Tomorrow in the Digest: Kleptoparasitism
The swans are back!
I was not expecting them yesterday when I brought my book down to the banks of Lake Atedaun for a bit of sun and reading on a glorious, warm afternoon. Perhaps it was the tinkling sound of gravel under my foot, perhaps it was only the intake of my breath when I saw them so close to me near the shore, hunting for morsels of food. Startled, they took wing, not to flight but only to skim the surface of the lake, and thus escape this human intruder. Their great wings made such a sound as I have never heard, a forceful rushing of collective wind that left me awestruck. Three beats, four, five, and they were far away, out of my alleged clutches.
I notice I say the swans are back, as if I’m some sort of old hat, as if I have history to spare here in the village of Corofin, and know its annual contours. In fact, I’ve not lived here long enough for even a year to have passed, hardly local bona fides to be talking about swans coming back. And yet I saw them depart last fall. And yet I rely on my seasonal wits. And yet I feel no one here would judge me for my impertinence.
As it turns out, the swans are not alone in returning home after a hiatus. I, too, am back in North Clare after spending about six weeks in Maine during March and April – hence, and with apologies, the reason I have not written a blog in so long. I return fully vaccinated, I return refreshed from visits with friends and family, and I return gladly.
And speaking of iconic images, here’s one from my home in Maine: the Cape Neddick Light Station, Nubble Light.
I am so very, very blessed to call home two miraculous places on the face of the earth – a coastal New England town with rivers to spare, a mountain to climb and oceanside walks to take the breath; and a tiny village in County Clare with lakes to spare, fields of fulsome green and a stone mountain range that is home to bounteous flora and fauna – including a most beautiful and rare orchid. Yet for all the natural beauty, people in County Clare and indeed all of Ireland spent the winter, frankly, in a long-term funk. The ever-increasing strictures that the government began imposing with the first waft of fall breezes had by October reached Level 5 and is just now, six months later, easing up. At level 5, we residents were allowed to go to grocery and hardware stores and travel within 3 miles from home. That, my readers, was essentially that. Vaccinations, thanks to a colossal imbroglio between the European Union and AstraZeneca over insufficient doses, were as rare as hen’s teeth.
You could see the weight of it all in people’s eyes (the only part of their faces visible because of masking), and in a certain careworn weariness in their voices. “How are you holding up?” meant, literally, how are you holding up? And I knew that look was in my eyes, that voice was my voice, all the more perhaps because I arrived just months earlier as really a stranger in a strange COVID land. To be fair, “How are you holding up?” was followed in fairly short order with a shrug of the shoulder and a “Sure, what are you going to do?” – a testament to that indomitable Irish spirit. I, however, was not feeling quite so sanguine, I’m afraid. So when the government announced in late February that it was extending the Level 5 lockdown until mid-April, I chose to go back to the states. I have no regrets. The day I arrived in early March, Maine began offering vaccinations to people in my age group, and I soon availed myself of that offer. Within a day or two, I found myself in a clothing store – a clothing store! – allowed in by a head-counting employee. I met a friend for lunch on an outdoor deck of a restaurant – a restaurant! – and marveled. This is really how people can live with COVID-19?
I don’t blame the Irish government for their strictures. They were doing what they needed to do to protect an island people. And I’m mindful that I’m very lucky to have another place to call home. I returned in mid-April, to a hint of warmer weather in the air, a 15-mile travel zone, and a promise of life nearly back to normal by June. I do think it is possible that by summer’s end, I might actually be able to amble down the street here in Corofin and listen to traditional music of a night at one of the local pubs, or travel to Greece or England or some other far-flung European place. What a gift that would be!
Because here’s the rub. While I loved being back in my US home, at the same time I yearned for my home in Ireland. Particularly now, as the Burren comes into its own, as the wildflowers for which it is known throughout this wide world begin to bud and flourish. Within days after my arrival, I took two long hikes there, glorying in this wonderland. Just this week, I saw a livestreamed interview with a biologist who specializes in Burren flora and fauna. He said when people see pictures of the Burren, they see a stone mountain range many (including me) have described as a lunar landscape. And it is true that, from afar, that would seen an apt turn of phrase. But hike into it, he says, and you will see just how teeming with life it really is. Here is the rare orchid, there is delicate yellow primrose, further down the trail is the deep purple gentian. Wild mountain goats climb effortlessly up the rocky outcrops. And it’s barely May. This may be my first spring here in North Clare but I feel secure in the knowledge that next spring, I will no longer be an impertinent newcomer, that the old hat will fit comfortably on my head…
Coming soon, I hope: I am allowed inter-county travel starting soon, so am planning a three-day trip to the Ring of Kerry. I’ll take you along.
Finally: When I was back in my hometown in Maine, I had chance encounters with two women – one who was checking in people at the hospital’s PCR testing site and the other a cashier at the grocery store – who asked me if I was “the Deborah McDermott who wrote the blog.” I was so nonplussed that people I didn’t know actually read and liked my blog that I didn’t properly thank either of you. I thank you now. You validated for me that that these are not words lost in cyberspace or read mostly by friends and family, but have merit in their own right. And for that I am very grateful.
From top left, left to right: the swans (from a distance) on Lake Atedaun; downtown Corofin at 9pm at night with twilight still in full force; my favorite beach in Maine, York Harbor Beach; a funky, rusting gate I took on one of my recent walks here; delicate flowers clinging to a stone wall; wild primrose in the Burren; wild goats perched on a rocky outcrop in the Burren; lobster buoys on the side of a lobster shed in Maine.
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 email@example.com. She would love to hear from you.