Elizabeth’s Final Project: Ireland and Me

Posted on February 1st, 2014 by

A faint beeping registers in my mind, and it steadily grows louder as I drift towards consciousness. I silently complain as I pull my arm out from under the warm blankets and into the chilly morning air to turn off my watch alarm. The horrid thing silenced, I quickly retreat into my warm cocoon, closing my eyes in hopes of a couple more minutes of precious sleep. As I lie in my bed and dread the moment when I must emerge from my cozy cave, I hear the birds begin to sing. First one and then more greet the rising sun with their twittering melodies. A few sunrays filter through the flowered curtains onto the extra pillow next to me. After a little while of soaking up the atmosphere and enjoying the birds’ serenade, I decide it is time to brave the cold and get ready for class. Before I have time to change my mind, I slide out of bed and into my slippers. After a quick breakfast and making sure I am wearing enough layers, I am ready for another day of exploring Ireland.

I have plenty of time before class, so I decide to walk the couple of miles to the college instead of waiting for the van, especially since this is one of the few mornings without rain. I throw on my backpack, which is filled with my laptop, books, travel purse, and anything else I might need like an umbrella. I sling my camera bag over my shoulder so I have it handy in case I decide to take any pictures during my walk. As I close the cottage door behind me, I give it a hearty yank to ensure the lock engages. I trek down the gravel walkway to the sidewalk leading into the main square of Ballyvaughan, watching the birds flit to and fro as they search for their breakfasts.

Once I make it to the other side of town, the road narrows as the land turns into open green fields, and yellow signs warn drivers that there are walkers on the road. I stay near the stone wall bordering the road, and I slow my pace to enjoy the countryside. To my left, I notice a vibrantly green field I had not noticed before even though I had traveled this way countless times. Suddenly I realize this is where a turlough, a disappearing lake, had been. Turloughs are one of the many mysteries of the Burren, but since I had been told they do not disappear until spring, I did not think I would see one vanish. The field shows no sign of having been under water although it is a brighter green and lusher than the surrounding fields. After spending a few moments marveling at this unique feature, I continue my journey, and I faintly hear the engine of a car. I move as close as I can to the stone wall, but the ivy and thorns force me to remain on the asphalt. The sound grows louder, and glancing ahead, I see the approaching vehicle to which my ears have alerted me. I half-focus on the ground, doing my best to give the car as much room as possible. The car careens past me, and I feel a rush of wind, fairly certain I could have touched it had I reached out as it whizzed by. I continue walking, breaking my legs out of their reflexive freeze, and I let out a breath I did not know I had taken. Despite having experienced passing cars multiple times in Ireland, they never fail to freak me out at least a little.

Along the way to the college, the smell of farms laces the crisp winter morning air. I pass many farms on my walk, and the cows and sheep sometimes watch me go by. If I try to talk to them, whether in their native language or mine, if they pay me any heed at all, they stare at me like they are judging me. The birds scour the fields for worms and bugs, but as soon as I come near, they fly as a flock to the safety of a nearby tree until I am far enough away. I do not see the birds’ need to fly out of my reach since there are thorns, ivy, and a stone wall separating us, preventing me from getting to them if I wanted to. Some of the birds hang out near the cows, hopping between their feet and perching on their backs. As I walk up the college road, rain starts falling, and I quicken my pace, hoping to reach the classroom before it starts pouring.

I slip inside, and the sound of the rain is amplified inside the pole-barn-turned-art-studio, turning the raindrops into small marbles bouncing on the tin roof and running off onto the ground. During class, the gusts of wind and sheets of pouring rain sometimes make it difficult to hear others talk, but it is not continuous enough to be a problem. After two hours of discussing Irish literature and doing some creative writing practice, we head to the café for a home-cooked, Irish meal. The specials change from day to day, but the ever-present option of soup with a bagel is a delicious fallback if the special does not appeal. Warm, hearty smells waft through the café, making my mouth water and my stomach growl in anticipation.

Once lunch and photo class are over, I notice the clouds are not as dark, and it has not rained for a few minutes. Deciding to take my chances with the unpredictable weather, I set out for the cottages. I do not see the point in taking the bus when I am in a beautiful county and the temperature is at least 60 degrees warmer than back home. Part of the way to the cottages, it starts raining again, and as I reach Ballyvaughan, I am caught in a downpour. Thankfully, I do not have much farther to go, but I am not particularly looking forward to being wet in the coming minutes. I am more concerned about the rain finding my laptop and books, though.

Upon entering my dry cottage, I take off my shoes and drop off my wet backpack and coat in my bedroom. I brush my hair after toweling it dry before checking that the contents of my backpack avoided the rain. Everything is to my approval, so I grab my homework consisting of Yeats’ works and head to the living room. After setting Yeats on one of the couches, I kneel in front of the fireplace and take six briquettes from the stack. I place two of them on the grate, parallel to each other, and a third across the top of them. I stick a firestarter into the cave I have formed and light it. The fourth briquette goes parallel to the third, completing the log cabin that surrounds the flame. I carefully set the fifth and sixth briquettes over the flames at an angle and place the wire shield in front of the source of warmth I have created. I curl up on the couch with Yeats’ poems, every so often going back to the fire to blow on the briquettes to keep the flames lively. Since Ireland has been working tirelessly to be as green as possible, heating is used sparingly. The heaters in our cottage periodically turn on for a mere five minutes, which is enough to keep the cottage livable, but any extra warmth must be provided with a fire.

At suppertime, I head to a local pub to eat with some friends. We claim a booth in a corner, and we quickly order since we almost have the menus memorized from going so many times. We enjoy chatting about whatever comes to mind as we wait for our food, but we fall silent as we descend upon our freshly cooked meals. After a few hours filled with more talking, watching the TV, using the Wi-Fi, and discussing Yeats’ convoluted poetry, we decide we should head back to our cottages. We march through the misty streets lit by the gold emanating from the streetlights.

Once I am in my cottage, I put on my pajamas and read a little more. When my eyes start drooping despite reading Yeats’ renditions of the epic legends of Cuchulain, I realize it is time to sleep. I slip out of my slippers and into my bed, turning off the light via the switch above my headboard. My blankets are cool from the lack of warmth in the cottage, but after a few minutes, my body heat warms them. I snuggle into my pillow, ready for a good night’s sleep after another day in the Emerald Isle.

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 As I wait for my brain to stop thinking so I can drift off to dreamland, I think about being in Ireland. There have been a lot of firsts for me: first time not knowing my roommates, or really anyone on the trip, for that matter; first time having to buy my own groceries and cook for myself for an extended period of time; first time staying in one place in a foreign country and really coming to know it….

This pondering is not helping my brain wind down, but the ramblings continue, and I figure maybe if I just go with it, I will eventually fall asleep. My brain wanders to the differences between Ireland and the States. Here energy conservation is very important: turn off the lights when you leave a room; switch off outlets when you are not using them; the hot water is electric, so do not take a shower and do your laundry at the same time; it takes too much energy to heat an entire cottage, so use the fireplace if you are too cold.

Turning off the lights is something we do in America (at least, we are supposed to), but we do not think twice if we accidentally leave the lights on. My half-asleep state recalls leaving for a guest speaker one evening. We were all in the van, turning onto the road outside the cottages when our driver Robert commented, “Someone left the light on. The ozone is going to burn, and we’re all going to die.” He was exaggerating, of course, but I had not turned off the outside light on purpose so we would be able to see where we were walking when we returned that night. Americans do it all the time, so I had not thought anything of it. I felt really guilty, but I was too ashamed to speak up and we were part way down the road anyway, so I pushed the illicit light to the deep recesses of my mind, knowing it would probably never truly go away and deciding to be more intentional with lights in the future.

My restless brain jumps back to the present, and I make a mental note to check my e-mail in the morning to see if the professors have sent us the updated itinerary yet. If the Wi-Fi in the cottage is being obnoxious, as it likes to, I can check at the college. I hope the Wi-Fi will cooperate, though. It is so annoying when e-mails will not appear when I know I have new ones because the notifications say I do, or when I am trying to pass downtime on Facebook, but the pictures or comments simply will not load! I take a deep breath to calm myself down. Getting angry at the Wi-Fi will not make it work, nor will it help me get to sleep. I contemplate looking at my watch to see how much time my rambling thoughts have wasted, but I decide against it since opening my eyes will probably set back my efforts to fall asleep.

Just when I think I have my ramblings in check, I think of the pile of dishes accumulating around the sink. If everyone just did their dishes when they finish a meal, the kitchen would look so much nicer, and small amounts of work frequently is better than large amounts of work infrequently. I wash all the dishes and wipe down the counters, hoping my cottagemates will get the hint that they should clean up after themselves immediately, but I guess I am too subtle because my cleaning never seems to do anything except create clean dishes.

Calm down, I tell myself. Unless I am going to get up and do the dishes now, nothing can be done about it tonight. Tomorrow I can tell my cottagemates my thoughts about kitchen etiquette.

But I am a Minnesotan, so I do not do that confrontational thing. Chances are I will never mention any of this to them, but it will end up on the blog in my final essay. Passive-aggressiveness at its finest.

Well, if I am going to stay stubborn about this, I might as well learn patience in the meantime. Besides, getting riled up is not going to help me get to sleep, so I do my best to forget about it.

My still active brain skips to the impending final project for the trip and the essays I will have to write. One of the topics captures my thoughts: how this trip has changed me. How has this trip changed me? As I lie in bed waiting to fall asleep, I feel like I have not changed. I still get frustrated when the Internet is slow, and I am no more assertive than I was before, as evidenced by the dirty dishes. I have made friends with new people, but I had done that before on other trips and at college, so I am not any more outgoing because of Ireland. The trip has brought out my easy-going side, such as when we walked to the caves despite the pouring rain and howling wind for much longer than we had anticipated, but once again, I had that trait back home.

I sigh as the whirlwind of my thoughts slows down. Maybe my change is not obvious to me because I have been with myself the whole trip, but when I get back to America, people will comment on how I have changed in little ways. I snuggle into my pillow, sleep at last taking its hold. I guess I will have to wait and see.

 

Selections from “A Day’s Journey”, my natural landscape portfolio.

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Selections from “Crosses of Ireland”, my urban landscape portfolio.

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