill we saw a sign announcing that we have reached the limits of the allowed access and any further would be at our own risk (bring your compass, etc, because it’s going to get treacherous). I was reflecting on the dreams that I have for the year ahead. Some of them seam just a little too impossible for me. Then we would pass an “allowed access” sign. And God would speak to our hearts about how he has made a way through the impossible with a series of allowed access points. I would rather just bushwhack through life. To me paths are confining. The reality is that when we attempt to anything great that is so much bigger than ourselves, bushwhacking doesn’t cut it. God is a part of the process: going before, walking with, following behind. I need to start off along the way and trust that with each step he will show me the next part of the journey. On that hill we prayed that God would show us the “allowed access” in all aspects of our lives – the safe places to put our feet so that we live our lives to the fullest.