Thursday, July 14, 2016

The Fifth Letter

Gotta love an Ogham stone
Dearest Ireland,

When I was nine, my parents decided we had outgrown our little house on Canton Street, and the search began for a bigger, better place to grow older.  Knowing my parents as I do, I'm guessing that period was stressful and highly unpleasant for them. But for care-free me, it was exciting.

I remember going day after day with realtors looking at possibilities and watching my mom and dad sigh and shake their heads time after time.  Personally, I loved every place the realtor took us: Ollie May's house on a bluff overlooking the river, then the dilapidated Victorian fixer-upper that made my mother's heart swoon and my dad's blood pressure rise (although later it appeared in a spread of Country Living magazine and I think they may have had some regrets).

But my favorite, by far, was a storybook stone cottage nestled in some isolated woods with a fishing pond in the front yard.  I had already picked out my bedroom on the second floor when some friends of ours offered to buy the house on Canton Street if we would swap houses with them.  The ease of that transition was impossible for my parents to resist. End of journey....done deal.

I never stopped thinking about that stone house. When I was a teenager I went home from a pool party with a new friend and guess where she lived. Yep! But I hardly recognized it. Land developers had bought the woods, razed most of the trees and created a monstrous modern housing community completely surrounding the little house. The pond had been drained and the little house was .....Okay, this is starting to sound like a sappy children's book so I'll stop.

Jerpoint Abbey
Kilcooley Abbey

The point is......since that time, and maybe before, I have been intrigued by, truly fascinated with stone.  I drool over stone buildings and tiles and statues and grave markers and anything made of solid rock (which is okay because the drool wipes right off).  Since there are virtually no rocks in Florida larger than pebbles, for years I would gather chunks of granite (the biggest my husband could lift) by the road side when I visited my family in Georgia. On each trip, we would haul home at least one respectable  boulder. So now I have a lovely rock garden in my Florida yard and passers-by smile but give me puzzled looks.

You can imagine, dear Ireland, the effect your landscapes have on me. I find you absolutely stunning (not even considering the floral fields and rolling hills and all the shades of green).  I'm hopelessly drawn to your medieval ruins.... the castles, abbeys, towers, etc. I love to wander around them and press my hands against the damp, lichen-splattered walls that are so incredibly thick. And I like climbing up the steep, uneven steps and just basking in my own imaginings. I close my eyes and envision robes dragging up the narrow stair wells and iron pots clanking against the raised hearths.... the hustle and bustle of daily life in a simpler, but perhaps more dangerous time. Maybe I've seen too many movies.

Drombeg stone circle

Even more compelling are the ancient standing stones and stone circles that Doc and I have explored. I circle the circles until I'm dizzy with speculation, conjuring up an affinity with your earliest settlers.  I can't help but admire their determination to find form and meaning in the chaos of life, although I'm sure some of their pagan practices would have put me off (human sacrifice, for instance, may have been slightly distasteful). But I like to think I would have been enthusiastically right there, helping to erect and arrange those stones (if they let the women do that sort of thing) and contemplating a future when things might be simpler, but perhaps more dangerous.
Decorated kerb stone at Newgrange

On Monday,  Doc and I went to see the famous passage tombs at Newgrange and Knowth (Perhaps thou Knowth nothing about them). They were built around 3000 BC of stones weighing an average of 10 tons each. And I think I remember our guide saying there were around 300 of them, carried from a place about 20 km away (before wheels!).  Many retain the original designs of artisans who could never have dreamed their simple carvings would chisel awe into the hearts of descendents so far up the time line.

We weren't allowed inside Knowth, but were led through the 19 meter passage of Newgrange into the cruciform inner chamber (no pix allowed). We, a group of  bug-eyed tourists and curious locals, were huddled together in amazement under the corbelled ceiling of sandstone megaliths as we tried to absorb the drama of sunlight piercing the darkness on the winter solstice.  Questions swirled in our heads like the spiral patterns far above, but most of us were silent.  We knew this place was sacred,  a cathedral so primitive and yet more elaborate than anything built since.

High cross at Monasterboice
Some people say, dear Ireland, that God is not impressed with man's efforts......but I sure am! And I'm thankful He provided us such a grand and resilient medium to work with.