Alyson Skoglund: Final Essays and Photos

Posted on February 1st, 2014 by

Spirit of Ireland Essay

Over the churning Atlantic Ocean, the clouds gather and build up strength.  Pulling the ocean with them, they charge recklessly towards their target, a tiny island off the coast of Europe.  With a final surge they assault Ireland with winds and rain, beating and lashing at everything in its path.  Darkness spreads over the land as the clouds cover everything.  The rains keep coming, never stopping.  The fields shrink, keep shrinking, the animals must keep moving away and away, until finally the field is gone, hidden under a disappearing lake, a turlough, covering the field until it dries in summer.

The winds howl with the voice of a banshee.  It turns the rain into flying needles.  The banshee rattles the windows and slaps the people who dare to go out in the face.  It rips umbrellas to shreds.  It bends the trees to its will.  It throws water at the shores.

The tide rises and still the water pounds the land.

Waves crash over the walls.

The wall begins to crumble as the stones are thrown aside like leaves in the wind.

The street is torn apart by the force of the water.

Screaming with glee the wind throws and tears whatever it can grab until the roads are impassable and the pier unusable.  Laughing with delight the wind charges inland with the rain, leaving the source of its power behind but still strong enough the wreak havoc for the people in its path.  The turloughs continue to grow, pushing the livestock onto smaller and smaller mounds of dry land, well not dry, but above water, which is better than the alternative.  The storm spreads turmoil across the land, blocking roads and pushing over stone fences.  In the areas with larger populations, traffic is reduced to a crawl as the people cautiously make their way to and from work.  In the rural areas, people hunker down in their homes, listening as the rain drips down the chimney, telling stories of faeries and the legends of Ireland around a warm fire with hot cups of tea.

Finally the dark shadow of the storm passes.  Everything is still.  Everything is quiet.  The clouds begin to thin, going from grey to white and finally breaking apart.  The sun shines through, bathing the grey landscape in golden light.  The light dances on the surface of the turloughs, sending sparkles all over.  The grey is fading from the land, being replaced by shades of green and gold, with a blue sky filled with high white clouds, and a rainbow connecting the land and sky.  The wind that very recently went screamed through the fields now gently plays with the grass, sending ripples through the sea of green.  People step outside and bask in the sunlight before surveying the damage from the storm.

Stones that would take ten men to move stand in streets, and pieces of road the size of dinner tables lie alone in the grass while a crater in the road shows where it came from.  Turloughs spread through entire fields, stranding animals on islands far away from the people who take care of them.  Rocks the size of human heads lay scattered across the car park, the only evidence that a wall had stood at one end of the car park before the storm.  The damage is extensive, but it is the price to pay for living so close to the Atlantic.  The people are hardy and will be able to rebuild, they just need time.

The sun disappears as the clouds gather again.  The rain begins again, but not with the violence of before.  The wind doesn’t howl and nothing is tossed around.  The rain just falls, a steady pitter-patter as it hits the ground.  The sun reemerges even as the rain continues, creating a double rainbow this time, standing elegant and serene over the emerald land.

The rain stops again, but the constant humidity serves as a reminder that it could always return.  The scent of rain is always present as well, another reminder of how close the next rain is.  Will it be a gentle rain that keeps Ireland green, or will it be the downpour that floods Ireland, drowning it?  The only way to know is to wait and see.  But there are better things to do besides wait for the rains to come.  While the sun is out, people are out, talking on the streets as they walk, no destination, just walking to see other people, and hear how they are holding up.  Or they are fixing their houses, cutting down trees, rebuilding what was broke from the storm.  There is always something to be doing, there is no time to be idle, not until the sun sets and it is time to go to the pub and enjoy the company of friends.  Time is precious, and must be spent wisely.

Deep underground, time is different.  There is no evidence of the passage of time.  The warm rays of the sun are not felt, and the screams of the wind unheard.  The bones of things long dead lie in peaceful sleep, ignorant of the world outside and content to stay that way.  The darkness and silence are oppressive but calming under the ground, away from the hustle and bustle of people and time above.

But wait.  A sound breaks the silence.  Its starts quietly, the gentle drip-drip of water on stone.  Soon it becomes the sound of water into water, and the drip dripping becomes a steady stream.  The stream grows, and the quiet noise grows and swells to a roar as the water rushes through tunnels dug eons before.  Following the path of thousands of underground streams, the water runs through the blackness, bubbly and noisy in the once silent caves, twisting and turning through the stones moving down, down until it disappears, deep into the earth.  Hours after the storm passed above, under the limestone hills the water drains, seeping into cracks made before the first men appeared.  Ever so slowly, the water from the storm disappears into the ground, passing into the long tragic history of Ireland.

A sample of photos from my “Traces” series.

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Personal Narrative Essay

A steady drizzle doesn’t dampen my spirits as I get my ticket into Blarney Castle.  I walk through the gate and gaze at the green grass and tall trees around me.  I try to ignore the picnic tables and refreshment stand, and instead try to imagine it before this all came.  The castle is off in the distance, hidden by the trees for now, but soon I will be there.

We follow the river, cross a small bridge and it begins to come into view.  It stands tall and square above us, it’s stony gaze keeping watch over the land.  I think of what it has seen in its six hundred years of existence.  It has watched men fight and die on the very ground I was standing on.  It has seen children grow into adults, grow old and die within its walls.  Generations have passed, yet it remains.  How many people have stood where I stood, at the base of this imposing castle, looking up in wonder?  It makes me feel very insignificant as I think about it.

I walk around the castle towards the entrance, passing the watchtower.  I pause to look inside.  The roof is gone, and the wooden stairs have long since succumbed to rot, but I stand on the ground inside looking up.  Again I ask questions.  How many people sat here, night after night, shivering and bored, watching for enemies?  Did they ever see anything?  What did they do when they saw something?  My questions remain unanswered as I walk out and head to the castle.

Wandering through the empty rooms of Blarney Castle, I see crumbling walls and roofless rooms with my eyes, but with my mind I see chieftains and dukes, dignitaries and earls, amazing people splendidly dressed.  I follow in their footsteps as I move through the castle.  The dinning room is open to the elements now, and the fireplace is cold, but I can imagine to feasts and parties that were held here, when a roof covered the room and bright colors covered the grey stone walls.  Families gathered here at one time, they talked and laughed like I do with my family.  I imagine the thousands of conversations this room has heard, the words long forget except by those sad grey walls.

I continue up the spiral staircase, it gets narrower and narrower, I can barely fit through with my backpack on, but suddenly I see a light and I’m at the top, no more tiny stairs but open air.  I look around with my jaw hanging down.  The clouds are nearly gone, the sun shines down on me, but below me the fog lies thick on the ground.  A little ways away, rising out of the fog and trees like a ghost is the Blarney Mansion.  Dark in the fog, with round towers and skinny chimneys, the mansion is the castle’s haunting younger sibling, amazing but outshone by its big brother.

I stroll along the battlements, and again my imagination runs wild.  I am a guard, patrolling the top of the castle, watching the land around me, suspicious of every shadow on the ground.  I imagine I am one of the people who participated in the siege, looking down on my enemies, throwing hot oil and anything that could hurt them on their heads.

Halfway around, I come to the Blarney Stone.  The man invites me to kiss it, so I take off my backpack and glasses and lay down.  I slide backwards, holding on to the bars till my knuckles turn white, lower and lower, I try to ignore how much empty space is between me and the ground, lower still, then there it is, I pucker up and kiss it, I try not to think about how many other people had kissed it and I can’t get up fast enough now, it’s to high for my comfort zone.  I gather my things and finish my circuit of the top of Blarney Castle.  I pause right before the staircase down and gaze around me again, taking in the hills and the trees and the town below me.  Then it’s back down another spiral staircase.

With my feet back on terra firma, I walk around the castle so I can see the Blarney Stone from below.  I wonder how many people have fallen trying to kiss it?  That would be an unfortunate way to die, I think.  I can’t imagine kissing the stone before there were safety bars, or when they used to dangle people by their ankles to kiss it.  I shudder at the thought.  I would definitely not kiss the stone of that was the way to do it.

As I wander on, I think about who’s footsteps I’m following in, and I wonder about my place in history.  Will I be remembered in a hundred years? Or will my name fade from memory, and I become a faceless ghost in someone else’s imagination?

I continue to walk through the grounds, no direction really, just wandering alone with my thoughts, when I come to the Rock Close.  Curious, I walk through.  Underneath a tree is a cave with stones that are too perfectly arranged to be nature’s work.  A plaque nearby tells me archeologists think it was probably made five to six thousand years ago by some of the first human residents of the area, but legend has it that it is the kitchen of a witch who lights fires after dark.  I walk inside and look out, wondering what those first people saw when they came here.  How different was their view compared to now?  Was there a tree over their home like there is now?  How long did they stay in their little cave?  I think about all that has happened since this spot first had traces of people.  For nearly all of recorded history, this tiny hole in the rock has held the mark of human hands.  It’s no pyramid or Parthenon, but it’s survived longer than they have.  Thousands of people have stood in this hole and looked at those rock with curiosity, and it has the potential for a thousand more to stand there, all because someone needed a home a long time ago.  I am only one in this long line and I’m hardly worth mentioning.  With a sigh I step out and take one last look inside before continuing through the Rock Close, reading more about the legends surrounding this spot and wondering about its history.

As I wander through, I begin to think about what I’ve been able to do today.  I wandered through a six hundred year old castle, and stood inside a six thousand year old home.  I take a minute to let this sink in.  There’s nothing like this back home.  Everything is so new in the U.S. compared to this.  I couldn’t get up close and touch something as old as the castle let alone stand inside that cave even if it did exist at home.  I’ve experienced so much history in this little area, travelled through thousands of years of Irish history, and all before lunch!  With a whole day ahead, I could remain surrounded by history until I dropped from exhaustion, and I would have only scratched the surface.

A sample of photo’s from my “God’s House” series.

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