Deborah McDermott is a recently retired newspaper journalist, and has spent a lifetime crafting and editing words for a large audience. She is asking your indulgence to follow her as she embarks on a new life in Ireland and Europe, and she is particularly interested in reaching older women and men who have a traveling bent and an innate curiosity. You can reach her anytime at firstname.lastname@example.org. She would love to hear from you.
Thanks to Silverbelle Marti (Downeast SBs) for introducing us to Deborah!
Weathering winter in a wonderland
published on February 20, 2021 in wanderofwanders.com
Here on the west coast of Ireland, it is not only possible but expected to speak in very nearly human terms about the weather. Whimsical, moody, surprising, grumpy, glorious, mercurial, it is all of that and more. For instance, just now I was sitting at my desk in the living room looking out of the window at a perfectly and rarely blue sky – time for a walk while the gods bless me, I thought. But mere steps away, I was greeted at my kitchen window by darkly ominous clouds. Oh, oh, I thought. Best wait a minute. By the time I walked back to my desk, it had started pouring. In the time it has taken to write these few sentences, the rain is stopping, the clouds are departing, the sun is returning and I know there is a rainbow lurking. And maybe more rain. The temperature is 45 degrees, warm but not unusual.
Winter here has been a revelation to me, a New Englander as accustomed to frigid days and five inches of overnight snow as I am of the air I breathe. It is now mid-February, and most daffodils are getting ready to burst their paper skins; some close to buildings and walls already have. The songbirds are in profusion, tweeting and trilling from tree and bush. The lambs of Imbolc, February 1 or thereabouts, are now frolicking next to mama. The first budding perennials in one of Corofin’s maintained gardens are peeping up through the weathered brown stalks of the previous season. Early crocuses have gone by the board. Daylight now creeps steadily upward, a most welcomed development. For most of the winter, it was not fully light until 9am and was pitch dark by 5 or so – less than 8 hours around the solstice. In January, there was that one week when the temperature hovered around freezing (0 degrees Celsius here) but never made it below that. Those cold days prompt a magical kind of frost that clings to leaf and blade alike – a stark white that looks for all the world as if it is painted by hand. This is Mother Nature’s handiwork in Ireland when the temps dip low – rather than the snowflake, a delicate lace of frosty beauty. Then there was the stretch of around 10 days when the sun never shone, not once, and the cold, gray sky teased rain. THAT was not a lot of fun. (My friend tells me, one year, 10 days stretched to two months! Sacre bleu!) But on balance, it’s better to look for the joy. One morning last week, for instance, I awoke to the rare sight of falling snow and laughed as I watched two county workers taking sand by the shovelful from the back of a pickup truck and scattering it on the road and sidewalks. By afternoon, the rain had arrived and by evening, any hidden remnants of the white stuff was long gone. And through all the days of winter, a patchwork green is ever present. No Maine shades of seasonal browns and grays for me this season. The ubiquitous stone walls hide behind ivy, moss, ferns and lichen. And those fields, those glorious fields of Irish grass and pastureland, remain richly fulsome. I meander around a bend in the road during my walks and still catch my breath at the vistas before me.
All this temperateness is found in a country that is actually much further north than New England. Ireland shares the same latitude as Newfoundland, Canada or Sakhalin, Russia, for goodness sake. It turns out that we have to thank a fortuitous global placement for the climate kismet. Unlike so many countries that are influenced by climate patterns in border countries (think of that arctic Canadian ridge divebombing the US), Ireland’s neighbor is the Atlantic Ocean. That relationship does all sorts of funky, temperate things. Met Eireann (the NOAA of Ireland) says the island receives the benefit of two different Atlantic streams – the Gulf Stream and, most importantly, the North Atlantic Drift, which transports warm, tropical water to northern latitudes like Ireland and much of Europe. While the Atlantic is absorbing that warmer water, the air is playing an even more important role. Ireland is in a “zone of transition” between warm, moist air traveling northward and cold, drier air coming from the north. Felicitously in the middle, the island is then rarely cold or hot, and is often lashed with rain particularly on the Atlantic, western, coast where I live. Hence those 10 days of lousy weather. Hence, the sun from nowhere, followed by the rain from nowhere. Hence, the temps that are already consistently reaching the high 40s. Hence, daffodils in February well watered by almost daily precipitation.
One of my favorite walks here in Corofin is to nearby Lake Inchiquin. Inchiquin (that’s ‘Inchquin’; the second ‘i’ is not pronounced) has a long and storied history in these parts. King Turlough Mor O’Brien, King of Thomond, built a castle there in 1284, and subsequent generations of O’Briens also considered the lake part of their vast holdings. For longer than there have been people, the lake has been home to all manner of birds and fish — the birds no doubt drawn by the numerous islands and inlets, not to mention the aforementioned fish. I visited Inchiquin within days of moving here last August, and to my surprise and delight found that dozens of mute swans make the place home. Swans, I would discover, are very common here in Ireland. But for this American who has known them only in books and, I suppose, Boston Common, they are a continuing fascination. As summer progressed into fall, I started following one family with five cygnets. I was reminded of “The Ugly Duckling,” as I watched these small, dark gray, homely babies following their graceful, and enormous, parents. The family nestled in for the winter, the young ones growing ever bigger, dark gray giving way to a mottled coat of feathers. I would watch their parents teach them to fish, a comical sight involving a front end diving head first into the water and a rear end sticking straight up in the air. The kids are still there on the lake, still with mom and dad, still not completely white although nearly so. These days, one or two may go off on their own for a bit, but they always follow mom if she glides to a different part of the lake. They have become a touchstone of sorts for me, my Irish talisman. They remind me that life, glorious life, proceeds as it has these many millennia, today’s mutant virus a mere drop in the waters of time. They, and the daffodils, and the lambs, and the green pastures, have been a comfort on more than one day when I just couldn’t bear the strictures of COVID any longer. Ireland remains a fraught place, with strict limits likely through May. This, since last October. Becoming attuned to the small, intricate, inevitable changes of nature has been a solace and a balm. And Ireland continues to amaze.