Monday, 27 October 2008


It's a long time ago now that there was a summer in Ireland. August days were, one after the other, following in deluge succession but here for a few days we did have sunshine galore. Eight writers from as far away Washington State and Canada and as near as West Clare with Scotland and Norway and England and Italy in between came to the second Kiltumper Writing Workshop. And by all accounts it was a great success. (Check out Niall's webpage... and read their comments.) With our eldest away in NYC working as a fashion intern, the laying on of lunches and tea breaks during the workshop was left to the son, J, and me. As one participant put it,
'I enjoyed the fact that your lunches for us were as much a surprise to you as to us!'
It was true. J and I cooked things we had never made before like Tuscan Bean Soup and Roasted Red Pepper and Tomato Soup and everyday was a surprise. We are already looking forward to next summer's menus when we once again open our house to interested writers and they sit by the turf fire and write and share and listen to each other under the ever encouraging eye of Niall.

Now, we come into Samhain, into the season of the spirit, and the ripening and dying of living things according to the Druid calendar. The season of mists and mellow fruitfulness, the poet Keats called it. The house is quiet these days with the son and daughter back into the rhythm of their school lives. With memories of their childhood apple bobbing and trick-or-treating tucked away forever, and no one on the road under 12, we wonder if any witches or goblins will knock on our door this year. The husband, meanwhile, is, as ever, busy writing. The leaves blow down past where he sits at the window. Do his characters think of getting out a rake, I wonder?
With dark skies returning, 200 billion stars of the Milky Way are lighting up the sky. (The ancient Irish called it Bealach na Bó Finne, the Way of the White Cow. And I like that, easy to imagine that great cow slowly crossing the heavens.) The sky holds such history and myth for our imaginations to consider. On a dark night your eye can see over two million light years away: A humbling and sobering thought. Like the stars spiralling above in the Milky Way Galaxy, petals of pink and red roses lie starkly in a whorl on the ground in front of the cottage. A somewhat dramatic show of amber sycamore leaves falls on the grass in such perfection you’d think someone had scattered them there by design. Elsewhere, the leaves of blueberry bushes and acers and salix turn a brilliant crimson. Rosehips as large as crab apples wait to be feasted on by winter-hungry robins. It’s time for the great autumn clean-up in Kiltumper, but instead I watch the leaves fall from the quiet of the house and pray for a great wind to tidy them away.
Donald Culross Peattie wrote in An Almanac for Moderns “It is nearly impossible to be sad, even listless, on a blue and gold October day, when the leaves rain down, rain down, not on a harsh wind, but quietly on the tingling air.” Whereas September was a month of contrasts with summer lingering and winter approaching, autumn has turned the corner with certitude in October. One time, long ago, my father was speaking to me from lines of a poem he thought to write. ‘October, teach me how to die’, he said. We were driving on an autumn day in a suburb of New York City along a highway stippled with red, orange and yellow leaves. At the time, it seemed rather curious to me, a teenager, and my father a Wall Street lawyer, but I have never forgotten it. And now that image comes back to me. October is a month of endings with its last day marking the end of autumn in Ireland. Now, in the starry nights of October, the light is above, the Way of the White Cow brightens all our paths.