fear and longing in scotland

Here’s the beginning of a piece I wrote for a reading about Drink that was held in a local bar.

When I was twenty I got on a plane and went to Edinburgh, Scotland, to live for a year. It was 1978 and I had just graduated from college and was headed to Scotland because I had won a fellowship from a foundation that wrote me a check for $6,000 and said have a good time. I had to do a project outside the United States and I chose one in Scotland because it seemed more exotic than England and yet they still spoke English. Kind of.

When I left my little village in upstate New York thirty years ago and landed in Edinburgh in the beginning of September I didn’t know a soul. I’d never traveled before, and wasn’t connected to a college or university so I knew there would be no one to help me make plans or to fall back on when I failed miserably at whatever it was I was going to do. I took a cab from the airport to the university and had the cabbie drop me off at the student union along with my suitcase and my backpack. Three hours later – after making one phone call to a number found on a card pinned to a bulletin board – I was standing in my bedroom in a flat in Morningside, a nice neighborhood of row houses just beyond the university. My flatmates were Phani, a man from Greece who had a brain tumor and was studying political science at the university; Amir, an engineering student from Iran; and Michiko, Amir’s girlfriend from Japan. We had varying degrees of proficiency in English from my less-than-perfect use of the language to Michiko, who spoke no English at all. (click here to read the rest of the piece.)

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belfast

I spent about 20 days in Ireland  (six days care of the volcanic ash cloud that hovered over Irish air space). I had the fabulous gig of blogging about my experiences for The Atlantic.

I loved every place I visited. Someone asked what my favorite area was and I said it would be like asking someone to identify their favorite child. The last place I stayed was Belfast and I had some time to poke around the city and region care of the volcanic ash cloud. The architecture is eclectic ranging from the City Hall, which is as fancy-dancy as a wedding cake, to new buildings with glass domes (they seem to like circular buildings and domes in Belfast).

One area of Belfast is well-known for being a war zone between the Catholic and Protestant neighborhoods. A by-product of The Troubles are the murals painted on the ends of buildings and walls.

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trapped beneath the volcanic ash cloud

I’ve been stuck in Belfast for days and there’s no end in sight because the volcanic ash cloud from the spewing Eyjafjallajökull volcano in Iceland is just sitting over Ireland. It’s so strange and wonderful to hear or see no air traffic, though. I’m off to the Giant’s Causeway today — I can’t be this close and not see those wonderful basaltic columns.

They say the sunsets arelikely to be more amazing because of the ash — here’s what I saw last night from my hotel window so I can’t complain.

What scientists are looking at now is whether or not Katla, the nearby volcano in Iceland that always erupts when this one does, is going to blow. I really hope there’s a break in the action before that happens because as much as I like Ireland, I do want to go home.

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i’ve been in ireland

It’s a glorious time of year to be in Ireland — green, green grass; lots of daffodils, trees just thinking about budding out. I’ve been blogging about the trip for The Atlantic and if you’re interested, you can follow the journey by clicking here.  Here’s the beginning of a post about canoeing in a lake near Killarny.

Last evening I took such a lovely paddle around Ross Island in Lough Leane outside of Killarney. Nathan Kingerlee of Outdoors Ireland collected me from my hotel and I’m sure when he took a look at me (overweight middle-aged woman) he quickly recalculated how far we’d make it in the canoe. Nathan’s a young, strapping lad with close-cropped black hair and ruddy cheeks and hails from Killorglin, the small town that worships a wild goat annually during Puck Fair. He started Outdoors Ireland about five years ago and is making a go of it by selling adventure trips and teaching people how to do all manner of outdoorsy things. He’s smart and savvy and fully understands the role of carefully marketing his business. And because he’s a young guy, he blogs and tweets and is as comfortable around his computer as he is climbing a mountain.

The water was really high where the canoe was tethered — had innundated part of the forest — and canoeing out of there and toward the open water was a little like canoeing in a southern bayou. As we headed toward the lake, we passed mallards and a gray heron and Nathan told me to be on the lookout for a pair of nesting swans. [to read the rest of the post, click here.]

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a mixed message

 

These discarded tulips in a dumpster behind some greenhouses at Cornell University caught my eye a couple of weeks ago when we had so much snow and it seemed as if spring would never, ever come. Of course, spring did come and although there are still a few piles of dirty snow in hanging on in the shadows of buildings, they’re sharing groundspace with crocuses and snowdrops.

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green burial

The other day I went to Greensprings natural cemetary and nature preserve and witnessed a green burial. Although it was the beginning of March the snow was about thigh deep up on top of the hill outside Newfield, New York. Greensprings owns about a hundred acres and since opening a couple of years ago, has buried about sixty people.

Here’s a view of the open grave on the crest of the hill.

Mary Woodsen, Greensprings trustee, cuts and brings Norway spruce boughs to cover the dirt pile. Later, the family will place these boughs in the grave on top of the body.

A chair for the mother of the deceased young woman is placed near the open grave.

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walking in the dark

It’s been snowy and dreary in Upstate New York. Here’s the beginning of a little piece I wrote for YourLifeIsATrip.com:

“It was a yak trax morning. Well, lately every morning’s been a yak trax morning because the snow just keeps falling and if I don’t wear those metal coils on my feet, I’ll keep falling as well. I take a walk with my friend Heather at 6:00 a.m. every day. I like to walk with Heather because she owns a reflective vest and I feel like she will be the first to go when we get hit by the salt truck that comes barreling around the corner. Me, I dress in blacks and browns and blend in beautifully with the landscape and the darkness. And during deer hunting season, I don’t go anywhere without Heather because I know I look like a big deer just begging to be shot.

Before we began walking in the pitch black – the shift happened somewhere in December – I used to look for animal tracks in the snow on the sidewalk. One morning I saw deer tracks followed by two sets of kitty tracks, then skunk tracks, and finally rabbit tracks — and this was all on my front sidewalk – leading me to conclude that I must stay awake one night to see if the animals actually meet in front of my house for a party or if they all have someplace to go. Now that it’s dark when I leave the house, I expect to actually run into some of these animals on the sidewalk but except for the long-haired black and white cat named Feisty they’ve all managed to avoid me – I suspect they’re lurking between the houses, waiting for me to pass before continuing with their early morning party scene (to read more click here).

the swamp at dawn

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