Wednesday, August 06, 2008

People, Time and Place

Inishowen Peninsula

First come those dew-covered webs ground spiders make on the lawn. Then crickets start chirping as they are while I write - early on this misty morning. Ferns will begin to wither soon. Those are the signs of waning summer I notice each year. Others may detect different indications of the passing season, but those are the ones that bring me that familiar mixture of anticipation and dread when I realize that school will begin soon. It’s more anticipation than dread this year because I don’t know how many more first days there’ll for me. I’ve gone back in early September more than fifty times. When that pattern will end I don’t know, but it won’t be long.

As I sit here on my back porch, one of Ed Dunlea’s cows is lowing over on Shave Hill and a loon is crying on Kezar Lake. The mist is rolling back and forth between my hill and Ed’s like an ocean tide. When it’s over me I can’t see very far, but then it rolls the other way and I can see the mountainous horizon with a few patches of blue. I like it because there hasn’t been too much blue to look at up there lately. It’s warm and wet this day, but soon will come a morning crisp and dry. I’ll need long pants and a quilted shirt to sit out here so early, but that means the humidity will be gone too and I’ve had enough of that. The towel in my shower was clammy this morning and the salt shaker was caked up last night when I tried to sprinkle my corn.

It’s my habit to rise before the sun, when everything is still and I can watch the day dawn slowly while I go through my morning rituals. The dog knows I’m about, but no one else. The complicated world is simpler at this time. Early and alone is my favorite way to start the day. Then I’ll try to stay in it - stay in the moment if I can. I know my mind will drift away to the future or the past, but I hope I catch it and get back to the present before it gets lost. That’s not always easy for a history teacher. Today though, there’s much I must do to prepare for my journey to Ireland.

By the time this is published Thursday, I should be walking the streets of Dublin. When I tire of that, I’ll go north a bit to look over Newgrange, a five-thousand-year-old structure of white quartz and other stone. Little is known of the people who constructed it and carved its spiral patterns. Were any my ancestors? Don’t know. Nobody does. Then I’ll look over the Battle of the Boyne site nearby - that place where Catholics were defeated in 1690 and the Protestant British hardened their control over the island. Then I’ll head northwest to British-ruled Ulster where I want to feel what may remain of the struggle or “The Troubles” as they’re sometimes called. Many McLaughlins have lived in the city of Derry (or Londonderry as the British call it) for eight centuries, and still do. One, Mitchell McLaughlin, is General Secretary for Sinn Fein - political wing of the Irish Republican Army. He lives in Bogside, the Catholic quarter. Will it feel at all like my visit to the West Bank last year? I hope not, but we’ll see.

Then it’ll be on to Donegal further to the north - to the northernmost tip of Ireland (the Inishowen Peninsula) from where my great-grandfather, James McLaughlin, emigrated around 1900. It’s part of the Republic of Ireland and most people are surprised to hear that. “Northern Ireland” conjures up British-occupied Ireland, but it would more accurately be called “Northeast Ireland.” I want to find what remains of his house and get a feel for the people still there. After more than a century, will I recognize any by their looks or their laughter or by something else? We’ll see. I’ll keep my movie camera handy to record it if I do.

During the few August days I spend in that remote place, I’ll smell it, see it, hear it, and feel it - find out why my great-grandfather left it, and maybe get some clues about myself.


Anonymous said...

I'm not sure why, but your piece this week left me feeling very nostalgic. Maybe it's the thought that summer is rushing to a close without ever really blossoming this year; or maybe it's the dank, cool feel to the air. I have not been back home for nine years and until today after reading your column have had no strong urge to. But now I think of the moors and heaths, the wildness of northern England and want to taste it all again. To talk with those solid characters who populate Herriot's world and feel the deep, broad feeling of continuity that is everywhere in the island.

Hope you had a good vacation over there and that you found as many answers as you had questions.


The Phantom said...

Here's a hit from Kate's place that isn't you checking to see if anyone visited. Cheers!