The Whooper Swans Arrived this Week

The Sunday Weekly Poem turns out to be a series of poems in this edition. While I may not write a poem a day these days, I find that I feel better if I do write something fairly often. I have drafts of three poems and a haiku from this week, which also included leading an outdoor walk and writing workshop with some Reluctant Writers from Loughan House Open Prison. It involved walking around a blustery Cavan Burren from just before 10AM until nearly 3PM, a picnic lunch, and then some writing. The outing began with a brief shower. The heavy shower mercifully held off until 2pm (thank you, weather gods!) by which time we were hunkered down in the Visitor Centre with notebooks out and writing exercises underway. We wrote to the patter of rainfall on the shelter of the plastic roof, on picnic tables on the side of the centre avoiding the prevailing wind. We were out in open air, but writing in a building with only gable ends for walls. That in itself must have been a bit of a culture shock for some guys who until recently will have spent time in cells for twenty-three hours of every twenty-four.

Nature can be a great inspiration, even a healer. Those half dozen workshop participants can wander an open prison’s campus, itself a bit of an adjustment initially I am told. Some find it difficult to walk outside their rooms when they first arrive. One past resident confided in my husband that the sight of a full moon after five years made him weep. To then look down upon that very campus from a height, surrounded by mountains and loughs on all sides, has to shift perspective on some level. To walk in the woods and smell spruce, lichen and moss is to breathe a new kind of clean air. To walk among dolmens and wonder at how on earth they shifted those rocks to build them sparks questions, as well as the imagination. A walk in the woods among megaliths really can take you out of yourself. The ancestors are very palpable on the Cavan Burren and that did not go unnoticed by some. One participant said he had not realised how close to wilderness they were here in West Cavan and you could see the awe.

One thing these guys teach us is never to take this glorious landscape for granted. It’s a privelege to see it with fresh eyes again and again.

Cavan Burren
Cuilcagh Mountain viewed from Cavan Burren Park

It’s autumn for sure now. Our Virginia Creeper has gone crimson. On Monday there was some sunshine between showers and it was warm enough to sit outside. At least for a bit.

And Just Like That

As if
in response
to my own despondency

the clouds rolled in
blotting out
the sun
breezing in a spit spot
of rain
on my writing thumb

driving me
and semi-dry laundry
indoors again.

That may have been
the last blink of sun
for sitting out
now autumn
has truly begun.

I chide myself
not to take nature
so personally

but somedays I feel
we are one
body.

Copyright © 2019 Bee Smith. All rights reserved

Then on Tuesday, as if to underline the official arrival of the season, I heard the whooper swans return to Lough Moneen where they overwinter from Iceland. The Whoopers have yellow bills instead of the orange ones. They also have a honk that some mistake for geese. Their winter sojourn in Ireland lasts between October to March. They are earlier than usual this year, with some friends reckoning they don’t usually turn up locally until near Halloween. On Wednesday, I saw a formation flypast. They often return to the same loughs each winter. One New Year’s Day I opened our front door and the first sight of the New Year was a flight of swans. Which certainly counts as a very special omen. But that was before I knew about the Omen Day tradition. (https://sojourningsmith.blog/2018/12/26/the-omen-days/)

whooper swan
Whooper swan in Kileforna from Wikipedia
Yesterday
I heard the whooper swans
trumpet song

Arriving
in an elegant slide
on water

Neighbour's lough
their winter home,
they honk 'Halló'

A long trip,
eight hundred miles or more
for six months

That's their flight
back and forth from Iceland.
'Bless, bless' Bye!

Copyright © 2019 Bee Smith. All rights reserved

The days shortening light is inexorable and noticable now. Dawn is nearly 8AM. Darkness descends before 7pm.

Then the Half-Light

Then the half-light
either morning, at first
or early evening's
gloaming

Before dazzle
of full light
or confusion
of deepest darkness

We either
flinch or squint
shielding our sight
blink, blink

the shading hand
turns grasping
in our night
blindness

Then the half-light
delicate shadows
some light
some dark

We never fully see
We hark what we want to hark.


Copyright © 2019 Bee Smith. All rights reserved

I spotted pumpkins on sale in the supermarket this week. Halloween will be here soon. The clock’s will go back and we will be plunged into the darkest part of the year.

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Summer Solstice Sunset Senryu

The long light evenings give way to leisurely after dinner walks with houseguests. We found ourselves up on the Cavan Burren yesterday evening just as the angle of light was its brightest before it gradually began to fade into the long twilight. Some summer solstice senryu seems to be in order for poetry practice this morning. We were up in the park a half hour before the gates close at 10PM. After a day of on and off rain the light show showed up a luminous green from the moss and lichen.

Cuilcagh Mountain cavan Burren park
Cloud shadow and fairy trees process
The way to the holy mountain
Cavan Burren Park
When humans were giants
We walked as tall
Casting long shadows

Cavan Burren cow and calf
Bathe in the long light
The calf and her mother
Bronzed forever



Which segues neatly into a photo of Cavan Burren Park’s iconic Calf Hut Dolmen. Basically, the captstone slipped at some stage to create a saltbox effect. At some point in the late 18th or early 19th century a farmer decided to mortar up one end and make it a cattle shelter for the new born calves.

Calf Hut Dolmen Cavan Burren Park
Calf Hut Dolmen Cavan Burren Park

By twilight we were home for dessert and tea. The guests had an early morning start. It wasn’t dark at bedtime.

I am revelling in the summer solstice light and the full moon’s light. I hope you are bathing in its fey joy, too. We are still three days of the exact solstice and the moon will be waning by then. In the meantime, let the yin and the yang sky dance and bring you delight.

Words and images Copyright © 2019 Bee Smith. All rights reserved.

Deep Time

Poetry practice today is informed by some wildlife – a moth- found on our front door yesterday. Also the walking workshop I delivered to 50+ school kids yesterday up on the Cavan Burren. In a landscape with million year old furniture I was trying to explain when their first ancestors -these were local kids- turned up in Ireland mere thousands of years ago, when sea levels were lower before the last of the big Ice Age melt off. This is background information before these kids make pottery with local ceramic artist Jim Fee.  Humans have been making pots for tens of thousands of years. Writing is a bit of an afterthought – after farming, domestication of animals, megalith making. It was a Bronze Age development. Although perhaps poetry existed in oral form or in singing before that. But the writing down – into stone, onto bark or papyrus- that came fairly late in the day as an art form. The first poetry was recorded by a woman – a princess and priestess- in 3,500BCE in Babylon. Art making was the hand work  that filled the glove of the spiritual and sacred in the ancient world. It was deeper in our DNA even then the urge for food security. As was our human capacity for awe at the workings and movement in nature. We were still part of nature then.

It is one of the great pleasures and privileges of living within Marble Arch Caves Global Geopark that this sense of deep time and survival. Much will pass away, but the art will remain, and the rocks. 

 

So, to the daily poem. I am keeping it short to allow contemplation to be long. A tanka today. A haiku capped with a seven syllable couplet. Which brings me back to that moth. Which my Collins’ “Complete Irish Wildlife” suggests is called the Angle Shade

Angle Shade

Before you are lost

Let me know, name, record you

Survive in deep time

It is just a slip between

A different angle shade

Haiku Walking

An early start for the second of my Creative Ireland mindfulness haiku walks on the Cavan Burren. This particular group came from the Education Centre at the local low security prison.  I love working with these guys and it is always a privilege. The Cavan Burren offers megaliths, upland landscape and woodland where rock art and remains of neolithic living can be seen. It has a very special presence. And while it is a specially earned opportunity, it also challenges guys who are used to a foreshortened viewpoint. Up by the Tullygubban Wedge Tomb they could look out and count six counties. They could look down on their own residence over looking Lough MacNean where ancient people left remains of shellfish feasts. Some city dwellers have only ever experienced concrete. This was wilderness to some Dubs amongst us.

And then how do you handle presence and silence when you have been living in a perpetually noisy environment? That, too, is a challenge. For then the chatter in the mind gets louder sometimes. Which is where mindfulness meditation can come in handy.

Haiku can help focus on a moment – a pause, a revelation – and then share that connection. So many offenders in prison have some element of addiction that contributed to their landing there. Studies in Portugal have posited that the opposite of addiction is connection. Connection is the business of poetry. Which is why I am in there pitching poetry writing  for the past four years. I hope the lads have got as much out of it as I have received.

Two haiku from today’s foray:

In the woods – the wind

Ruffling spruce needles whoosh.

And. What’s that? Silence

Coming down Mollie’s Brae

A rainbow: my wish

A way to be free

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.

Poetry Events in the Geopark

It is rare to mix poetry events with the great outdoors. Much less in March! Marble Arch Caves Global Geopark sites- the splendour of Claddagh Glen, Florencecourt, Co. Fermanagh, and Cavan Burren Park, Blacklion, County Cavan – offers two such unique outdoor poetry events. Irish Tree Week and World Poetry Day are the reasons we just have to go forth and create poetry.

But allow me to give you a personal preview on both events in this video.

haiku, MarbleArchCavesGlobalGeopark

Haiku and More, March in the Geopark

Despite the wind and snow, this weekend marked the beginning of Irish National Tree Week, which is actually ten days celebration of the great oxygenators of our biosphere. To do my bit, I am leading a unique Haiku Poetree Walk at a Marble Arch Caves Global Geopark site. So next Saturday, please join me and get hooked on the haiku habit at Claddagh Glen. We will meet at 11am, Saturday, March 10th for a two hour walking in the spirit of a traditional ginko. For full details and updates, click on the Facebook event link below:

Geopark Haiku PoeTree Walk

Haiku is an ancient Japanese poetry form – seventeen syllables, three lines, no rhyme. It takes nature as it’s great theme. In a Geopark, we have nature is a huge presence.

Haiku  Geopark

Just one word of caution. Haiku can become habit forming!

But in a good – even healthful – way.

The second event marks UNESCO World Poetry Day, which comes around every year on March 21st.  Geoparks are a UNESCO designation, so it seemed an ideal opporunity to marry two of my passions – Marble Arch Caves Global Geopark and poetry. On the St. Patrick’s Bank Holiday Monday, March 19th, I will be reading poems that take direct inspiration from Geopark sites at Cavan Burren Park.

“Earth Writing” is a compilation of poems inspired by the landscape of Marble Arch Caves Global Geopark. Last summer I wrote here about the Cavan Arts/Creative Ireland project “Ancient and Wild”, which brought together artists from all kinds of disciplines to create work inspired by the Geopark’s distinctive landscape and heritage. If you look at other blogs listed under the ‘Marble Arch Caves Global Geopark’ category from last summer and autumn, you will see some of the sites we visited as a group. A day out included a visit to Cavan Burren Park and Claddagh Glen, two of my very favourite soul-stirring sites of the many magnificent ones dotted along the Fermanagh and Cavan boundary. For more information, click on the Facebook event link below:

World Poetry Day Cavan Burren Walk

Wrap up well! Fingerless gloves might be useful on the haiku writing walk. Homemade cake will be provided.

 

At Home With Heritage

This summer I have been participating in a Cavan County Council Artists in the Geopark project. Musicians, animators, a ceramicist, visual and landscape artists, and writers have been viewing various sites within Marble Arch Caves Global Geopark as a touchstone for individual projects. The wider project is the brain child of the Cavan County Arts, Heritage, Tourism and Geopark officers, and is a a great example of how imaginative an interdisciplinary approach can be, especially when it comes to supporting the arts.

For those of you who may wonder what the heck a geopark is then, in brief – UNESCO recognises certain regions around this good earth as having a unique international significance for their natural, geological features, as well as ‘built’ heritage. Marble Arch Caves Global Geopark was the first cross-border Global Geopark, in the world. Its sites extend from Louth Melvin on the Donegal boundary, through a swathe of south Fermanagh, onwards east through to mid-County Cavan. Cavan is the location of the world’s largest ribbed moraine on the planet. You can only see it from an aerial view, but it gets geologists seriously excited.

Of course, the land formed the people and the people made the built heritage. So this week I had a date with twelve other artists at Corravahan House near Drung, County Cavan. It is an example of how people used local materials to create homes of both beauty and utility. Formerly a rectory built in 1840 by a Reverend Beresford on a career trajectory toward the Archbishopric of Armagh (which is as good as it can get for a Church of Ireland clergyman), Corrovahan House is a building full of grace, as well as full of individual quirks from its succession of owners.

It is Heritage Week here in Ireland. This part of Ireland breathes an ancient and wild heritage. But it also domesticated itself, a bit like my semi-feral cat Felix. Home comforts are welcome, but there is always an air of the wildish about him. Corravahan House encompasses how there is practical adaptation of a house to social context and status, but  how it also includes certain whimsicalities that are very individual to the people who inhabited its space. While Corravahan House is part of Irish Heritage Homes and is open to the public for sixty days each year, it remains a family home with much evidence of the current layer of heritage archaelogy being built up.

I am also a Marble Arch Caves Global Geopark local guide. When I am showing certain archaelogical sites in Cavan Burren Forest I like to imagine how it was to live in that ancient time. There is a particular glacial erratic split by neolithic inhabitants. Archaelogists reckon it was a project to create a capstone for a dolmen. But plans went awry when it split at an unprojected seam.  The remains are proximal to hut site foundations. I always feel sympathy for the husband who had to have the remains of his DIY disaster in the backyard for an eternity. Literally. Possibly having to listen to his wife kvetch about it, too.

In Cavan you have many opportunities to see the layer of human interaction with landscape. You can see it in carefully conserved homes like Corravahan House. But you can also see it in relict landscapes like the Cavan Burren Park, where there was continuous human habitation from the earliest human arrivals in Ireland, right up to when Coillte, the Forestry Commission took over when the last farmer retired.  Thousands of year, eons even, have all wondrously brought us to this place.

I feel fortunate, blessed and humbled, to have had a walk on part in its ever unfolding story. Meanwhile, I need to get back to my own project. I am editting, revising and collecting my own Geopark inspired writing from over the years living here. Watch this space.