Ireland Journal, Part 1

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Irish. I am told it is called Irish, not Gaelic, even if the linguists call it Irish Gaelic, because it’s Irish, goddammit.

Noted.

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The song my grandmother used to sing was a terribly mangled version of Did Your Mother Come From Ireland? Grandma liked Bing Crosby. The fact that I have now both kissed the Blarney and visited Killarney would impress her to no end.

Back from Ireland

I have returned safely from the Emerald Isle, and holy crap, I don’t even know what to say, but being me, I will now expend a pile of words to say it.

First, there’s the color.

To call Ireland green is to commit glaring sins of omission. It is the sort of green reserved for gods and Pantone swatches. Kelly green, acid green, the greens you see in jars of pure mineral pigment, greens that blow out your photos the way that red roses or blue skies do. Green as primary color.

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When I lived in Oregon, I thought it was green, and then I moved to North Carolina and realized that it had been grey-green. North Carolina, I thought, was green. Then I went to Ireland. Now I see how yellow the undertones here are, and how desaturated the greens are by comparison. Fortunately, I am told that the only color that compares to Ireland is in the depths of the rainforest, so it will stay green in my head for a long time.

Also, as with so much of Europe, things are relentlessly old. I stood on the battlements of a ruined castle built at the same time as Blarney Castle and I could see three other ruins from the top. “Oh,” said my friend Carlota, “that’s the NEW ruin, over there…” Eventually it became a running joke–“Oh, that’s the NEW standing stone…”  It became exciting when the new building wasn’t older than my country. Occasionally they predated Europeans in North America at all.

Yes, I’m including the Vikings.

But possibly the most intense thing was simply that it was relentlessly, savagely picturesque. You could point your camera in any direction and come away with a postcard. It was beautiful, and it kept being beautiful, and eventually it got to the point where you would look over the view and start swearing, because it was being beautiful again.

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After awhile, you stopped going “How lovely!” and started going “How do people stand this?”

(I asked Twitter. Residents uttered some variation on “Whiskey” and “You get used to it, but whiskey helps.”)

You just have to figure that sooner or later, living in that kind of beauty would weigh down on you, and you’d either become hard as diamond or break and become a poet. It’s just…intense. I think of people who left there–my ancestors, some of ’em–to come to America because of poverty or starvation or hope or whatever, and I can get just the smallest glimpse of what that must have been like–enough to know what I can’t really imagine what it was really like. America is beautiful, don’t get me wrong! (I believe there’s a song about it.) But it’s a completely different sort of beauty, a sort that doesn’t much care about the people on it. If we all died tomorrow, I doubt America would even notice much, but Ireland would be sad that the people were gone. It’s the difference between the Rockies and a green field with a black horse grazing surrounded by rooks, under a hill covered in mist. They’re both beautiful, it’s just…scale.

I don’t know. Maybe I’m raving. I am only a tourist and don’t pretend to know anything about what life is really like there. It was just…so intense.

 

Kevin vs. Killdeer

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When Kevin and I were in New Orleans a month or so ago, we were out birding and encountered this killdeer in a parking lot. It immediately set about convincing Kevin that its wing was broken. Really broken. SO BROKEN YOU GUYS.

Killdeer are, of course, justly famous for this trick. They do it to lure predators away from the nest. Kevin ambled after the bird with a camera and I watched them do a slow motion chase scene across the parking lot.

Eventually, having taken about a million photos, Kevin stopped. But the killdeer did not. There were four of us, but Kevin, rescuer of kittens, was clearly the menace. It was practically charging him waving its “broken” wing.

Kevin: No, I’m done, it’s okay.

Killdeer: MY WING IS SUPER BROKEN

Kevin: I have no interest in your nest.

Killdeer: THIS WING, RIGHT HERE? I BROKE IT IN THE WAR. TWO WARS. SEVEN WARS. SO MANY WARS.

Kevin: I’m starting to feel weird about this, bird.

Killdeer: AAUGH LOOK NOW MY OTHER WING IS BROKEN TOO

Kevin: …

Killdeer: I WILL RUN A LITTLE WAY AND FALL OVER WAVING MY BROKEN WINGS THE PAIN THE PAIN

Kevin: I’m not going to chase you.

Killdeer: YOU HAVE TO CHASE ME MY WINGS ARE BROKEN ALSO I BELIEVE MY LEGS ARE GOING

Kevin: This is just sad.

Killdeer: I BELIEVE I AM ALSO ON FIRE

Kevin: You’re still going.

Killdeer: THERE IS NO PAIN LIKE THIS PAIN PLEASE STEP A LITTLE FARTHER THIS WAY I AM SURELY ABOUT TO BE CAUGHT AT ANY MOMENT

Kevin: Fine, if it’ll make you happy.

(Kevin ambles after Killdeer)

Killdeer: JUST A LITTLE FARTHER…A LITTLE BIT FARTHER AND SURELY I WILL STOP RUNNING AWAY DID I MENTION THAT MY WINGS ARE SUPER-BROKEN?!

(Kevin, camera in hand, stumbles onto a group of King Rail chicks in the ditch)

Rail Chicks: AAAAAAAUUUUUUGGGHHHHMONSTER

Kildeer: AHAHA DEVOUR THEM, MY ENEMY, WHILE I FLEE BACK TO MY CHILDREN ON MY MAGICALLY HEALED WINGS

Kevin: …that bird is a jerk.

(Photo by Kevin)

Naturalist Mystery

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A mystery for all my naturalist buddies out there…

I spent the weekend in the swamps of Lousiana, specifically a mixed cypress & palmetto bayou. (Early May, in case this post sticks around for awhile.) We were birding in the middle of the day, and at one point, we stopped because some Gray Gnatcatchers were bopping around in a tree with what may have been a Nashville Warbler.

All of a sudden, a sound started up off to one side. It was not a bird call that anyone recognized (and I was with two people who bird very well by ear.) It was not a gator grunt, nor a green frog banjo-twang, nor any of the tree frogs that I know, nor the buzz of a cicada. It sounded like someone driving with a squeaky fan belt.

“Fan belt bird,” said one of my birding companions.

And then the noise came very much closer and all of a sudden there were several of them calling, all around us, from high off the ground. The noise of multiple…whatevers…calling in this rising-and-falling sound had an incredibly loud, incredibly eerie effect. “It’s aliens,” I said. “Soon the probes will come.”

I have no idea what it actually was. My only guess is some kind of insect, but it could be some kind of frog. Does anybody have any thoughts?

Faking the Rough Draft

(And thanks to archangelbeth for the analogy!)

Art derives from artifice and is inherently artificial. I may want to produce gorgeous authentic journal pages in my sketchbook, but I can’t. So I scan the weird little doodles and frantic blatherings in the sketchbook and produce them on the computer, because I grew up on the computer, goddamnit.

And they come out looking like this.

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