Thursday, March 17, 2016
St. Patrick's Day Remembering
There in the sand, small bits of history, small stones, a piece of bone that appears to have been carved, a perfect, pristine shell, both delicate and strong. Water and history, two elements of life that draw me in deeply, draw me back to such places. Part of my childhood was spent on the shores of a body of water in the West where we stayed in a little cabin with a view of the water, years before Californians discovered it and developers took over the place, building vast condos that blocked out the sun.
My brother and I would get up while it was still dark, and march down to the waters edge, hoping to get there to see the dawn explode over the water. I could spend hours there, just watching the way the water shaped itself around the rocks and me, the gentle waves moving against the shore, like breathing. In the bright cold water, there would be all sorts of strange creatures, all sorts of mysteries.
We'd wade along the edges, gingerly looking, while not harming anything that was there, hoping to find a prehistoric shell to take home, knowing that at some time, all of the land where our family homesteaded had once been part of this ocean. We occasionally found bits and pieces of things, some strange, some so very familiar.
Many of you have seen a sand dollar. They're commonly sold in souvenir stores. But what you see is only the remaining skeleton of a living sea creature. When living, the sand dollar is covered with fine hair like cilia that cover tiny spines, soft, and almost purple in color. But the remaining shell is beautiful, fragile, white. The essential essence of what this creature was.
We'd come home at the end of an adventure, our pockets full of small rocks and shells and artifacts of the day. I felt somehow at home with these small bits of the ancient land, though I felt as if I was living in a alien world in the small eddy currents of their homes, among creatures that were so different from me, somehow I knew I belonged there. At night, we'd build a fire and sit and listen to the lapping of the waves, dreams of my future filled my head. The sound of the water, growing and swelling in rhythm to my heart beat, an accompaniment to the laughing and roasted marshmallows, the joys of a night on the water, under open stars.
The rocky rugged cost of Northern Island took me back there, the rush of the water an affirmation of what draws me to search and discover. It takes me back to the taste of salt on my lips, that of rain or tears, only the years remember. The water rushes, then waits, as I do, moving in, retreating, watching, still waiting. Remembering everything past, hoping for everything good of the future, in a bone deep calm that belies the deep ache in my muscles as I climb up a trail that leads to cliffs hundreds of feet above.
There at the top, a view, an expanse that is as untouched and unchanged as what drove me here in the first place. There's few other people, the rest taking the bus back the short distance, just a couple of us, strangers but kindred spirits, not speaking, simply looking outward. The others don't dare the height, the edge, not with the wind that day, but we do, not feeling the fear until afterwards, only feeling alive, on the wind the smell and the taste of the longing to simply be here.
In my last trip to Ireland, while overseas for a professional speaking engagement (with a free weekend to play tourist), I took an afternoon off to go to the Trinity College Library. Specifically, I wanted to look at the book of Kells, books hundreds of years old, there in a massive hall, watched over by the white busts of philosophers.
There in the dizzying array of centuries of thought how very close I felt to them, and wondered what they would think of us today there. People so different yet not so much. Priests, wanton victims, lovers, students. A flock of beleaguered human beings rushing through life with little more than spare words of text, our lives left, not to handwritten words that flow from veins that open within us, but to small snippets of meaningless text, words thrown out into the electronic atmosphere without thought to discourse or what meaning they leave in their wake.
Then the Book of Kells, painstakingly recorded in colors of the earth, preserved for 1200 years. I stood transfixed by their vision, which in their Latin told me nothing but that someone of great faith had been here and recorded his heart, a message that though I could not translate accurately, I could never fail to understand.
Too soon, the trip was over and it was time to go home. I will make the trek up above the sea, one last time before my flight back to the States is set to leave. I will go back to a happy dog, and the friends who watched him. I'll try and recreate some of the dishes I dined on there in historic inns, there in a quiet kitchen, a calendar on the wall, on the counter perhaps a bit of loose tea spilled, a pen and a journal there by the window. The house holds its traces of me, assuming I will come back and if not, that at least I would be remembered by those who share my table, even if not related by blood.
But for now, a few more hours ,a few more artifacts of time I stole from the past, flirting with the ancients, hard rocks, the smell of peat and coal, a land brushed with snow, burnished with the traces of those that went before. Traces that say, remember me, remember this, for in it you will find yourself, and leave a piece of your heart behind.
There on top of a sea green cliff, I will throw out a rock to watch it splash down far below, as above, I watch above, from a strong, yet fragile, light shell that houses this old soul. The rock flies through the hindrance of the deepest sleeps, through the stiff fabric of the wind, into the warm sea.
It's only a rock, only a bit of artifact of the past that holds in it, not the prolonged burden of time that too many embrace as they age, but the bright colored fluent movement of youth, the dancing heels of those days of risk and glory. Perhaps the days of my youth are gone, as is the rock, yet the feel of its absoluteness remains in my hands, in me, long after the wind goes silent.
Too, too soon, it is time to head back. Clouds kiss the top of the hills, the rocks knitting up the small tendrils of fog into shawls that drape us as we hike on down. Layers and layers, the sea cliffs lie. Down, descending through those layers of clouds, layers and layer of memory. Memories of many miles walked upon such shores, from that first sound of a wave in my childhood to this, the span seems endless.
Till we meet again Ireland, Thar gach ni eile. .