Wet West Coast

CLARINBRIDGE/CONNEMARA, IRELAND December 5-20, 2013

Leah: After a relaxing few days exploring Cork (where we were upgraded for free to a private room at the Aaran House Hostel due to a lack of availability in our requested dorm room) it was time to head onward and upward to the village of Clarinbridge. About 17km outside of Galway, it was here where we’d be based for a few weeks with our next Workaway host, Carmel, and her 11 year old son, Julian. No bus problems this time and as we alighted that evening and were met by this small family on the rain dampened pavement we felt welcomed and right at home.

These two have lived quite the life (Carmel was a former university professor in German literature and has lived abroad in Switzerland and Germany; both she and Julian are consequently fluent in Germany) and have interests ranging from singing, painting and teaching writing (Carmel) to table tennis, aikido and computer games (Julian). We also met our match in terms of reading, as this dynamic duo’s house is festooned with books since they’re also addicts of the written word in all its forms. There were way too many times to count when I’d look up from the blood, lust and battle scenes of Games of Thrones only to stifle a giggle at the sight of all four of us curled up in our various corners thoroughly engrossed in our breakaway literary worlds. Heaven.

In between books Steve and I actually worked, from cleaning windows, waxing floors and preparing meals, to pruning, mulching and clearing out the garden sheds. Carmel’s brother, Seamus, also came to stay for most of our time, as he had recently endured a knee replacement surgery and holed up here to recuperate. We joined Carmel to watch a gospel choir performance one night (gospel is massive here!), took walks to the ocean inlet down the lane past thatch-roof covered bungalows, helped decorate the Christmas tree and even met with a local woman who’s hoping to volunteer in Norwegian Lapland and wanted to hear about our Arctic adventures. Steve and I even took a glorious day apart; he went into Galway with Carmel and Seamus to watch Carmel’s singing group perform and stroll the city afterward, while I stayed behind to prune some trees and catch up on email. Those jobs settled, I cranked up some tunes on the laptop and danced around the kitchen in my socks like my life depended on it, probably looking to all the world like I was chasing off demonic bees.

Not only were we blessed with rapacious readers, but they didn’t eat much meat (although Carmel did whip up a traditional Irish meal of bacon, cabbage and potatoes topped with gravy which was all to die for) and believed in an organic diet rich in fruit and veg and low in sugar. While I enjoyed the hearty farm fare in Clonakilty, I rejoiced at the vegetable soups, salads brimming with a rainbow of colors and homemade toasted granola that now greeted me on a daily basis (and I’m pretty sure my waistline did as well). And I think I speak for us both when I say that Carmel and Julian’s house is almost exactly what we’d like for ourselves: soaring wooden ceilings with exposed beams, a few bathrooms, a few bedrooms, a utility room, modest kitchen/living area and enough space outside for herbs, a few sheds, veggie garden, fruit trees and a polytunnel. Perfection. There was even an under-the-stairs “Harry Potter cupboard” that everyone here has and now makes me supremely jealous. There’s not room to accumulate or store unnecessary detritus, TV time is kept to a bare minimum, composting and recycling reins and Carmel’s a firm believer in pursuing your passions as a way to open yourself to the unexpected joys of otherwise unexplored opportunity knocking on your door. It was basically my own personal retreat center, albeit minus the pretentious yoga clothes, discussion of chakras and suspicious looking smoothie blends.

However, with retreat comes reflection and my mood during our two weeks here seemed to mirror Ireland’s wintry west coast weather—rapidly changing, quick to storm and with a grey tempest wind swirling through it all. While I relished making up for lost time and reading everything within reach, I also found my thoughts and anxiety multiplying, much like a bacteria culture in an agar petri dish. I had received not only devastating news from my family, but was also trying to support a dear friend back at home in the middle of a gut-wrenching transition. Memories of Minger and Jayna also churned through my consciousness—not necessarily sad, but a reminder that their loss is still keenly felt and that my head and heart are still processing. Even more paramount was the fact that in just three short months we’d be back in the US. With the end of this trip nigh, all the uncertainty regarding jobs, where we’ll live, how we’ll adjust and my complicated thoughts regarding bringing a child into this world felt like a garden of ever-growing thorny brambles encroaching on my garden plot.

To top it off, there was also the night Carmel turned and asked, “Oh, did you hear about the school shooting in Colorado today?” My heart pounding through my chest and fighting off waves of nausea, I waited with clammy hands while she brought up the story on her laptop before passing it to me. Scanning the story as quickly as I dared in an effort to pick out the relevant information, I released the breath I didn’t know I had been holding when I saw that the school in question, Arapahoe High School, wasn’t the elementary school where my mom currently teaches. However, that was little consolation, as Arapahoe HS is just a mere seven miles from my family’s home and a ten minute drive from the campus that houses my mom’s school and my former high school in the nothing-ever-happens-here middle class Denver suburbs.

How completely perverse is it that we’ve now experienced several public and school shootings in the USA from abroad, two of which occurred literally so close to home in Colorado? It’s also incidents like this that serve as a reminder that we’re viewed as dithering idiots by much of the rest of the world when it comes to gun control, or lack thereof. I don’t know how many people have talked to us about and expressed sympathy regarding all the shootings since we’ve left home. However, they always ask why we continue to allow people to arm themselves based on an archaic amendment that reflected the times hundreds of years ago but seems to do more harm than good in the present. This blog is not a political platform, but I have to agree that after agonizing for endless seconds if my mom was dead, I’m not relishing the idea of returning to a country where I have a higher chance of being shot down in a movie theater or walking through a school corridor than I do strolling through the streets of drug capitals in Central America.

All things considered, it was a very pensive two weeks for me in Clarinbridge and yet again my husband is a saint for putting up with me and my sometimes unbearable self. However, I’m becoming more adept at identifying my moods and getting to the root of why I’m fuming or temperamental, which in this case was worry about others and stress about reacclimating to post-trip life come March 2014. This all led to a fixation on a new mantra that I should “control the controllables”, which for some reason works better than previous incantations echoing the same sentiments that I’ve tried. I can’t control anything except my own actions, so while I still spend a decent part of my day in prayer for those back home who need it, letting the worry from people and events I have no control eat me alive isn’t helping me, my marriage or my enjoyment of this trip’s final months. It also helped to see our very first official Irish rainbow-a full arc at that-but even Carmel said the leprechauns and gold have eluded her throughout life!

We finished off our west coast sojourn in Connemara, where we’d be staying a few days with our Dublin host/new friend, Ciara, her mom and the two Hetta Huskies dogs, Britt and Rira, Ciara had adopted a few years ago. After meeting in Galway the three of us boarded a bus for Clifden, where her mom, Doreen, would meet us and take us to her home close to Letterfrack overlooking the ocean. Yes please. Unfortunately the weather wasn’t on our side, as much of Ireland had been experiencing some of the worst storms in decades and while the drive through the Connemara region took our breath away, so did the frigid weather, driving rain and unrelenting wind.

Originally we all had plans for seaside walks, hikes through the bogs and checking out Kylemore Abbey, but the weather was so bad that we instead ended up alternating between reading books on the couch and taking the dogs out to pee when we weren’t sipping tea or enjoying Doreen’s colorful tales of local characters or some of the former activist events she’d been a part of. And of course we not only got to meet Longfellow, the lovely canine grandpa of the house, but two other dogs from Hetta who used to live at the Valimaa farm- Britt and Rira-and are related to some of our favorites there. To make us that much more homesick for the frozen north, Doreen also happened a blue Berlingo- the exact same car the guides used in Hetta. Good food, good company and more fur babies- weather be damned, we had a great time finishing up our time in the Republic of Ireland here but we’ll need to come back with a bit of sun and do it properly!

CLICK FOR PICTURES OF CLARINBRIDGE and CONNEMARA

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