Irish Weather on the Wethers

Meet Azalea.

She joined our little flock yesterday which brings us back to four sheep after the loss of Oscar in August. She is a Navajo Churro breed. Our others are Dorset crosses.

Today got me thinking of our first serious discussion about raising lambs. We were renting a little stone house in Ballydavid on the Dingle Peninsula in Ireland. Our hosts were a wonderful family who lived up the road and invited us into their lives for that time.

We loved the two-worlds-colliding feel when Elaine welcomed us and then answered her cell phone and spoke in Gaelic. We learned that she came from 10 miles away and grew up speaking only English. It was when she moved closer to Dingle town to be married that she learned the language (mostly from elderly men in the pub!). She and her husband had three school-aged boys, a flock of sheep, and a comfortable house where they invited us to share both strong tea and glasses of wine on several occasions at their kitchen table.

My daughter was 6 years old and thrilled to hold and bottle feed baby lambs. My husband was just as happy to visit the lambs and got talking about the prospect of raising sheep in the coming year. And so it became so. Our property became more than a view, but also a living, breathing landscape with many lessons of both heartache and joy in store.

A little over a month later we got our first two lambs, and this has been our fifth summer to raise sheep. This year we are going to keep two lambs through the winter and onward as grazers. Ivan—and now Azalea—will be the two we know for longevity. You can guess the fate of the other two.

But back to Ireland.

With the arrival or Azalea we also have the misty moisty weather that I associate affectionately with many trips to Ireland. With our own flock of wethers in the field, I dipped back into pictures from the past trips and found L and R with the neighbor lambs. My daughter’s face is so much rounder and I see how much she’s grown and slimmed out into features that hint at the teenager, the young adult, and the woman she will become. One who cares about animals, loves Irish music, and has the gypsy spirit to travel like her parents.

A few years ago I learned a fiddle tune called Ca’ the Wethers to the Hill. I believe it’s of Scottish origin, and the version I know comes by way of Cape Breton Island. I think I’ll go upstairs and try to play it tonight to conjure up the feel of sea spray and salty air, hillsides dotted with white grazers, islands in the distance.

Farewell Etta

I just heard the news.

Farewell, Etta James.

That voice, unforgettable. But her life wasn’t an easy road.

Peter Keepnews (great surname for a journalist!) said it well in his remembrance of her today in The New York Times:

Ms. James said she wanted her music to transcend unhappiness rather than reflect it. “A lot of people think the blues is depressing,” she told The Los Angeles Times in 1992, “but that’s not the blues I’m singing. When I’m singing blues, I’m singing life.”

More here.

Arcs of Meaning

We are in the midst of a raging snowstorm. The kind with high winds, low temperatures, drifts and hollows, and howling in the chimney. The cat is the only one of us who was willing to venture out this morning. And that was surprising.

But there is a fire in the woodstove and the house is doing its best to fend off the drafts and chill. Still warm in my memory are the events of Christmas Eve. My extended family lives in a village a few miles from here. It’s a small village five miles from the paved road, where the townsfolk still wait for high speed internet, but otherwise live firmly in the 21st century, while living in a village that resembles a card from Currier and Ives. There is no other place I wish to be on the fourth of July or on Christmas Eve. This town knows how to celebrate and when I go there I am known and welcomed and love to feel part of the revelry.

This year Christmas Eve was crisp and starlit. The tall narrow windows of the small white church at the crossroads of this village cast trapezoidal golden shapes on the snow. Outside, Tina was lighting the candles in the dozens of ice lanterns she creates each year for the entrance of the church. Inside, Heather welcomed us into the vestibule and we followed Suzanne and Shona—carrying their instruments—into the sanctuary. Soon fiddles, cello and guitar filled the space with carols and jigs. The service commenced with music, stories, song and contemplation. We were challenged to think of arcs of meaning on this long dark night. We lit candles for those who couldn’t be with us, those just born, and those who had just left us.

Pouring out of the church into the night—our breath visible in the night air—we followed the crowds to the bonfires lit in the field below the church. Randy—who had shared his clever illustrations while singing “The January Man” during the service—was serving hot cider and adding generous tipples of bourbon for the grown ups. Around the fires, we warmed ourselves and chatted amicably. I realized that we were standing in the same spot of the summer greased pole contest, and just a few feet from the fire’s glow was the bank we scrambled down to go swimming in July. I could have stayed for hours, but dinner awaited at my parent’s house, only a quarter of a mile down the road. Christmas would dawn the next day and there was a child to tuck in, a stocking to fill, further toasts to make.

The January Man

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