Sunday, January 3, 2010

December 2009

Out of the Flooding and Into the Freeze
Ireland went from the serious floods in November to a long spell of arctic weather in December. As of this posting on January 5th, the deep freeze continues with no end in sight.

A high pressure system from the arctic circle is sitting over Ireland, bringing snow, ice and very cold temperatures. Nighttime temperatures have been as low as 15 F, and daytime temps have been at or below freezing. (In a normal Irish winter it would rarely be below freezing during the day, and it would only dip just below freezing at night.) People are freaking out at how cold it is, and of course the roads aren't as well maintained here and some drivers slow down to 20 mph if they see a single snowflake on the road.

On the plus side, it's been lovely and dry, with lots of crystal clear days and dazzling sunshine - not a phrase you can use too often in Ireland! We ended up walking doing three different Burren walks in December.

The Burren, Mid-December
No snow yet - just cold and clear. These are from the top of Mullagh Mor.

The Burren, Christmas Eve

We escaped the last-minute Christmas eve shopping frenzy in Ennis for the calm solitude of the Burren. Our long walk began on this 'green' road near Mullagh Mor.

There had been a freezing fog, and everything was covered with geometric ice crystals. This is holly, and every point on every leaf terminated in an intricate ice formation.

The icy road passed through a forest tunnel of hazel.

Our goal was to get to the top of those cliffs in the distance.

At this point we left the green road and climbed to the top of the ridge. The road we walked up is marked by the snaking hazel trees in the foreground of this photo, and we headed towards the cliffs in the distant left.

Once we got onto the flat rocky surface of the ridge, we found that every rock surface was covered with these amazing ice formations. It looked like quartz crystal, or white coral, and we almost hated to wreck the beauty by walking across it.

After crossing the crystal fields we bushwacked through a dense hazel forest to the base of the cliffs.

The hazel forests always have a somewhat enchanted atmosphere, like you might see a leprechaun or fairy hiding somewhere.

As we were climbing up the cliffs (note to our moms: not snowy or icy in the slightest) we saw this strange fossil in the rocks. The ovoid shape at the center was about 2 inches long and somewhat separate from the rock that enclosed it. This area was all under the sea at the time these rocks were formed, so it's likely some kind of sea-dwelling animal or plant. Any fossil experts out there?

On top of the cliffs, with a nice view of Mullagh Mor in the distance.

Baaaaaaaa humbug!

We picked our way down a different part of the cliffs, then through farm fields, some woods and finally a swamp, before joining up to the green road again.

One last view of Mullagh Mor, in the glow of the setting sun.

Winter Solstice

We had a gathering for the winter solstice, and a few young musicians joined in the session.

Our friend Joe as an American cowboy.

The Burren, New Year's Day

This time we went to the north part of the Burren, near Galway Bay. This picture gives you an idea of winter road maintenance in Ireland - practically non-existent on the secondary roads. Snow is so uncommon here that there are no snow plows and just a few salt trucks. The highest areas of Clare had 4 to 6 inches of snow on New Year's Eve.

Cows are left outside year-round in the Burren, where the well-drained limestone soils usually keep pastures green and lush in winter months. Not this year. Poor cows.

I'm gesturing to the mountains of Connemara, about 50 miles away across Galway Bay.

Zoomed in the Connemara mountains. We climbed some of them when my parents were visiting last May.

Burren hills in the setting sun

I took this one from the lane to our cottage. It's Slieve Bearna, the highest hill in Clare, about 30 miles from our house.

That's enough photos for this blog, so next month I'll have photos of the land and buildings at Irish Seedsavers, where I started working last month.