Turtle Tours on Turtle Island

In my tour guide role, I had the privelege to share some of my very favourite special places with a Canadian client this weekend. Suzy says she is doing a ‘Turtle Tour’. She saved for ten years to make her epic odyssey to Ireland. We have been corresponding and Facebooking for at least the last two years. And now we meet as friends and what a joy to meet a fellow sojourner who savours their trek and pauses to take the pulse of presence in a place.

IMG_0721

At St. Hugh’s Well, Ballinagleragh, Leitrim

Suzy says she is a on a ‘Turtle Tour’ because she is not a hareing around kind of person. She takes it slow and steady, taking time to process the sights, smells, sounds, and taste of place.

Hand holding rock

Hands On the Boulder Tomb, Cavan Burren

And I have her to thank for clarifying my own work. I really am a Turtle Tour Guide. I stroll. I stop and stare. I like to take the time to mindfully be in the moment in a place. I might even stop to jot a haiku if that is gifted in the moment. And planet earth is sometimes called Turtle Island. Slow Travel – or Turtle Tours – are what I feel exemplifies sustainable, environmentally friendly travel for our precious planet.

You can keep up with all ten weeks of Suzy’s sojourn on her blog Suzy’s Epic Irish Odyssey. We bonded over our love of rock. Her excuse is that she comes from a lineage full of stone masons. I am still not sure what it is with me about rocks. (Incidentally, she got to share the same bus with the friend who was quoted in a previous blog. Such is the minimal degree of separation in Ireland. He made us our coffee today!)

Left: Sweathouse, Leitrim

Right: Boulder Tomb, Cavan Burren

Suzy spent time today at Cavan Burren Park. Most people automatically think Burren – Clare! Not so, though. There is more than one stoney place in Ireland. I have an artist friend, Amanda Jane Graham, who characterises the Cavan Burren as Ireland’s ‘Fluffy’ Burren because there is so much moss, lichen, leaf and green. So now we are referring to the Clare Burren as the ‘Baldy Burren.’ Ye can’t fault us for being boosterish of our local Burren!

Fluffy Burren

Ireland’s ‘Fluffy’ Burren in Cavan

And you can never really discount the magic – or sheer weird woo-woo stuff – that comes in when you are receptive. I had been hoping that Suzy would get to hear the cuckoo calling. I heard it and then, as we approached what feels like holy ground in the Cavan Burren forest, the cuckoo called – very loudly, very long, a much longer call lasting at least thirty seconds.  At first, I thought it was my husband, teasing us. But that was not the case. But it did happen just after I said, “Maybe the Cuckoo is calling especially for the Cucksons! ” (My husband’s family name is Cuckson.) I was mildly freaked out at the time, it was so up close and so unusual. Maybe it was a fairy teasing me!

It is always an honour to meet someone real world after acquaintance online. It is even more special when they intuitively ‘get you.’ Suzy gifted me items that made me feel very understood.  One was a Vancouver First Nations charm of a frog, which represents connection. And I know Suzy probably had in  mind a poem on this blog that has a refrain ‘Connection is the cure.’

More poignant was a little silver necklace with a pillar inscribed with this quotation, which she felt summed me up. We are mosaics, pieces of light, love, history, stars glued together with magic, music and word.

That really does sum up my life. So, thank you, Suzy for ‘seeing me’. I shall cherish this along with your presence as you graced the day,  your appreciation of the glory that is the corner of my particular part of Turtle Island.

So if you, too, want to make like a tortoise to experience Ireland on a ‘turtle tour’, I am your woman to guide ye!  You can contact me here.

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Hold the Space

I was travelling between 24th April and 6th May, which made the last leg of NaPoWriMo2018 a bit frantic and hectic. Travel is a bit of a brutality. Home is the reverse. Travel, however, does instruct. I was surprised by an attack of homesickness and nostalgia for Ireland that seems best expressed by the Irish word cumha. Yes, I missed my man, my very own Green Man, my Joyful Giver; but I also missed the land itself, the Celtic knottedness of home and belonging. It has happened before, but I rather discounted it. It is an identifiable pattern now.

Home is not birthplace or even where I hang my coat. It is the moss and tree limbs, stone, peat and clay of West Cavan. And as I was mentioning visiting Stonehenge and Avebury to a friend who has walked with me on the rocky Cavan Burren, he exclaimed, “What it is about you and stones?!” Cannot quite articulate a rational explanation just yet, Mick. But I have always slipped a pebble into my pocket, left them at graves even though I am not Jewish, gloried in fossils witnesed on beaches, threw an Irish pebble  into my parents’ Pennylvania grave. But wherever I go I play with stone. I found a sort of stone quern overlooking Merlin’s Cave at Tintagel. Someone had placed a shard of slate in it. I built a wee prayer cairn.

Hold the space
Travel breaks all habits. Home is the ritual space. Which includes getting back into writing routine, attending to the work diary, household chores. One can love one’s life. Being away and returning is a bit like falling in love all over again with everything that is beloved.


Hold the Space

On the page

In the room

With the body

Wholly present

Hold out your hands

Feel the atoms on your palms

Like dust motes

Dancing

What is their rhythm?

Slow your heart

To beat

With them

In time

In that space

Hearts

Beating in sync

The moment is the magic

Hold it, then

Release that fledgling

Into the wild

Copyright 2018 Bee Smith

Little Fugue in Glastonbury

Day 29 NaPoWriMo/GloPoWriMo finds me on Day 5 of my sojourn in southwest England. We are in Glastonbury with the festival of Beltane  imminent. The prompt for today asks us to play with the Plath Poetry Project. Choose one of that site’s posted Sylvia Plath poems and respond.  After a quick perusal I opted for Little Fugue.


Little Fugue at Glastonbury Abbey


The fallen magnolia blossom

Blistered by beastly north wind

Flesh shrivelled in infancy



This changeling season

It should be hirsute Green Man

And nude bathing at the well



I could thwack, thwack, thwack

At Old Frosty myself

With my old lady walking stick



For all the white vapour

Exuding from my breath

The cloud overhead



Nearly May and this is it

Woolen mittens a long stretch from

The white cotton of ladies summer gloves



Really more the season to huddle

Over in the hive of the Abbot’s kitchen

Warming at all four fires



And Brigid! You there on the white walls

In St. Patrick’s Chapel,

Why are you hanging on here?



The white of your snowdrops

Long since gone, but winter

Its’ prison pallour clinging on, clinging on



Beyond the time for cream to adorn the thorn

It’s barely flaunting a petticoat’s hem

To tempt any virile Green Men



Copyright 2018 Bee Smith

For my fellow sojourners Pat, Dawn and Anthony



Soul Journeys

Writing is a vocation. But so, too, is workshop facilitation; it is not so much teaching, as inviting people to play with you. The added bonus is that you make up the game. I have led many creative writing workshops to all age groups, all men, all women and mixed groups. I’ve led workshops in libraries, community resource centres, a room above a tourist office, at a Buddhist centre, in hospitals, a yurt, and prison. But what may prove my most popular offering defies the conventional creative writing tag. Yesterday, I guided twelve brave souls through a writing process I call Soul Journeys: Writing Your Spiritual Autobiography.  I have taught material on this subject many times, within varying time slots. But what keeps getting affirmed is that people want to explore their own story of soul growth.

I am grateful that the group I met with yesterday wants to continue working with the material the workshop prompts revealed for them. I am also grateful that the individuals trusted me to guide them and trusted their fellow participants to share the process  of examining their soul’s storylines. In a safely held environmemt where trust flourishes, often the themes and plot twists of a lifetime become clear. By framing a indivual story within universal archetypes, one’s own heroism shines.

While early Quakers like John Woolman faithfully recorded their experience of The Light in journals, there are many approaches to convey and frame our spiritual sojourns on planet earth.  But because we are often ‘in the messy middle'( to borrow a phrase from Brené Brown), we may think that our spiritual life needs to look something like this to be worthy of interrogating and sharing with others.

Soul journey

 

When actually, a soul journey is much more like this.  A Life lived passionately and authentically is likely to have a bit of chaos and mess. It probably looks a bit more like this:

Soul journey

If you would be interested in a Soul Journey  writing workshop in your locality, contact me at dowrabeesmith@gmail.com.

Featured image was taken from a photo by Jane Gilgun and then app’ed by PhotoLab.

Land of My Heart

I live in an area of outstanding natural beauty and geological significance. Marble Arch Caves Global Geopark was a region stripped of much of its population through the vagaries of a century and more of famine, civil unrest and general economic penury. The Irish language clung on in the uplands, but eventually it, too, was virtually extinguished. But upland country breeds resilience. Those who stayed held firm. They were the keepers in more ways than one.

The Back Road

Each day they rise, living they may think

        small, isolated lives, dwarfed by this horizon.

        Each day they rise before this wide sky,

         watching the light rearrange the picture ,

         mountain recedes and lough is obscured.

         Each day they rise to read the sky, every shadow,

  each cloud a new line in a saga.

        

         You see it reflected in guileless eyes,

         in women who have ancient faces,

         features utterly unmodern, undisguised.

         Fingers, flesh, cheek bones hewn by

         thousands of years of family tracing their living

         in relentless, miraculous weather.

         The memory is in the peat they walk and burn,

         in the hedgerows, rowan trees, heather and fern.

 

         Each day they rise, living they may think

         small, isolated lives, dwarfed by this

         huge picture drawn across a canvas sky.

         They can read it still, alive to the shifting signs.

         The Burren stone is bred in their own bones.

         When they pass into the mist we will be left

         with wind, weather, a different cast of light.

         The skyline will be read in a language foundering

  in clefts of limestone, silent as the  fog bound bog.

© Bee Smith 2016

The Celtic Tiger attracted new people like us – ‘blow-ins’. Not indigenous to the land. Some might be the children or grandchildren returning to a homeplace from years of emigration in Britain, Canada or the USA. But Germans and Dutch fell in love with the pristine environment, the lakes that promised limitless fishing. Eastern Europeans arrived to build the houses the rode the Tiger’s back. This border country offered cheap land and rents, so artists from every kind of discipline found their way here.

Marble Arch Caves Global Geopark straddles Fermanagh, in Northern Ireland, and Cavan in the Republic. In the ancient kingdom of Ireland system, both counties were part of Ulster.  And it was from somewhere in Ulster that the paternal Smiths are alleged to have travelled to a new life in New York City sometime in the 19th century.

What my current dwelling place has in common with my migrant ancestors is that it has always hosted incomers. This place has always been a draw for those with itchy feet. In Irish myth from the Leitrim side of my village you can see Slieve Anieran (Iron Mountain) rise. It was here that the mythical race, the Tuatha dé Danaan, first landed in Erin.  After their defeat by the new incomers, the Milesians, they retreated to this homeplace before they went into the sídh, that placeless space beyond our finite three-dimensional world.

I am descended from migrants, just like the Tuatha dé Danaan and the Milesians were migrants to Ireland. The 17th century colonial Quakers and Dutch sailed in leaky wooden ships instead of boats the Tuatha burnt when they found themselves in Erin. My German ancestors sailed into Ellis Island from Franconia to set up a shoe shop in Queens. My Irish ancestors watched skyscrapers rise above the dusty grid of city streets and the Statue of Liberty would welcome Joe Smith’s future bride as she arrived as a little girl in the New World.

In a reverse journey, two centuries on, their descendent would find a sense of home in the land where the River Shannon finds its source. I live in the first village on the River Shannon. As you drive towards the village the promontory of Slievenakilla, known as The Playbank, hulks on the horizon. It is very like the sphinx and indeed, I do sometimes feel as if I live in nature’s own version of the Valley of the Kings.

Playbank poem

I feel full of gratitude that through a combination of serendipity, synchronicity, the poems of W.B. Yeats and Brighid of Ireland we were led to this place. It wasn’t our plan. But sometimes Spirit, and possibly, too, the Ancestors and the Land itself have other plans for us.

All of us who have ‘itchy feet’ – we migrants who get up and go, those walking the world from way back,  even to the eon-aged mists cloaking the ships of the Tuatha dé Danaan – the Land teaches us the same lesson. One day it will take our ashes or bones and then the Land will allow us to enter its narrative and we will become one body.

© Bee Smith 2017

Hope against Hope

…which is an odd phrase – almost self-defeating, or implying delusional thinking. Hope has been much on my mind, since I picked it as my word of the year for 2017. I made a collage at the New Year, with hope as its theme.

Arundhati Roy quote
Seeds of hope

This Arundhati Roy quote, culled from Resurgence magazine, has become something of a personal manifesto. It begins “The only dream worth having is to dream that you will live while you are alive.”

Yesterday I got to meet the living embodiment of that phrase. He is a young man, slim and bearded, a Syrian asylum seeker now living in Co. Roscommon in a Direct Provision accommodation with 200 other refugees. With two others, he shared his journey  from civil war-torn homeland to the relative safety of refuge in Ireland at a gathering of residents at the Loughan House Open Prison, Blacklion, Co. Cavan.

When asked what kept him going, he answered “Hope.” As long as he was alive, he dreamed of being alive and safe. Although separated from loved ones, he was one of the sole survivors of all his fifteen school friends, all causalities of the enmities bearing the bullets of civil war.

Some of you will be aware that I am a tutor on the Irish Arts Council’s Writers in Prison panel. My husband and I also volunteer to support a Toastmasters public speaking group at Loughan. Loughan House also has a coffee shop open to the public, so we have got to know several of the guys and their back stories well. And while it is an Open Prison, the misdeamours that landed them there are not necessarily insignificant.

Our friend Debbie , who invited us to the group, has worked with the refugees since it was announced that they would be coming to her town. She has been shocked by the  at times  casual bigotry she has witnesed. But she also was impressed and humbled to see the outpouring of compassion, understanding and intelligent questioning from the guys at Loughan House.  Many grasped, in only too real ways, how neighbour can have formerly been friend and then circumstances make them a foe and in a short space of time there are undreamed of consequences to actions, decisons made on the flip of a moment. There is good and bad in each of us.

Debbie also explained how Arab culture finds counselling quite alien, but that men do openly  hug and express support and affection for one another.  That’s very different from Irish culture and very, very different from prison culture.

And do you know what? As the group made their farewells there were hand shakes for sure, but also some of those awkward Irish Man Half Hugs, and even some full on hugs man to man. Which is huge. And beautiful.

” …seek joy in the saddest places…pursue beauty to its lair… Never simplify what is complicated or complicate what is simple… respect strength, never power…watch…try and understand…never look away…and never forget…”

Hope is in all of these. Many in that room knew about violence…even unspeakable violence. They did not look away at a man in tears. They held that space with strength and respect. It was beautiful. And that gives me hope.

Thanks to Brenda McMullen, Debbie Beirne, and all those beautiful men in the room.

Geopark Ghosts

New month and another inspirating jaunt out with fellow creatives on Cavan Council’s Ancient and Wild project. Journeying with the Cavan Arts Officer, we met in a remote corner in the southwest of the county. At Trinity Island we contemplated place and its impact on people, as well as the function of memory and time, and how all interplay in creating art in all genres. This project seeks to explore the relationship of artistic expression and the unique landscape of the Marble Arch Caves Global Geopark, which straddles the Cavan/Fermanagh region.    And, as well, the subject of ghosts and haunting cropped up in conversaton.

Trinity Island is an watery outpost as the rim of the geological ribbed moraine, the largst on the planet.  A causeway links it to drier, higher ground.  Privately owned by the O’Dowd family, who steward this heritage site, we viewed the ruins of its Abbey and learned of its long history of humans inhabiting this space.

Trinity Island

Trinity Island Abbey was one of three abbeys in this ancient landscape. Founded by the Premonstratensian order of monks, it was a daughter house of the Abbey on Trinity Island in Lough Key, Co. Roscommon.  Tom O’Dowd describes them as ‘White Canons’. The ‘White Fathers’ or Augustininians had their Abbey in nearby Drumlane. Elsewhere in the Geopark Augustinians had an Abbey in the middle of Lough Erne at Devenish Island; they also give their name to the White Fathers Cave in Blacklion, West Cavan.

Trinity Island Abbey

With their white cowls it is little wonder that the lady who was the solitary congregant at Mass in the ruins of the Abbey one wild Christmas morning mistook a ghost for a real priest. Tom was told by another priest that if one of the ordained died before saying a Mass for a Special Intention that sometimes their souls suffer from a guilty conscience. And they come back looking to fulfill their promise. Because the lady could find no mortal priest who had journeyed out into that Christmas storm to say Mass that morning.

The other Abbey in the area was a remnant of the Celtic Catholic tradition that was subsumed after the Whitby Synod in CE654. So the Trinity Island area had three abbeys all within a short paddle along the tributaries of Lough Oughter.

The O’Dowds have uncovered various archaelogical treasures over the years, which have been whisked to the secure haven of the National Museum. Replicas of finds are given to the landowners and we were shown a Celtic cloak pin and a stone face of a man circa 700BCE.

We had thought provoking talks by artist Patricia McKenna and musicologist/musician Sean McElwaine exploring the interplay between landscape and art and music.  Sean also introduced me to new Irish trad band The Gloaming. Check out a sample of their work on You Tube, which includes the haunting fiddle of Martin Hayes, here.The Gloaming.

But what haunts me is that long jawed, wide, generous smile on the face of a man sculpted sometime more than 1,300 years ago. The horizontal lines across his cheeks might have been facial tattoos.  Which might have been interpretted as fierce. The weathering over time has given him a bit of a cauliflower nose, but this man looks more of a lover than a fighter. That smile speaks to me of an ancestor preeminantly happy and confident in his own skin. I would have been happy to know him and imagine him living close to the water and fenland. Perhaps he carved the wooden boat, or cot as it is called, discovered in the Trinity Lough’s mud. It was resubmerged, unlike this visage who smiles out at us from the ages.  He thrived. Possibly his descendents survived. I hope so. Who would not want to descend from such a Happy Cavan Man? Whatever his personal story, that face shines out, immortalising our ancestors long before they began to document the story.