Saturday, March 6, 2010

Leaving Tipperary

If autumn is the season of mists, so too, in Ireland this year, is spring. We awake each morning lately to a hard frost, temperatures below freezing and the rough grass surrounding the house stiff and white. White mist hovers above fields and hangs like a scrim over the mountains. The neighbour’s barns beyond the trees at the bottom of our garden are muted, as if behind gauze. In the early light, a rose-pink band rests just at the edge of the horizon; pale blue rises above it. Gaps in the row of towering Leyland cypresses reveal a blanket of white covering the field next to the house. Across the road and over the low, recently cut, hedge, the stubble of last year’s harvest is pale under the frost. Even as the sky brightens, the mist lasts the morning. Yesterday, as I drove down from Dublin, a pale faint haze obscured signs on the already-confusing web of motorway interchanges and roundabouts, making the drive –- the first ever on my own –- more stressful.

I was driving from Dublin, and on my own, because my husband left early yesterday morning for a meeting in Dusseldorf and then continued on to Salzburg in the evening. Except for return visits, it was his final departure from Ireland for the foreseeable future. He has ‘moved’, a reality that still hasn’t fully sunk in. I will follow him next week.

We drove up the night before and stayed in Bewley’s next to the airport. Before going, we went together next door to say good-bye to his mother, me staying only briefly so they could have some time alone together. She’s nearly 90, so we realise that for her, more than for most, each good-bye could be final. As I left her house and came through the lowering dusk back to our own, longing and sadness and a sense of profound loss overcame me. The line of our roof, neat and dark over white walls, the late sweet song of a blackbird, the tracery of still-bare branches silhouetted against the pale sky, all called me as tears brimmed. It was not so hard to leave California, where I had lived most of my life, as it is to leave this house and countryside.

In the car, we passed the ivy-covered ruin known as Whitechurch, a church so old that it was derelict as far back as the 16th century. Its churchyard, though, has received the dead in recent memory, and I thought how I must make time to visit it again in the next few days. We turned right at the Big Tree, the ancient beech carved with my husband’s initials as well as those of his brothers and sisters, cousins, nieces and nephews, and his parents, aunts and uncles before them. Beyond it, leading away from us now, the road rose up the hill we’ve cycled so often, with Sally, my mother-in-law’s border collie, galloping beside us. Just above the summit of the hill, the sky glowed deep rose-red, the darker horizon pressing low against it.

We passed Tincurry house on our right and Millgrove, the plain but handsome house -- it puts me in mind of Austin -- built by prosperous Quakers in the 18th century, on our left. Ahead of us, the Galtees lay shadowed blue against the slightly brighter sky.

‘Look,’ said Himself. ‘There’s a star above the mountain, just about to set.’

The road turned again, and a stand of trees stood between us and the mountain. When we had passed them, I searched the horizon but could see no star.


He scanned the deepening sky, but --

‘It must have set already.’

And so we entered the new motorway and turned northeast, toward Dublin and away from Tipperary.

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