Sunday, May 3, 2009

April 2009

April's theme was "should I stay or should I go?", testing my resolve to stay in County Clare. It all started with an enticing job opportunity with my former employer, Cornell Cooperative Extension in Ithaca, running a 6 month community food education program. I did very similar work in Tioga County, NY a few years ago, and I very seriously considered returning to Ithaca (while Bill stayed in Clare) to run the program from May through October.

While I was considering the Ithaca job, I spotted another interesting job opening in County Leitrim, about 3 hours north of Clare. The Organic Centre, a food gardening educational center, was advertising for an assistant head gardener. I sent my resume via email on the last day they were accepting applications, and to my surprise I was called for an interview a few days later. We drove north for the interview and while we were there we spent a few days hiking in the spectacular flat-topped mountains nearby.

The Organic Centre

Because I applied for the Organic Centre position on the last day it was open, I never got an information packet and full job description before the interview. Due to the timing of the job opening (spring, the busiest time of year) and the fact that they were looking for an assistant to the head gardener, I thought that it might be a seasonal position. If so, I would have considered moving to Leitrim for the summer while Bill stayed in Clare. But it turned out they were looking for someone to make a year-round, long-term commitment, and after seeing the remoteness of the area and learning that it was even colder and wetter than Clare, we decided we had no interest in re-locating yet again.

Due to the high rainfall and cool temps, most of the gardens at the Organic Centre are in polytunnels.

A landscaped herb garden in one of the polytunnels

Living willow sculptures

Outdoor demonstration gardens

Eagle Rock

After the interview we squeezed in a late afternoon hike at Eagle Rock. The flat-topped mountains in the western corner of Leitrim and neighboring County Sligo are unique in Ireland, and are caused by a layer of extremely hard rock that resists erosion.

The trail headed for this gap where a section of the cliff pulled away from the mountain. Aside from the moss, grey skies and rain, these rock formations look like they could be in the American southwest.

Climbing up the gap

Looking across the valley to another mesa-like mountain. The white stuff is snow.

Once through the gap, which way to go down? This way looked a bit dodgy..... we decided to walk (slide!) down this way instead.

We had to sidestep down the steep, slippery slope. Fortunately the sheep had made little hoof-sized terraces in the hillside that we could use as steps.

Looking back at Eagle Rock (which I kept calling "Dead Man's Gulch" in my head), after our slippery descent.


I'm cheating here and putting up someone else's photo of Benbulben so you can see the unusual shape of the mountain. It's over 1700 feet high.

This is how it looked to us before we started our hike the next morning. We were hoping the mist and fog cleared before we climbed to the top.

We crossed through fields of sheep at the bottom, and saw this mama sheep and her newborn lamb - still damp and barely able to stand.

The mists cleared as we climbed and we had nice views of Glencar Lake and the valley below.

We spidered our way up the steep hill. If it had been snowy like the day before we never would have been able to do this. One mis-step and we would have log rolled for about a mile, with no trees to stop us, all the way down to the valley below.

The cliffs at the top are sheer, but we worked our way up through this rocky cleft passed The Pinnacles (which I kept calling "The Devil's Pinnacles" in my head).

Almost at the top now!

From the lofty plateau, fabulous views of the valley far below......

.....and the sea.

I think this is where the last hikers ended up.

Then this heavy rainstorm swept in from the sea, obscuring all views and making for a very soggy descent down the King's Valley, a broader and less steep way down the way we had come up.

Back in Clare
After serious deliberation I came this close < > to going back to Ithaca for the food gardening position. On the one hand, steady income doing something I love in a place I love. On the other hand, leaving the person I love the most and another place that I love. I went back and forth, I hemmed and hawed, I sat on the fence and hopped off again. In the end, Clare won. I don't want to be apart from Bill for so long, and it's such a great time of year to be here. I started tons of flower seeds this spring and our veg garden is rocking. We're selling out of produce and nori rolls at the farmer's market each week and we have a couple of big landscaping projects that will keep us busy for a while. And the weather service is predicting a warmer, drier summer this year - fingers crossed for that.

So in the end I chose the two birds in a bush over one in the hand.

Spring Flowers
This is a hand-carved stone pig trough. Farmers used to sit by the fire and carve these in the winter. It was empty when we moved to the cottage so I planted some rock garden plants in it last spring.

Blue Himalayan Poppy - I love true-blue flowers and I had always wanted one of these plants!

Here's how quickly plants grow here - I planted this Clematis montana a year ago when it was about 2 feet tall. It climbed up the old ladder and spread out 6 feet in either direction, and is covered with hundreds of pale pink blooms this spring!