Sunday, June 19, 2016


Bathers on a brisk day in the Irish Sea.
IN IRELAND THE SUMMER DAYS ARE LONG. I don't even think about going to bed until the long twilight comes, and it's way after ten before it gets full dark. I've been waking up a little after 4, and the sky is already light, but the sun doesn't actually rise until about 5. Although we are pretty far north, the climate is temperate, and we see palm trees mixed in with thistle and poppy and rose and hazel. Our guide tells us that the bedrock collects solar energy and keeps the soil warm year round, and the acid in the rain leaches minerals from the limestone, so that although the soil is shallow, it is quite fertile.
Strange triangular rock formation.

I thought I came here to study the intersection between setting and fiction, or maybe how characters interact with their landscape. But almost immediately I began to realize that politics needs to be in the equation, too. Maybe it's because I have studied so little Irish literature before, and because we're looking at it in context (which I already knew coming over that context was the point, but I didn't know know it) so when we started reading and learning more about the history, especially of the Rising, I began to see more layers of everything.

I'm loving the connections I've seen already—mostly just serendipitous. For example, in our first day history lesson we learned about the strength of feeling of Irish Nationalism, to the point that you could be banned for life from the Gaelic Athletic Association if you were caught playing, or even going to foreign games, like Cricket or Football.
Michael was over the moon when we
found a cricket match at Trinity College.
He would have lost his GAA card for sure.
(That’s what they call soccer over here.) Then, on the way to the Guinness Storehouse our cab driver talked about the very same idea. He told us that he didn't think you could banned for watching, but playing for sure. Still, his sense of Nationalism clashed with his independence. "I played both," he said. "You're not going to tell me what to do.
Sport is mean to unify; not divide." He told us that you couldn't find an Irish person without English relatives, and told us that he, himself, has nieces and nephews and in-laws who are English, as well as a good friend. He did admit to some national pride, though. He said that his English friend calls to congratulate him when Irish teams are in the championships. But when the English teams do well, he says he will root for them all the way up, and then at the top hope for them to lose. He called it a "sibling rivalry." He said, "Big brother is great. Big brother can run like the wind. Big brother can kick the ball. Big brother wins this, wins that. Big brother is a pain in the arse." He told us that sibling rivalry is always a deep and emotional rivalry.

We are in Galway, an artistic town with a brisk tourist trade. Michael has gone home to tend to Birdland. My husband loved his time in Ireland, but he has work at home too, so I wandered the Latin Quarter with my school friends. Pub meals have been so delicious here, but my favorite so far was a salted salmon sandwich on a flatbread with slices of some kind of red jelly and capers as plump as blueberries.  It was served with a tiny ramekin of coleslaw—just a taste—and dressed greens in a cup. The Irish brown bread is quite nice, too. Even when you buy it from a shelf in the store it has a moist, hearty, nutty flavor. After lunch we wandered in the shops, winding through the narrow roads, listening to street musicians.

Next time I’ll tell you about our tour of the countryside, but for now I’m thinking about Birdland. Wondering whether my daylilies are blooming, or whether the brown dog, Cullen has slipped away to run with the coyotes. Wondering whether the black dog, Ursula, has managed to steal anyone’s breakfast.
Wander in Beauty; Ramble in Peace; Blessed Be.

Saturday, June 11, 2016


The View from the Ha'Penny Bridge
THIS MORNING WE WOKE UP AN OCEAN AWAY FROM BIRDLAND. I am studying abroad in Ireland, and Michael is with me for a little while. My husband is adventurous, and he came along for the bangers and mash and the Guinness Stout, which somehow tastes better here. Smoother. We are here to learn about Irish Literature in the context of history. Reading about it in a book is pretty different from standing in the spot where historical events happened, but more on that later. We are staying in a dorm in University College Dublin (UCD). It's pleasantly chilly, and the campus is green and trim, with manicured hedges, which look like regular suburban hedges, but Michael noticed that they were actually stands of bamboo, cut like a privet hedge. We haven't been to the countryside yet, but the flora and fauna catch my eye. 
Magpies have long tails.
Rather than lawns with scattered dandelions like we have at home, tiny daisies crop up. I don't know if the Irish consider them weeds. A couple of unfamiliar birds strut and scratch and fly up into the trees on campus. It took me a few conversations and some web research to find that they are Magpies (the ones with the long, slender tails and striking blue-black and white

Rooks looked at us curiously whe
 we tried to take their pictures.
patterns on their shoulders and wings) and Rooks (Crow-like black birds with intelligent eyes and grey heads and shoulders).

We spent time our first day in St. Stephen's Green. Now a lovely park full of Saturday picnickers, it was a battlefield of the Easter Rising of 1916. We walked along and found placards and sculptures outlining the history and literature of Ireland. A peaceful lake lies in the center of the green, and one sign told us that during the Rising both sides observed a truce twice a day, so that James Kearney, the Superintendent of the Park could go in to feed the ducks.
These ducks are actually from the little
lake on the UCD campus.
We walked along on a lovely, sunny day and read descriptions of the trenches the Irish Volunteers dug outside the park, and the barricades they made from furniture and cars. We stood at the edge of the park to look at the Royal College of Surgeons, where the Volunteers raised the Tricolor flag after securing the building.
Also at UCE, a couple of protective swans guard their cygnets.
The history placards are written in both Irish and English, side by side, and our history teacher and our Irish language teacher both talked about the importance of reclaiming the Irish language and culture that was lost with colonization by the British. Studying the connections between language, culture, art, music, labor, and politics I'm beginning to realize how crucial these connections are for us at home. We seem to be on the verge of losing our public university system in Illinois. Already we have gotten away from the original mission of the Land Grant Universities—to enrich our state by educating the daughters and sons of the workers and farmers. Now those same sons and daughters cannot afford this education without going into crushing debt. How much worse will the situation be if our state continues in its failure to fund this public treasure? If our Universities close (as one alreadyseems to be doing) will the private corporations that take over guard this mission? Or will they guard their profits?
Dubliners are friendly, and yesterday a man struck up a conversation with us as four of us waited for the bus back to the campus. As soon as he ascertained that we were from the United States, he asked the question I had been dreading: "What about that Donald Trump? What is going on over there?" We four looked at each other, and some of us mumbled some excuses and assured him that not everyone is going to vote for Trump. But the answer I liked the best came from my friend, Ryan, who talked about how people are feeling angry and disappointed, and when Trump expresses that anger, many people relate to it, and that brings him support. It was evening, and the buses were about 30 minutes apart, so we had time to talk. We speculated with our new friend about whether Trump’s plans will take us nearer or farther away from the dreams of the people. Our bus came then and as we rode I thought about how I’d better get serious, when I get back, about working towards preserving our culture, our education, and labor.
Michael's first Irish Supper: Bangers and Mash

Mosaic on the floor of Kiely's Pub.
Sing in Beauty; Harp in Peace; Blessed Be.

Sunday, March 27, 2016


Sister Spring in the Big City
SPRING HAS ALREADY COME TO BIRDLAND. The grass is greening up and daffodils are blooming. The velvety buds of Maple give just the lightest blush of red to the still leafless branches. Lilacs are pushing out their bright green leaves and the blossoms will soon follow. The Ornamental Quince has tiny buds, like rose colored capers, dotting the bush. The Sedum still has last year's russet bouquets, but it's time to cut those away to make way for the green leaves coming up at the base of the plant. I've got work to do in the yard today, but just now, standing at the kitchen window, waiting for the milk to boil for yogurt I see a parade of White Tails run across the still barren field into this broad morning. The dogs are sleeping at my feet, and good thing, or they would take off after, and follow the deer to the next county.

daffodils trumpet the dawn
Yesterday Michael and I went up to Chicago to visit our middle boy, Dylan. He was having an event, a "pop up" he calls "Recovery Soup at The Dinner Table." He hosts this monthly meal at a neighborhood bar, called "The Double." For just six dollars you can get a cup of soup and a hunk of a crusty hearth bread. For every cup sold, $2 will benefit a local organization. This month's was the Greater Chicago Food Depository.  

We went up early, to spend a sunny day walking around with our red-haired boy. We didn't have a plan, just walked around the neighborhood. We happened upon an art show at the Logan Square Comfort Station, the only one remaining. The web site tells us that nine identical comfort stations were built in the 1920's for use as a "warming buildings/public restrooms." I like the term, "comfort station," and the hospitality it suggests. I like even more that this was a public building. Rich and poor alike need a place to get warm and use the restroom. This one escaped demolition, and is now an art space. A Tudor style cottage with, yes, public restrooms, but also an art and performance space. We narrowly missed hearing live music—happened by just in time to see the musicians packing their cases. Next time we'll check out the website before we decide just how to spend an afternoon. At least we got to see the art, some interesting concept pieces made from various residues. We walked around and chatted. 

When we were hungry we found a place for a little lunch (saving room, of course, for the main event of the evening, Dylan's soup). We discovered a new brewery, and tried some of their beers. People met friends and played Scrabble and Jenga at a brewhouse called Hopewell. A group came in with a trio of Corgis on leashes. Another group greeted the dogs, and their people too. We went back out to discover more of the neighborhood. When we found an interesting shop we went in and browsed. We saw locally produced artful jewelry and clothing. We found a bike shop still open a few minutes after its posted closing time. "Sure! Come on in," they said when we asked. I bought a tiny brass bell for my bike. It gives one, clear, zen-like peal when I pull back the action. Dylan pointed out a shop window with a funny sculpture. I didn't see a title, but I think of it as the Goddess of Spring. She had feathers and flowers in her multi colored hair. Her arms were made of slinkies, (a fun, visual pun) and her hands were rubber gloves (spring cleaning, anyone?). In one hand she held a nest, in the other a snowman peered out of a cloud of puff of polyester fiber, suggesting a cloud or a snowbank. Her body was branches wrapped in colors and blooming in flowers. Birds perched on various parts of her. Dylan said that the sculpture in the window changes occasionally, and that it's fun to see what's new. It was a friendly kind of wandering on a sunny day.
Wander in Beauty; Sup in Peace; Blessed Be
Next it was time to pick up the soup for the event. We made ourselves useful by driving and then watched Dylan set up. Soon the soup was hot and friends and strangers alike were coming in for a hot cup. This month's was a hearty vegetable. Big chunks of still slightly crisp vegetables, plus a garnish of parboiled bitter melon and carrots, gave the soup a spring-time crunch. Chunks of something with a citrusy flavor intrigued me, and I had to ask Dylan what it was: daikon. We ate our soup and then headed home, but we'll be back next month. I can't wait to taste what Dylan will make next time.
Wander in Beauty; Sup in Peace; Blessed Be.