Monday, December 7, 2009

November 2009

Rest In Peace, Sonya

November was a month of downs and ups, starting with the loss of our sweet little blind dog, Sonya. She had been doing so well on the heart medication that we thought she would keep going for another year or two. She suddenly got very ill at the beginning of the month and it turned out to be renal failure, in part from the heart medicine and diuretics that were helping her heart, but also due to old age and a weakened immune system from all the health problems she had over the last few years.

It was so hard to let her go. She had a great life for her first nine years, running around in the hills of Newfield NY when we were hiking or cross-country skiing. And she was such a trooper about going blind two years ago and then being relocated to a different country.

It's the first time I have been without a dog in 26 years and it feels very strange. But it will be easier for us to travel now, so we are not going to rush into getting another dog any time soon.


November was also a traumatic month for thousands of people who were affected by devastating flooding, particularly in the western counties of Clare, Galway, Cork, Kerry and Tipperary.

Floodwaters poured over this wall at the grounds of St. Flannan's College, a private secondary school in Ennis. This is usually a grassy lawn and parking area.

Ireland is a watery place. Not only does it fall from the sky almost daily, but there are rivers and lakes everywhere. After a few weeks of moderate rains that completely saturated the soil, there was one particular day of intense rain that fell for hours and hours. Many of Ireland's rivers, like the Shannon, are tidal, and there happened to be a super high tide that day. So there was no where for all that water to go, and rivers all over western Ireland spilled over banks and retaining walls and filled towns and cities with several feet of water.

The town name Ennis comes from the Irish word inis, which means 'island'. The town is surrounded by the River Fergus, a tributary of the River Shannon. A higher flood control wall is being built next to the river, but it is not finished yet and the river flowed down the main street of Ennis, or as it was dubbed by the local paper, Vennis. (Someone else took these first four photos - I took them off a Facebook site.)

These businesses were severely flooded - bad timing with Christmas right around the corner. Insurance companies here are saying that with climate change flooding will become more frequent, so of course they are going to raise the rates for those in currently affected areas.

I took these daytime photos about 5 days after the flooding started. The water was still very high - right up to the bottom of this bridge in Ennis.

The River Fergus is now Loch Fergus. You can see how high the water is on the trunks of these submerged trees.

A schoolyard and tennis courts in Ennis.

Thanksgiving Party

After a tough month, everyone needed a lift so we decided to have a Thanksgiving party. Originally we thought we would have a small sit-down dinner, but it turned out everyone wanted to come to a real American Thanksgiving, despite the fact that it was a Thursday and no-one here has the next day off. Before we knew it we had 30 guests and were scrambling to borrow chairs from the neighbors!

These folks were quick off the mark and got to sit down while they ate.

Other people were still lining up for food.

After dinner and dessert (pumpkin, apple and pecan pies!)we had a music session around the fire - alternating old-time with trad.

Ballybeg Wood

We recently discovered Ballybeg Wood, a nice area with walking trails just a few miles from our house.

Partridge berry

Happy News!

At the end of November, after two rounds of interviews, I was offered the position of project manager at the Irish Seedsavers Association. I am delighted to finally find a suitable position for my background and experience, and Seedsavers is an amazing organization that is doing very good work, preserving and propagating the fruits and vegetable varieties that have been historically grown in this country but are in danger of being lost. They also run a very comprehensive range of classes and workshops throughout the year. My first day on the job is Wednesday, December 9.

Check out Irish Seedsavers' website for more about what they do.

I'll be driving about 30 miles each way to my job in east Clare. I bought a little 1998 Nissan Micra, which gets about 40-50 mpg, for my daily commute.

And on another happy note, here's a picture of my daughter Monica and her boyfriend Matt, on the California seashore. They recently relocated from Santa Monica further south to San Diego, where Monica is studying at the University of San Diego.

Monday, November 9, 2009

October 2009

The first half of October followed September's trend of sunny, mild weather. The leaves don't really change color here - they stay green and then all just seem to be gone one morning, usually after a particularly windy night. Like these trees behind our cottage - they were green one day, bare the next.

The veg garden in early October - fall peas, cosmos and cabbage.

Climbing Carrauntoohil
October's clear skies invited us to take a day trip to County Kerry, just south of us, to climb Carrauntoohil, the highest mountain in Ireland (1,039 meters or 3,408 feet). It can be a dangerous climb if it's foggy or misty in the mountains (which is most of the time) and people have lost their lives on Carrauntoohil when bad weather conditions took them by surprise. We were lucky to have clear weather coincide with a weekend, and with the shortening days there was just enough daylight to drive to the trailhead and make it up the mountain and back down before nightfall. (Theoretically, anyway. More about that later.)

We started our trip on the car ferry that crosses the River Shannon between Clare and Kerry. This cuts off about 85 miles of driving the long way around through Limerick.

From the foothills, looking back to the lake where we started our climb.

Heading up the first hill. This ridge is shaped like a horseshoe, with Carrauntoohil, Ireland's highest mountain, at the apex of the horseshoe flanked by Ireland's second and third highest mountains on either side. This walking loop is 7 miles and ascends six different peaks. The next day our legs felt broken and we spent a lot of time sitting down.

Bushwackin' Bill leads the way. You can see the horseshoe shape of the ridge in this photo - we started by going up the first hill on the left, then continued from left to right across the ridge at the top of the photo, and back along the ridge on the right.

Sittin' on top of the world

On top of the second peak - the other mountains that we'll climb on the return trip are visible across the deep valley.

Resting on the peak of Ireland's second-highest mountain, with the highest, Carrauntoohil, looming behind me.

We had to cross this razor-back ridge (middle of photo) to get to the base of Carrauntoohil on the left.

There's a surreal, Tolkein-esque look to these mountains.

A cross at the top commemorates some of the mountain's victims.

Purple shale and green lichen form abstract patterns on the steep mountain sides.

And check out what that little sign says:

The fog was starting to roll in and cover nearby mountain tops. Time to get going - we still had a few hours of walking.....

..... and two more peaks to scale before the descent.

Looking out to the sea and Dingle Peninsula in the far distance. Even though Carrauntoohil is only 3,400 feet - lower than the high peaks of the Adirondacks in New York - the Irish mountains feel much higher because they surrounding area is at sea level.

Looking back at Carrauntoohil, now starting to get fogged in.

Having a sos beag (Irish for "a little rest") as the sun sets slowly in the west. Due to a couple of unforeseen circumstances that morning too lengthy to go into here (a lost dog followed by car trouble) we got on the trail about 3 hours later than we intended. The last hour of the walk was in full dark, but it wasn't too bad since we had flashlights and were back down in the foothills by then.

Vegetarian Cooking Class

In September and October I taught a 6 night vegetarian cooking class, using the commercial kitchen at a performing arts center in Ennis. The classes booked out quickly with a waiting list of people who wanted to get in, so they are going to run again in February. I'd never taught cooking before but it was a lot of fun and great to be back in a teaching role again.

Each night focused on a different type of ethnic cooking: Italian (lasagne and polenta with mushroom sauce); Mediterranean (cous-cous and spanokopita); Japanese (nori rolls and miso soup); Mexican (nachos and burritos); Thai (green curry and an appetizer called miang kam) and American (cornbread and Hoppin' John, a southern black-eyed pea stew).


We met another friendly musician and he invited us to Dublin to hang out for a few days. Barney Bowes plays fiddle (what an appropriate last name for a fiddler!) and banjo, and we kept running into him at various sessions and festivals this summer. We got to talking and it turns out one of his sons is building a house in Clare, so when Barney was around in September we had him over to the cottage to play a bunch of tunes. He returned the invitation and invited us up to Dublin, which we had (amazingly!) not visited in almost two years of living here.

Christchurch Cathedral - we stayed in apartment belonging to a friend of Barney's, just around the corner from here in the center of town. It was a quick visit - we left Clare on a Saturday morning and came back on Sunday evening. While we were in Dublin we did some sightseeing and played at an oldtimey session on Saturday night, and a mixed session (trad, bluegrass, oldtime and ballads) on Sunday afternoon.

An enclosed bridge from the cathedral leads to a Dublin history museum across the street.

In the museum - my Joan of Arc impression.

The bell tower at Trinity College

The cobbled courtyard at Trinity College

Grafton Street, a lively pedestrian area near Trinity College

The pond at St. Stephen's green - kind of a mini-Central Park in the middle of Dublin.

The river Liffey divides Dublin in two, crossed by some lovely old footbridges.

Nice fresco on this building

Fresco detail - a humble depiction of women washing clothes in the river

There are no tall skyscrapers in Dublin, but lots of these types of grand buildings - it reminded me a bit of Washington, DC.

A late October misty morning in County Clare