Some of you asked, and I said I might at some point post bits and pieces from what I’ve been writing. It’s strange not posting every day so I’ve decided I will try to share a bit every now and then.
Below is what is for now approximately chapter 5. It is a thinly veiled fictional recounting of one of my first days living in Ireland, the day before I started my job. On that day, I spent over 6 hours climbing Carrauntoohil, Ireland’s tallest mountain.
I haven’t edited this excerpt. At all. I know there are typos and there maybe things that don’t make sense or are repetitive, but I’m trying not to go back and re-read or edit for now.
I hope you enjoy it.
That morning, the local radio stations warned of gale-force winds blowing up from the sea on the other side of the mountains. The grey sweeping clouds hid the top of the Reeks from view.
The bustling preparations began early as everyone got ready to go. Tea was counselled on what to bring along with her; chocolate for energy, a lunch, water, layers of clothing.
When everything was set, they all piled into cars, Tea travelling with her housemate, Beatrice, and Beatrice’s German boyfriend.
They moved as a convoy of small bright cars through the quiet, damp, narrow roads of the countryside. They passed farms, fields dotted with sheep and cows, and bordered by stone walls criss-crossing the countryside. They wound their way almost imperceptibly upward, toward the parking lot and entrance gate to the park.
Tea had driven in the shadow of Carrantoohil with her mother the year before. They had marvelled at its majesty, at the breathtaking views of lakes shadowed by the mountain, lakes that flowed out through clear, white rivers, and lakes that were fed by rushing waterfalls. Rugged boulders jutted out as cliffs overhanging these views and trees grew alongside them, glowing emerald green with the moss that grew up their trunks and the ivy that tangled and dripped from their branches.
It still took her breath away, all the more in fact, now that she was seeing it from a different angle.
They climbed out of the cars and joined the others from the mountaineering club, preparing to begin the upward ascent. Organizing themselves into various levels of experience, they started out.
Tea found it hard keeping up; she wanted to look around and take in the views. But there was a long day ahead and they had to keep moving.
The walk, for that was what it was at the beginning, began gently, a meandering gravel path winding upwards for about an hour to the spot where the real climbing began.
Tea noticed that the vibrant green was slowly being replaced by ochre; long grasses swaying in the wind seemed to be readying themselves for fall.
They regrouped at the bottom of the first steep climb and then started off again. They were climbing up dark grey rocks that seemed to have been jettisoned carelessly by giants, and left to gather at the foot of the mountain. Here and there, white water splashed down between and behind them in thin rivulets.
The rain began to fall lightly.
The group continued their steep climb. Tea enjoyed lapsing into the solitude of her thoughts as she picked her way over the rocks. It reminded her of climbing on play structures as a child. It felt playful.
At the top of the first section, they paused to catch their breath and have a snack. It was raining earnestly now. Tea looked ahead and saw a wide, flat, golden plain of long grasses stretching for what seemed to be miles, until it ran into the wall of the mountain; the next climb up. In the middle of the plain was a small, smooth lake, its surface like glass. It seemed to be hidden, dark and mysterious and only there for those who knew of its existence, for those who came up here.
They walked toward the lake, skirting along its right shore. As they passed its mid-point, Tea turned to look back across it, toward the top of the rocky climb they had completed earlier. The lake like a mirror reflected the sky so perfectly that it seemed she was upside down, that the sky lay at her feet, stretching across the broad plain.
There was no time to pause, though, and she was moved along among the others. She was focused on the climb, on not misstepping, as the path veered steeply upward. She enjoyed the focus, gripping the rocks with hands and feet, pulling herself up, thinking of nothing other than the next few feet in front of her.
But as she got into the rhythm, she couldlnt help but feel some frustration. She wanted to absorb the experience. The rest of them lived here and had done this climb countless times. Tea wanted to be able to stop, breathe in the air and take in the views. She wanted the chance to let this new reality sink in – to really try to grasp that here she was, newly arrived in Ireland, living here, about to start a job on Monday, and that right now, she was climbing a mountain. Here she was, surrounded by the power of nature, Ireland’s nature, and if she could only look around at it, she might see some of the magic and power she was sure were there. She might see a ring fort, standing stones, a glimpse of ancient history. Anything could happen, it seemed, here where nature was at its most elemental. And so every now and then, she glanced above and below to try to take in some of the scenery. To see what she could see.
The wind was getting stronger, the air colder and the sky darker but the summit still loomed high above them.
A few hours into the climb, they stopped in the shelter of some rocks to have lunch. It was cold and Tea’s fingers cramped and went numb as she tried to eat.
Finally she had some time to look around. She had the sense of a power just below her, like a sleeping giant, not awake but present, and forgotten. She tried to ask about ring forts in the region, and other aspects of the country’s ancient history but people seemed uninterested, furrowed their brows, didn’t know. She would come to realize that few people really cared about those things anymore, despite the power and beauty of nature surrounding them.
After lunch, the climb became steeper still and the drizzle turned into fat, soaking drops. Everyone donned their rain gear and pulled up their hoods against the wind and rain. It was impossible to speak, between the difficulty of the climb and the isolating effect of the roaring wind and the rain. It was almost impossible to see, too; every time Tea looked up or around, she got a facefull of water. The world was grey and matted out only a few feet in front of her.
The path they were climbing became narrower, just a trail of gravel the width of a person’s foot. She had the sense that out there, beyond the grey, the world dropped off suddenly into nothingness.
At one point on the way up, Tea thought they had reached the peak. They were certainly on what seemed to be the top and as they emerged from the wall of rock that had been blocking them from whatever was happening on the other side of the mountain, the gale force winds hit them full in the face. Tea instinctively reached for the ground to brace herself from being blown away. They told her then that they still had to make their way across the ridge to a distant, slightly higher elevation. That was the peak.
Looking around at the group, Tea was slightly cheered to note that she wasn’t the slowest among them, and that in fact, several people had already turned back. She felt less as though she was holding people back. She felt as though she had to prove herself capable of making it the full way, in order to be accepted by those she was with. In all likelihood, she did not. In all likelihood, they wouldn’t have cared if she had turned back with the others. But at the time, it mattered to her that she make it.
This dogged determination, though spurred on by insecurity, was what caused her to put her head down and continue the trek. She had no doubt that she would make it to the top.
And so, on she went, moving with the line of brightly hooded figures through the wind and rain and cloud that now swirled about them.
When they finally did reach the peak, she could see a large black cross looming out of the grim weather. The wind whipped about it so that it seemed impossible that it remained standing. But there it was, as it had been for years, stoic, neither bent nor blown over nor blown away.
Tea stood in the middle of the flattened surface at the peak, at the highest point in Ireland, and felt the wind and rain battering her from all sides. She remembered the feeling of the wind and rain at home, in the city, recalled standing in a storm and feeling the wind swell. This power up here at the top of Ireland was so much stronger that whatever she had felt at home became but a memory, faded by the vibrancy of this new experience.
She closed her eyes and breathed in the power of the wind, felt it whip around her, felt its power mingle with her own. She felt like a priestess communing with nature. In that moment, it didn’t matter if the rest of Ireland had forgotten this magic, this raw power, it didn’t matter if they all lived blindly at the doorstep of such beauty and took it for granted. She certainly did not. And she vowed that no matter how many years passed, she would always look upon the mountains and lakes and trees of her new home with wonder and appreciation and gratitude for the experience.
This was a sensation that would return to her time and time again. Kerry especially had so many untouched, unspoiled places that she often found her self breathing in the beauty, touched with awe at its vastness, its grandess and its powerful pull which kept her tied there, unable to turn her back and walk away, no matter how homesick she may get. And she did suffer over the years with homesickness, but the beauty of the land would hold her there, at least for a while.
The climb back down the mountain was almost more strenuous and challenging than the ascent had been. They picked their way gingerly, one rock at a time, back down the mountain. Tea was reminded of a canoe trip she took as a child at camp. They had canoed down a whitewater river and had climbed over the rocks of almost dry riverbeds and waterfalls.
At the bottom, over six hours after they had set out, they all looked at each other and recognized their accomplishment for the day. At that lower elevation, the rain had become soft and gentle once more and the wind had subsided.
Tea looked back up at Carrauntoohil, its top half submerged in thick cloud cover, and smiled at its shadowy face.
She and Beatrice and the others met up at a pub in the hills. There was nothing but sheep and rocks around for miles. A fire was crackling in the stone hearth and the trekers ordered beers and sandwiches and coffees, warming and thawing slowly, and glowing with the effects of a day out in the elements.
Tea knew she would sleep well that night, and that the next day, her first day of work, might be painful. But she had done it, and she had touched some of the spirit of the land she had believed was there. That would be enough to carry her through the daunting first few weeks of joining the Irish labour force.