The fieldfares have finished all the berries but I’ve a host of colourful photos and a lifetime of inspiration from this very berried Connemara autumn. I have two sightings of a black hare on the hill, both at dusk, and both after hearing tales of darkness. (I know it is real because the second time Murph sees and smells her too and gives chase.) What I would usually consider a beautiful gift sends a little shudder and a homeward turn. I also learn later that this hill was the site of Ireland’s last wolf, and I wonder who shot her.
And then of a sudden I have to go. Not for the murders in the glen or their mammalian reincarnations; not for the dark winter nights and rain; not for the isolation, but for the politics of the place. Dread has been accumulating and I’ve been denying it – I don’t run, I stand my ground – but now in a panic I pack up and take refuge in a nearby glen.
Parked outside the empty house of some sympathetic folk on a different mountainside, the weaving soothes my nerves, and I re-inhabit the van full time, relieved to be back in my own little home, and mobile. Anxiety and insomnia still do not subside, but overnight I write a song about a near miss, and that is probably a better antidote than some find in lithium. It’s an innocuous-looking little ditty masquerading as a lovesong but actually concerning possession, and it’s called ‘A Wolf in Love’s Clothing’. The accordion accompaniment has a tricksy, driving rhythm delineating the dark edges: ONE two three ONE two three four five.
For only the second time in my travels I feel scared of being alone. For all the unconditional generosity, I feel like a trespasser in my kind new hosts’ realm, and feel their absence too. I drive into town but others’ Christmas efforts make it worse as I wonder where on earth to go for the festivities – to enjoy them or avoid them. Hopping on a ferry is a hugely tempting prospect. I consider far flung and far fetched refuge options such as familiar Brittany or the Hebrides. At least I have options – although on an average of two hours’ sleep a night I’d hardly be safe to get us there, and my money certainly wouldn’t stretch to getting us back here again. There are friends and family I can call on in Devon, if my pride and patience will allow – though I conclude that they won’t.
I’ve barely felt lost since being on the road, but I guess this is an inevitable part of it at times. ‘This is what I do’, I think to myself. This not knowing where I’m going, ‘this is how it is’. This is part of the joy of it. Ha. Not at Christmas, nor when the nights are this long.
Hardly able to think straight, not wanting to leave Ireland lest I cannot afford or face a January return, I eventually send an email to County Cork. I have forgotten, but this woman is essentially family; her Irish hillfarm, sheep-rearing, carding, spinning, weaving and self-sufficiency shaped my dreams some thirty years ago, and now she extends a warm and open-ended welcome.
I drive all day, for Ireland is not so little, especially in a big old yoke like mine. Even exhausted in the dark I recognise the buildings from my childhood. In the daylight, I find megaliths in every field, which each has views of mountains, islands or sea, or all three.
We go to the beach, and my host points out the oil works where an explosion killed several hundred crew. Everywhere in Ireland there is tragedy: lazybed reminders of the famine; Satanic references or historic multiple murders on every hill I occupy!
However this is also the birthplace of the author of the Irish Bible (folkies will know that I exaggerate hardly at all):
Despite the upheavals and emotional rollercoasters, through the adventures I have to keep the business going of course.
I’m relieved to receive a glowing email from the initiator and recipient of the Glencoe shawl who, despite misgivings on seeing photos, is overjoyed at the wove ‘in the flesh’ and at how it makes her feel and look. This like a trickle of warm water down my spine.
I’m approached by a journalist to write about why tiny house/small-scale living/working is increasing in popularity among creative folk. At this dark midwinter I have to push away the word ‘desperation’ and opt to say ‘making do’. Creatives have to learn to make do: even in good times, living by our art is extremely difficult, but living by any other means, or not living our art, is destructive and even impossible – and especially in bad times. But more positively, Leonard Cohen’s recent song ‘Traveling Light’ comes to mind: the flow and dynamism of mobility. Creatives think out of the box – that’s what makes us creatives – and so we find out of the box solutions for living our creativity. Because we are born free, standing in line or living in rows is not acceptable. Because we think conceptually and are among the biggest challengers of mainstream ills, greedy unsustainable living is not likely to be an option. Besides, greedy, big properties guzzle up all the time and energy that our creativity demands for itself – and it does demand. Woe betide you if you don’t heed its call!
In between completing my tax return we go to a session and a dance. I tentatively join in the first and more vigorously the latter. There are some hundred local dancers young and old, and enough who know the steps, slides, swings, chains, houses and baskets to whirl us novices around at speed. An Irish céilí has more verve than an English one, and as the second half begins after food at 2230, the feet and fiddles are rocking this remote community hall and the dancers are set in for several more hours after our frail 2330 departure. There are more céilís coming up, and more musical events, and my host and I compare looms and weavings and bodges and I know that here too, again, there is a lot for me, and so I plan to stay awhile.