She Rises

(That’s a stork up there)

Yesterday morning we left Portugal. As I write we are in a town in Spain called Palencia. Leaving was a strange experience. First, the road was narrow and it twisted this way and that as it wound though the mountains. I was twisting this way and that too. It was uncomfortable. I hate leaving.

(The town of Puebla de Sanabria, Spain)

Just another characteristic of my human mind. Discomfort makes me crave familiarity. I am discomforted by change. The road signs change. The names of towns are unfamiliar. The possibility of a morning coffee very unlikely. I am a creature of habit breaking a well formed habit and it’s painful.

(River view)

We arrived at our destination for the night, a car park in the town of Puebla de Sanabria. It was hot. There was no shade. I was grumpy. The nearest coffee was up, up, up a steep gradient on the other side of the river. It was getting hotter. There will be no coffee. I leave Denis to park the van while I take my mood to the riverside.

(Can you see her?)

And there she is. Standing waiting for me. How quickly I forget. A stork. Every stork has been reminding me to stay present. Reminding me to drop my expectations, my past losses, my future hopes. Just be here now.

(Just at the last moment… she rises)

I looked across at the other side of the river and it’s beautiful. I hadn’t noticed. I missed something beautifully right in front of me because I was holding on tight to something I didn’t have.

I made tea instead of wishing for coffee. Mairead.

Silves’ elusive things

(A glimpse of the wall)

There are two things you see a lot of in Silves – the old moorish walls and the storks. Funny enough both are hard to photograph as you walk around. The storks are always too far away. So I had to stop trying and just watch them instead. The walls are surrounded by houses built in their shadow so there’s only a glimpse ever now and then of their red stone.

(Storks on top of the supermarket)

The storks build their nests on top of electricity poles or tall chimneys or on the corner of a very tall abandoned house. They are so graceful when they fly off to find food for their chicks. I think their grace is connected to their size, they have to glide everywhere to remain in balance. The ends of their wings are like long fingers and I think that’s what they use to change direction. When they have picked a direction their long legs seem to click back against their abdomen so that they are streamlined.

(On top of a pole)

Looking at them from underneath as they fly over me I am reminded of an airplane tucking in the wheels as it lifts off. Whenever they do fly over me I am unable to even think, all I can do is stare up with my mouth slightly open and watch. It’s only afterwards I consider my luck at being in exactly this place as they pass by.

(On an edge of the old walls)

You will never guess what is happening as I write… we are parked beside a river today far away from Silves and a stork just walked up the river outside my window. It’s 7am there’s no one else around so I guess she feels safe to walk so close to the vans. Watching her now at such close quarters I realize why storks are so hard to capture on my phone. They are very, very wary. This one seems to jump when a smaller bird flies too close. She even seems to be aware of my watching. I am not moving a muscle, I am in the van and there is a window between us but she has stopped fishing and she is alert for danger.

(Can you see her?)

She started walking up the river out of my sight so I risked grabbing my other camera and sneaking out of the van and up the river bank. She didn’t hear me but as soon as I had cleared the trees she snapped to attention and rose into the air. I didn’t even get a chance to watch, I was watching my footing instead. When I looked up she was in the grass on the far side walking parallel to the riverbank. I had a clear view but she was far away from me.

(Here’s a zoomed in one)

This is the closest I’ve been to one as they walk and they are not as graceful on the ground. Her legs are impossibly thin and her body so much bigger. So the balancing requires more jerky movements as she places one foot down, rocks her body back to be able to place the other as she steps, steps, steps through the grass. For some reason it reminds me of a documentary on television where the scientist is placing drops into individual tiny glass cylinders. Drop, lift, tilt, drop.

(And another)

And then she was hidden by the trees. Of all the experiences I’ve had on this trip the storks are the ones who remind me to be present. They say, for this one moment I will tuck my impossibly thin legs under me and I will fly over your head and you will not be able to capture this moment, you will not be able to slow it down, you will not be able to share it with others, it is just for here and now and then I will leave.

Here and now, Mairead.

You can see Spain from here…

2018 1

(The view today)

We finally moved on from Serpa. We’d been there ten days, the longest time we’ve spent anywhere on this trip. We were still missing it when we arrived at our new spot on the Spanish border… until we opened the door and saw our view. There are no facilities (no water, no dumping, no bins, no toilets) but it’s completely free and beautiful and the sun is shining. It is also really peaceful.

2018 2

(If you can see a road going up the side of the hill on the left… that’s a Spanish road.)

There could a problem with the internet and phones… but I spotted a cafe when we were winding our way down here, maybe they have wifi. It’s the weekend so one night without internet connection will be fine, right, Denis? I can hear hens crowing and pigeons cooing and tiny birds chirping. And just over the water is Spain. There’s a bridge, we could even visit.

2018 3

(What’s this?)

There’s a strange fruit growing at the far end of the car park. Could it be figs? Well, there’s another thing to imagine – figs growing in the car park by the river. The man in the yellow boat from the first pictures is working in his vegetable garden in Spain. He must have dropped over to Portugal earlier to have a coffee. I see he has a chair waiting for him when he’s finished work. Oh hang on he’s taking out a fishing rod. He’s moving the chair closer to the river bank. He’s taking a long time to sort out the fishing equipment.

2018 6

(There’s a rusty old winch machine near us)

I took my eyes off my man in Spain for a moment and he’s disappeared. I am feeling a strange sense of responsibility for him, no one else is watching him. What if he falls into the river? It’s ok, he’s back in the garden. Must have just been taking a break with the fishing rod.

From my patrol station on the Portuguese/Spanish border, Mairead.

ps Linda (remember who gave me the craft kit?) is running a great workshop in Glendalough next weekend (21/04/18) called MindCraft. There’ll be mindfulness and stories, you’ll learn how to make pebble craft pictures and quilling and you get a lovely lunch. Find out more on (or on the Facebook page.) It’s a fun day and you go home with your very own work of art! Tell Linda I sent you and she might forgive me for swanning off to Portugal!

pps My man in Spain is safely sitting in his chair, fishing.

My dark January.

14 1a

(From winter in Cashel 2010)

It’s January. For me that’s the time of year when my energy is at its lowest. When the winter has been long enough and I want some spring….. now! I want it now like my two-year old self wanted chocolate…. but Spring’s not ready yet. So I have to practice patience.

14 1b

(Spider art)

I thought this year it would be different. I am occupied and preoccupied by my course and I thought that would help me forget it was still winter. It hasn’t. Instead it’s shown up further “issues”. When I’m lacking patience with winter I also lack patience with everything else I meet. I am lacking patience with the accounts (my old foe), with my latest assignments, with housework, with bills, with Denis, with myself.

14 1d

(The lovely side of winter)

I had forgotten it all started with January and I was thinking, “these blasted accounts again”, “how can I ever get this history of art done?”, “when does housework finish?”….. but these are not the problem. In fact there is no problem, I just miss the light. I miss getting up after sunrise and having dinner before sunset, I want more time with the light. So I must choose… between making problems out of normal life and accepting the season called winter.

I want to choose to accept winter…. how hard can it be? Mairead.

The Botanic Gardens in the rain.

27 9a

(The Botanic Gardens in Dublin)

I went to visit the Botanic Gardens in Dublin last Monday. Although it’s less than an hour away I’d never been before. Not for the first time I’ve contemplated going on holidays to my own house and discovering what the area holds…. but that’s for another time. Monday’s visit was in connection with a course I’m attending.

27 9f

(Beautiful shapes in the glasshouses)

It was a cold, wet day but because of the huge glasshouses there’s plenty of inside space. Also, I had my umbrella for the sprints between glasshouses. Unlike my usual tours this one wasn’t about the place. I don’t know who created this beautiful place. I don’t know how old it is. I don’t know how many acres it spans. This tour was about noticing what’s here…. now.

27 9g

(More beautiful shapes)

There was an art exhibition in a big room over the restaurant (there was lovely sweet potato soup in the restaurant). There were huge plants in the Palm house. There were fly-catching plants in another glasshouse… and there was lots of soft rain.

27 9c

(Unusual plant attached to tree bark hanging from a post)

My assignment for my coursework was to take pictures of, and to sketch…. the things that attracted me. Taking pictures was easy, sketching not so… but half the work is taking out the pen and paper and starting…. and quarter of the work is getting over the shame when your sketch looks nothing like the object you’re sketching……

Start… now, Mairead.

Swirling currents and calm patches while we’re here.

09 8a

(Part of Grey Abbey)

After the Physic Garden we wandered around Grey Abbey. It’s in ruins now with only a few walls still standing, but there are helpful drawings dotted around to show us what it looked like when it was fully functioning. There is also an interpretative centre to explain how things might have been in the community and in Ireland at that time. It was a very peaceful place with only the four of us… along with the trees, a carpet of grass, birdsong, the headstones…. and possibly some spirits! We wandered from headstone to headstone and from building to building getting a feeling for what was here before us.

9 8c

(Some light refreshment to keep our energy up)

We went to Portaferry for our lunch. Again a very descriptive name… it’s the ferry port. The ferry is a car ferry across the narrowest point of Strangford Lough, where it meets the sea. Strangford Lough isn’t really a lough or lake – it’s open at one end, (it’s more like an estuary) – it’s a sea lough and it’s huge. Freshwater and salt water, from flowing rivers and tidal currents meet here at Portaferry.

9 8e

(The St. Brendan, our boat for the afternoon, with the car ferry in the background)

After our picnic in the sun we went on a boat trip up the lough (it took two hours to go half-way up – that’s how big the lough is) and as our boat passed the point where the freshwater met the tidal water we could see strange water currents surrounding flat calm water pools.

9 8d

(The swirling sea currents in the lough, with the calm water in the foreground)

I thought of where we stood in Grey Abbey, where previously monks walked and worked. Now, they are historic characters and we are here. In the future, we will be the historic characters. Someone will walk where we walked… but today we are here. And like these water currents sometimes we experience calm and sometimes we experience swirling and that’s what keeps happening while we’re here…

Tomorrow, the old fishing village, Mairead.

Pause…. now, have a look at that thing you did….

30 7a

(Seagull, taking a pause in Bath)

I was digging in the garden yesterday and my project is very close to completion. You might remember the garden was overrun by weeds and I wondered how I might clear it? Turns out clearing it one step at a time works! At the moment though it looks very bare and I almost miss the green of the weeds… There’s a layer of weed control membrane and pink-grey stones, soon it will need some pots and colours, but not today. Today my body is aching and it may be a little time before I return to the land. In the meantime I can enjoy just looking at the stones…

30 7b

(Taking a pause looking at the sea in the ferry)

This looking got me thinking about all the times I’ve completed something and I didn’t take time to appreciate it or me for the completion. Take something as simple as cooking dinner, when it’s cooked we eat, we clear away and we go onto the next thing to do. When I finished school I went straight into exams and then worried about getting into college. Last night I had a dream that I was back doing those exams! When I finish posting this blog I will get my breakfast and go straight to my to-do list.

30 7c

(Pausing to look at the coffee in 3fe, Dublin)

Maybe not today. Today, I will remember something I learned a long time ago on a mindfulness course. It was about pausing between tasks. When one thing is done, pause, before beginning the next. When you do this there’s a chance you notice you have done something and you prepare yourself to begin something new. Noticing that I have done something gives me a sense of completion. Completion is nice!

You’ve come to the end of reading, pause……. Mairead.

Report from the Wilderness.

(River on one side)

I’m out in the wilderness for a while….. and I don’t mean metaphorically. I’m living in the middle of the forest with a lake on one side of the road and a river on the other. There are hens in the garden, cats in the house and goldfish in the bowl. Although I haven’t seen them yet there are also deer over the fence.

(Beautiful flora, foxglove I think)

I arrived about an hour ago and unpacked my life. It’s been interesting to see what my life consists of….. computer, phone, food, clothes, stuff to wash and soften (!) my skin and hair, books (even though there are hundreds of books here) and crafting materials. Apart from feeding myself and the animals I am free to follow my heart’s desire.

(Lake on the other)

When I choose to come here I did wonder to what purpose I would use this wonderful opportunity. Would I write a book? (Probably a bit optimistic it will only be two weeks!) Would I learn to paint? Would I go for long walks? Would I learn some new vegetarian recipes? Would I read a full book in one sitting? Would I go back to watching TV? Would I sleep? A lot? What would I love to do while I’m here?

(A path running through the middle)

Turns out I probably don’t have to answer those questions in advance (although I do have to bring the ingredients to do any of them.) I can just allow my choice to unfold… a little at a time. At this time my heart’s desire is to write.

What’s your heart’s desire, at this moment? Mairead.

PS Both my mother and mother-in-law’s heart’s desire is more words in the blog (well I think that’s what they meant, “..the pictures are alright but…”) Ask and you may well receive….