Downpatrick Head – Imagining Spring in Ireland
Dún Briste – (broken fort) the sea stack is the landmark most associated with Downpatrick Head on the north coast of County Mayo. We took pictures of the “sea pinks” that bloom on the cliff tops in May. Dan and I loved spending the morning in this magical thin place.
It snowed on the first day of spring this year in Maryland. And just next to my view of the dreary cold weather outside my window was the screen of my iMac in screen saver mode showing images of Ireland. A photo of the “sea pinks” that bloom on the cliff tops in Downpatrick Head on the north coast of County Mayo flashed across the screen, and I remembered the visit Dan and I made there. Downpatrick Head is a stop on our Images in the Landscape tour this September. I always load up my screen saver with the Ireland photos of sites on my tours that year, just to keep me inspired and keep that mystical landscape on my mind.
My mind frequently wanders to Ireland. In those rare, still moments when I can close my eyes and imagine certain places, I almost always go to Ireland. I place myself in the live landscape at that particular hour. I contemplate the time change – Is it daylight or night time? Where is the moon (or sun). Is it raining, cold, warm? Are the flowers peeking through the stones at the Burren? Have the waterfalls thawed at Gougane Barra? Are the birds singing in the King Oak at Charleville? Is the path warming up in the deep shade of the Altadaven Forest at St. Patrick’s Chair? Is the sand singing at Whitepark Bay?
Once I settle into that imaginary landscape, the colors take over my mind, then the sounds, then finally — the wind. It seems there’s always wind blowing in Ireland.
I’m reading a fantastic new book by Robert Macfarlane entitled Landmarks, which is about the language that developed around elements of the landscape in the UK and Ireland, and the power of “landscape language.” McFarlane comments in the very first chapter about language shifts that move away from nature and toward technology.
“…Under pressure, Oxford University Press revealed a list of the entries [in the new Oxford Junior Dictionary] it no longer felt to be relevant to modern-day childhood. The deletions included acorn, adder, ash, beech, bluebell, buttercup, catkin, conker, cowslip, cygnet, dandelion, fern, hazel, heather, heron, ivy, kingfisher, lark, mistletoe, nectar, newt, otter, pasture and willow. The words introduced to the new edition included attachment, block-graph, blog, broadband, bullet-point, celebrity, chatroom, committee, cut-and-paste, MP3 player and voice-mail.”
I plead guilty to loving technology, gadgets and the amazing world of telecommunication, but I’ve never embraced it at the expense of stopping and noticing the details in nature. And I’m kind of sad to see winter go here on the Eastern Shore of Maryland (my second favorite mystical landscape). I love the cold blasts of wind that comes off the Chesapeake Bay, the bare trees and loblolly pines against the sky, and I also love that rare occasion when we get snow.
It blurs the hard edges, covers debris and brings out the bluest skies. But as the earth moves closer the sun and the days get longer, the warmth will subtract the icy dew, the snow and the cold winds coming off the sea. And the flowers, leaves and grass will peek through that void until we forget all about the cold days when we stayed inside to keep warm.
But the snow and cold have passed and today will be the first day of 2015 when I get on my bike and ride out into our flat landscape and connect with the new life that pulsing in the landscape.
Here’s to March … and here’s to Spring … and here’s to noticing the details. Those details – the things we only notice when we stand still and look – are the things that connect me to the thin places.
Photos by Dan and me (Mindie Burgoyne). Special thanks to Joe McGowan and John Willmott who helped identify “sea pinks” and their healing properties.