The Burren, Co. Clare, Days 4-7: “what would I do without this world”

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Day 4: Flora and Fauna

My fourth day in the Burren, it doesn’t seem like the rain will let up. So I go out for a hike in my area to at least take advantage of daylight. As I begin to walk through the fields, the rain comes down in periodic sheets, blown by wind gusts.

I’m looking for a footpath that, according to my map, cuts through the fields and joins up with the main road. However, the access points for the footpath all seem to be located within private gated fields. I end up jumping a few gates anyway and exploring the fields, all framed by lines of low trees.

My shoes are soaking as water drips off the grasses. I nearly trip at one point when movement surprises me on the ground– a slick motion, a disruption as the grass blows back and forth in the wind. It’s a yellow frog the size of a mini stapler, with a strip of black across its eyes.

As I cross from field to field, I end up in wooded areas where the ground is unmanageable, where I’m turned around by tracts of deep mud or barbed vines. In these wet and dark places, I’m struck by the monochromatic sight of moss-coated tree glens. Spotted green shamrock covers the ground. Another shade of green, a close-cut bedding of moss, covers tree trunks and stone. The darkest green is the cap of leaves. When I look through the windows left between branches, I can see pockets of light illuminating the fields in the distance, and that final green is radiant, a bright haze.

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I climb one gate and land in manure-slick ground, in some of the densest, quietest woods I’ve come across. I manage a few sinking steps and then stop. Up above me, at the top of a small hill, is a hollow in the trees. Framed within that hollow is a horse, chestnut brown and spotted. Three more horses (two solid brown, one dappled grey) graze silently behind it. I watch them for a moment, captivated by their soundless, delicate action, by the unexpectedness of their form and color in the blended layers of green.

A few hours after I shed my soaked clothing in the caravan, the rain gives way to a dry, warm sunset. My shoes are too wet to take advantage of it. I start to prep eggplant for grilling instead, scoring, salting, and pressing while I watch the clouds move in front of the sun from my window.

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Day 5: Footpaths

On day 5, I hit a patch of beautiful weather. Sun is bright on the limestone and I shed layers of sweaters as I walk. I’m looking for a footpath off the main road that is supposed to lead to the ruins of three monasteries. I follow the main road for just under an hour, and then another road that branches off and leads into the gap between two hills.

After awhile, I give up on finding the footpath. I’m sore from yesterday’s long hike and all the identifiable paths are behind gated fields. I’m also enjoying my current road and the landscape around it. I like the straight, endless quality of the horizon and the bracket of hills around me, struck by an electric sunlight. I jump one gate and lie on my back in the warmth of a long stretch of karst pavement.

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As I walk home, the car traffic is minimal. There’s me and the the road and the overgrown landscape. I think of where I’ll be a year from today, because I know that this is one of those moments I know I’ll look back on and think:

Remember where I was a year ago today? I was alone, walking through the Burren on a rare sunlit day, down the greenery of an Irish road, and I don’t know if I’ll ever feel so at peace again.

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Day 6: Weather of the Apocalypse

The beautiful weather of Day 5 has taken an evil polarized turn.

By nightfall, the wind is strong enough to uproot the bolted tent outside of the camper. The camper itself rattles and thuds, and I huddle in my bed all night, unable to light candles because of the shaking, unable to fall asleep because of the noise.
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The terrible night is followed by a lack of sunrise. The clouds are dark even in the morning. Rain heaps down, swept along by gusts of that same wind. I run out my door to use the restroom in the morning and am soaked within minutes. I had so many plans for my last day in the Burren, and now it looks like I may not even be able to leave my camper. I occupy myself with fiddle tunes, reading, writing, sketchwork, and Breaking Bad episodes while I wait for the weather to let up.

By late afternoon, the rain has stopped but not the wind. I decide to brave the hills and cliffs behind the camper; I haven’t been to the very top of the hill yet, where there’s sure to be an incredible view of the Burren and Galway Bay.

The trek upward is difficult and miserable, especially since the drizzling starts again just as I’m nearing the summit. I pull my scarf up to block the wind. I try at one point to pull out my sketchbook, but the wind won’t allow for it. I’m in pretty low spirits by the time I reach the top of the hill.

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Amazing and slightly irritating that the most awful weather in Ireland is always coupled with the most unforgettable views of landscape. I’ve seen the Burren in full sunlight and under the cover of a storm, but here, now, from this vantage point, I have the hills stretching out before me, and the center hill borders the sea. Both sea and summit are disappearing into mist. The western hill is covered by the bulk of shadow, while the sun is making an appearance over the ridge to the east. The slopes of the hills are unevenly lit. The full color range of the Burren is amplified by shadow, light, and rain cover, all visible at once.

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All I can really do is shield myself from the cold and dampness as I take in the view for a few minutes. I get drenched by rain as I begin my descent, but I’m still fairly close to home, and all the discomfort is worth it. On my last day here, I’ve seen something more expansive and spectacular than I could’ve imagined.

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Day 7: Departure from the Burren

I do all of my cleaning and organizing between the night of Day 6 and morning of Day 7. The camper was beautiful when I arrived, and I want to leave my little home just as spotless. I clean every surface, take out the trash and recycling, put in place any furniture, books, or items that I moved. I have my usual routine breakfast for the last time, and even though the sun has come out, the wind still rattles the camper in unrelenting gusts.

Around 10 am, I meet up with Julia and Chris in the shed. Julia and I sit and drink coffee and talk about everything: my time in the camper, my art and music, her family, school, work. It’s nice to socialize again, and despite how much I love my solitude, I begin to feel that it is indeed time to return to a social atmosphere.

In the afternoon, Chris drives me to the town of Gort, where I can catch a bus to Galway City. As we leave the Burren, Chris points out a stretch of swampy, red-hued grasses: a turlogh, a disappearing lake. The turlogh rises during heavy rainfall (I remember seeing a warning about this on one of the hiking trails) and recedes into the grass on dry days. The idea of the turlogh captures my imagination, because a lake, for me, is a permanent idea, an unmovable feature of landscape (maybe another product of my landlocked desert childhood). But here, in this landscape so changed and defined by water, a lake can disappear and reappear, altering the scenery completely from one day to the next. The ephemerality of the turlogh seems to echo the ephemerality of my time in the Burren: total immersion, and then total separation. I don’t want to leave, but I’ve had my time here, and that time is over.

My plan for Galway is music. Lots of it.

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For this post, I’ve chosen a poem by the one and only Samuel Beckett, whose internationalism (a dual voice formed by his Irish roots and immigration to France) is only one dimension of his appeal.

Like Beckett, any writer who travels and adopts another homeland is writing from a place of infused cultures. The writer’s distinct voice runs through his work as a through-line, and multiple cultures are viewed through the lens of one human experience. Such a multi-dimensional worldview pervades this poem in particular, and as I experience new places like the Burren, I pose the same question to myself: what would I do without this world? What would I do, who would I be and what would my art be if I had never been granted the new perspectives that come with travel? It’s a privilege, a gift, and an artistic inspiration above all else. Beckett’s poem, presented here in both French and English, touches on the vastness of the world that is out there for every writer to experience.
que ferais-je sans ce monde (what would I do without this world)
Samuel Beckett

que ferais-je sans ce monde sans visage sans questions
où être ne dure qu’un instant où chaque instant
verse dans le vide dans l’oubli d’avoir été
sans cette onde où à la fin
corps et ombre ensemble s’engloutissent
que ferais-je sans ce silence gouffre des murmures
haletant furieux vers le secours vers l’amour
sans ce ciel qui s’élève
sur la poussieère de ses lests
que ferais-je je ferais comme hier comme aujourd’hui
regardant par mon hublot si je ne suis pas seul
à errer et à virer loin de toute vie
dans un espace pantin
sans voix parmi les voix
enfermées avec moi
what would I do without this world faceless incurious
where to be lasts but an instant where every instant
spills in the void the ignorance of having been
without this wave where in the end
body and shadow together are engulfed
what would I do without this silence where the murmurs die
the pantings the frenzies towards succour towards love
without this sky that soars
above its ballast dust
what would I do what I did yesterday and the day before
peering out of my deadlight looking for another
wandering like me eddying far from all the living
in a convulsive space
among the voices voiceless
that throng my hiddenness
Translated by Beckett himself (Samuel Beckett, Collected poems… Ibid.)

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