Becca Nelson – Final Project

Posted on February 1st, 2014 by

Spirit of Ireland 

There is wisdom in the land.  Stones that have been haphazardly placed upon others thousands of years ago still stand.  These stones who have seen the brightest and most carefree moments have also seen the darkest.  The rocks absorb the laughter that echoes as children from the primary school play.  Their giggles each unique like the array of stones that line the beach just down the way.  Yet these rocks also see the sorrows. These stones have seen families leave The Burren in recent years for dreams of a more prosperous tomorrow. They see the two teachers that now drive to school every morning instead of the original four that are no longer necessary. They also hold deep inside their souls the stories of families who death’s hand touched and tore apart so inconsiderately as if their lives mattered less then the pebble stuck in my shoe.  They saw children, sisters, fathers, mothers and friends who were simply numbers to the famine. Numbers that added to the decline in this area from a people once twenty thousand strong to only four. Yet they stand.  These stones stand strong like Ireland regardless of all of the pain they have seen.

Upon first glance I see rich green ivy wrapped around one of these old stones in a way that looks like Christmas lights first taken out of the box after eleven stagnant months. It winds and surrounds the rock crossing at different points looking like a tangled mess.  When I looked closer it was as if, at sections, the only thing that was holding these moss-covered stones together were, in fact, those delicate vines.

However, when the brisk Irish wind blows through the valley it rattles the leaves and it seems as if in that very moment the vines strengthen.  They become harder and in a way they become indestructible and even industrial.  No longer is the gentle green ivy wrapped around these stones.  In that instant it alters and as quickly as a shooting star vanishes in the clear Irish sky it becomes glistening steel that now holds these stones together. Strength so intense it holds the misshapen stones snug like the embrace of two lovers aching for the others touch moments before parting ways.  This wall is so ancient the years seem incomprehensible to me.  5,000 years these bricks have stood but I have only seen twenty-two of them. 5,000 years these bricks have stood and each day the wind and rain slaps against them so brutally like waves in an ocean storm.  The wind, without any compassion or understanding releases all she has on these bricks and yet they stand.

These ancient stonewalls guide me on both sides as I walk down a twisty path that reminds me of the Minnesota woods I grew up with back home. The branches have grown and merged together in a chaotic mess that could only be possible after countless years of progress- countless years of growth where twigs yearned for the sun above. Always reaching towards their unattainable goal of one day touching the heavens.  The trees pushing its leaves further and further to the sky and with each season they grow. The branches acting like a little child on her tippy-toes trying to see a parade and peaking around the ‘big-kids’ blocking her view. These branches fill in any small opening and poke their head through in a battle for space that leaves room only for the jigsaw of tracks that guide me on my way home.

With trails as numerous as the drops of rain about to fall on the lifeless rock around me it is unnerving not knowing which steps to take or which paths will guide me home. The journey in front of me is one that contains a timer counting down the seconds before those raindrops dampen both my spirits and my clothes.  The liberal clouds come rolling in signaling to me the impending storm.  The number of steps I’ve taken during this trek is matched with countless stones stacked precariously upon each other, all held together by this impenetrable vine. The vines once again preparing for the strength they must soon exercise with the pending storm while I prepare for my own battle with the unsympathetic storm headed my way.

The storms here are as consistent as day and night.  Never have I woken up and questioned the sun or moon just as the land around me has never questioned the always-pending storm.  It is a dependence that gives life to something lifeless, a dependence that gives life to rock.  The rocks, in the form of walls, forts and roads, have been around for so many years and have seen so many changes that they are now filled with more wisdom than my grandfathers stories I loved as a child.  The stories that these rocks have seen and the secrets that they have had no choice but to keep, shine ever so delicately on their surface.  Like my grandfather’s stories never to be heard again- lost in his own mind, so too has this lands stories been lost to the bitterness of time. The lessons lying right beneath their hard exterior beacon to me and invite me in.

I stare at the cracks that have developed as water slowly trickled over stone for thousands of years.  Slowly the water wore away at the rock creating a fissure and with each millimeter of growth, each millimeter of increased depth, so added to the secrets that were being kept safe by that rock.  For thousands of years faceless people treaded over these stones bringing with them new stories of love, loss and ceaseless hope that so many Irish constantly demonstrate in even the hardest of times. These rocks, worn away by the elements and the always-approaching storm have an unspeakable way about them.  They both hide and expose our secrets the same way the ivy wraps around them.  The ivy both hiding and protecting the rock while still leaving it exposed to anyone wishing to take the time and look deeper.  Those wishing to take the time to understand the stories they hold.


Where They Hid Their Timber

Landscape Photo Project

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Personal Essay

Panting as if I had just ran a marathon I wake up in a cold sweat.  I turn on the lamp next to me so it can dance and play with the shadows. As a child I remember being terrified by these black voids but this darkness no longer brings any feelings to the surface. While staring into these black cavities I notice that the tiny hairs on the nape of my neck are matted down and I have to run the palm of my hand over the hairs to lift them from their resting place.  The remainder of my hair is in an anarchic maze on top of my head only held there by the knots that I know will cause overwhelming amounts of pain when I have to brush through them in the morning.

I woke with this sense of anxiety for an entire week before leaving for Ireland.  Every night the dream was a bit different but always had a common theme that left me unnerved.

A fear of the unknown.  A fear of things that I cannot prepare for.

As I grew older the fears that my Winnie the Pooh nightlight could not defeat were replaced with new ones.  College, my first job interview, and now my first time out of the country without my family.

I knew before leaving for Ireland that my fear of not knowing and not being able to prepare was going to be tested.  Flying into Dublin our plane looked as if it was in the middle of a thick cloud that I later realized was simply fog. Yet, by the time we had gotten our bags and started walking towards our bus the murkiness once shielding our plane had now transformed into skies so blue it was dreamlike.  When I saw that first rainbow, one of hundreds that blessed my time here, it all seemed like something more like a painting then any form of reality I have personally experienced.

This weather that brought the original rainclouds and the corresponding rainbow had changed drastically within the twenty minutes it took the class to collect their things. Since then I have discovered it takes no more then two minutes to transform an unblemished sky dotted with cotton ball clouds into a storm so strong it leaves no article of clothing untouched. A storm that dampens not only my spirits but also everything I am wearing.

The weather here is simply unpredictable.  For the whole first week in Ballyvaughan, no matter what clothes I choose to put on when I got out of bed I can honestly say that they were the wrong ones.  The days I dressed for rain it would be so clear I could see across the bay to Galway.  However, the days where the weatherman says there was a 0% chance of precipitation, and naturally I dressed accordingly, it rained so hard the drops that echoed in our studio sounded more like the Easter Rebellion then anything Mother Nature could inflict upon me.

These sheets of rain brush up against me and with each drop that penetrates my clothes leaving me chilled another will also hit my exposed face and sting like a needle.

It took a week but now I wake up every morning knowing that the weather here is something I simply cannot prepare for let alone control.  I cannot use the analytical skills that I have accumulated after four years of schooling to become an accountant in any way that will be helpful here.  The accountant in me wants to find the answer to this unanswerable problem that is laughing at me as I sit here drenched to my very core.  The weather here is uncontrollable and that is how it will always be. One trick I learned quickly is to wear two pairs of socks, and I do every single day.  My little way of tackling this weather issue I have one pair of your typical white socks covered by one of the 10 pairs of Smart Wools that Santa, thankfully, left in my stocking this year specifically for my time here in Ireland.

In that original week of pondering my unanswerable question to this uncontrollable problem I realized that I should learn to enjoy it.  No. Love it.  Even with two pairs of socks on my feet every day, prepared as much as possible, the ever-changing weather is not something I will ever be able to master.  However, as the days started to grow together I started to learn to enjoy the sun as well as the rain.  I have started to enjoy this mystery in front of me and welcome the rain that smears my glasses.  I have slowly started to learn how to love that which I cannot control. I needed to learn how to relish in these uncontrollable moments in a way that terrifies me.  A way that brings me back to my childhood fear of the dark unknown corners of my bedroom.  And that was exactly what happened in the three remaining weeks of our trip.

I learned to love what terrified me. The tide that is typically stable in Ballyvaughan devastated the docks.  Tides that are almost father like in their consistency and dependability are different here in Ireland. They manifest into something completely uncontrollable and become this force that demolished ancient stonewalls just a short walk down from my cabin. A force that prevented me from exploring these docks and left me again in a situation I could not control.  This once familiar force now uninhibited was not one I, nor the stone surrounding the bay, could ever tame and that made me want it.  I wanted to explore this tide that frightened me simply because it did.  Of course I did not actually go down to the docks during high tide because they were very unsafe but the bravery behind the idea itself shocked me.  Even having this little spark of desire for something uncontrollable was entirely new to me.  From fog and rainbows to uncontrollable storms and tides, Ireland surrounded me with uncontrollable things.

It helped me to no longer be that little kid afraid of the dark.  No longer afraid of what I cannot control. Now, I walk confidently into that which frightens me.


Ticking Off The Possibilities

Urban Photo Project

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