Thursday, May 6, 2010

Notebook Entry 2008

Co Tipperary
Sunday 5 May

After a grey, cool and changeable day on Saturday, yesterday was sunny, brilliant with colour and light, spring bursting forth from the vivid grasses and fresh young green in the budding trees. We had left the car in town overnight to take a taxi home from the pub – it’s what one must plan to do any more with the vigilance on drink driving – and so Himself dropped me in town to bring the car home. Driving home, I had both windows open, warm air caressing my face, blowing my hair against my cheek, light blinding as it glanced off black tiled-roofs, broad expanses of green fields stretching into the distance and from the upturned undersides of leaves. For the first time, I was out in a light-weight cotton knit top without wearing the thermal chemise I’ve worn since last fall.

At home I opened windows, letting in fresh warm air. I should say though that this warmth is relative – it was at most 16 or 17C – just 61 or 62F. In California, said Himself, I’d have been lighting the fire.

While we were roasting the chicken for Sunday dinner, I walked out the back and around the side of the house to toss out something – ‘into the ditch’ with the food scraps for the crows or other foragers – and suddenly there was a great flurry and swift beating of the air as a cock pheasant rose from the unruly tall grass and bore himself away at eye level, rich russet feathers ornamented with a flash of brilliant vermillion and intense teal blue, long tail feathers drawn out behind him, a visual coda.

After dinner I sat next to the open window in the dining room. The sun poured in over my shoulder, warming me as I sipped at the last of the white wine and reading sporadically. A blackbird sat in the budding mountain ash, his sweet clear rising notes as moving as the song of a concert soprano. Later, we took Sally the Border Collie for a walk up the road to explore the property over the road from us, ‘Ahern’s,’ as we all call it, though there are no Aherns there now. In fact, it is now unoccupied, which is what gave us the impetus to trespass into property that Himself hasn’t entered since childhood and I had never entered.

On old maps, it is marked as Garryroan house, Garryroan being the townland in which we live, our Irish address. (A townland is the smallest administrative district, a geographical segment that could be acres or miles. They are unmarked by physical boundaries: You just have to know where they are.) It must once have been a house or holding of some stature. We removed the tape barrier across the entrance, the barrier running between the wires of an electric fence, crossed over the cattle grid and started down the long tree-lined avenue toward the house.

Enormous stately beeches were just greening on the right; tall sycamores leafing out on the left. Beyond the hedges at either side, cattle grazed in the fields. The house sits in a slight  depression, so until we got about halfway along the avenue, I could only see the long ridge of its roof. At several  hundred metres long, the avenue is impressive. By the time the house was in sight, we moved to the right to say hello to three horses in a field to the side of the property, a mare and a half-grown foal and one other. The foal and mare stared at us intently, the foal coming close enough that I could just barely reach her to scratch her nose. The other horse was less curious; he angled his neck down and under the electric fence to tear at the fresh green ferns growing there before moving away. The mare and foal watched us, though, twisting their rubbery lips into funny faces at times. Sally crouched at the edge of the fence, watching them intently.

The house is an impressive but plain building, a long flat two-story plastered façade, roofed in old slates. To one side there is an extension, slightly lower and roofed in new tiles, with the same plain façade. It’s the setting and the relative size that makes it impressive. It’s not a large house – long but only one room deep for the most part –  but it’s larger for its time than the farm houses in the vicinity. At the back, part of it has been extended, adding depth to accommodate the kitchen and offices, I suppose. There are exposed stones though the plaster and holes, and the yard behind it is filled with rubble and detritus of construction. A modern block of stables extends from the back at right angles. Across the yard and parallel with the house is the two-story stone barn, also now falling apart but filled with old farming material and such. Beside that is the tall wide open-roofed cylinder, thick ropes of ivy stems growing up the old stone walls, a dove cote Himself has been told.

In front, the windows of the lower story of the main building are closed inside with old-fashioned wooden shutters. One window in the extension was uncovered. Through it we could see into the bare room and back window though which we had peered. The next window over is covered by a pink-and-maroon flowered curtain. In the deep sill, though, is a single dusty, down-trodden boot, faded brown laces snaking like a dispirited worm along the pink painted embrasure. It looked like a surreal display in a shop window.

We poked around the cluttered yard in back. There was a rusted decrepit bicycle, an expensive model with narrow racing tires. It had probably been left in a shed, we surmised. The remains of a metal wheel barrow were flattened as if crushed by a steam roller. Nearby, on the edge of a field, there was a shiny red, brand-new fertiliser spreader.

We stood at the edge of the pasture behind the old barn watching the cattle in the field. A few watched us too – cattle are very curious and attentive to human watchers. A large black bull, though, intently sniffed the russet backside of a heifer, oblivious of our presence. I waited, hoping for some excitement, but it was left to my imagination.

Overhead, swallows swooped and soared, twitting through their balletic flight. They fill one with joy.

Salzburg, 6 May 2010
It's a rainy grey day, too wet and chill to bicycle, far from that warm spring Tipperary day. But last evening, cycling home along the river, I saw swallows dancing high above in the late golden light. 

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