Wednesday, December 11, 2013

A Winter's Peace in Eyeries

A number of years ago - 3 now, to be exact - I decided to move away from the Big Smoke of the Dublin area to the small and tranquil village of Eyeries way down in West Cork. The village, with a population of only 60 or so, is located on the Beara Peninsula, one of the last corners of Irish solitude. The peninsula, a finger of land that juts out into the Atlantic, is a place of wilderness. Barren, rocky mountains form a spiny line that marches all the way from Bantry to the east (and the gateway to Beara) all the way to Allihies, a small windswept village to the far west, and one of the most westerly centers of population in Ireland. In the spring, surging falls of white-water cascade down across the face of the stony hills as the water from spring rains seek the ocean. Heathers bloom, dotting sheltered areas in vibrant yellows. In the summer, glorious rainbows arch across rocky chasms, and in early mornings when conditions are right, wispy tendrils of fog twist and turn across green valleys, almost hiding massive boulders left during the last Ice Age.

In September, the weather turns to autumn. The swifts which make their home here in the summer twist and turn in the fall skies as they gorge themselves on insects for their return crossing to Africa and their winter grounds. Blackberries grow ripe within their nettled protective confines of curling bush that surge low along many roadways. Heather and gorse again bloom, as do some wild roses, adding brilliant colors to long walks. As autumn turns to winter, the weather caves in. Huge low pressure systems storm across the Atlantic, finally making landfall in this westerly corner of the country. Gale winds sometimes breaching Force 8 or more push massive seas onto the rocks below my house, and geysers of whitewater sometimes taller than 30 feet surge skyward in breathtaking beauty. Fishing boats make way for shelter in nearby Ballygrovane harbor, snuggling like litters of kittens along protective piers. Village residents, wearing all manner of coats and hats, dash between showers intent on getting to the small shops and back home in one piece.

As we approach winter solstice on 21 December, darkness closes in. The sun, which in summer had lit our lives from as early as 4:30AM to final twilight as late as 1AM, now plays hide-and-seek. On stormy days, our world seems to reside only in twilight. But the darkness also treats us to special gifts. On clear nights the stars glisten like fireflies. Astral formations such as Orion and its belt march playfully across our skies. The Milky Way - the center of our solar system - stretches like a glowing carpet within a field of obsidian darkness.

The village of Eyeries, located on the northern side of Beara and perched on a rocky ledge a hundred feet above Coulagh Bay, hunkers down for the winter. The small main street along which so many tourists walked in summer is now often deserted, as if taking a few months off for much needed rest. But though it appears to be asleep, Eyeries is still very much alive. During the week, villagers go to work as fishermen, farmers, shopkeepers - and writers - driving through the dank mornings in pursuit of a much needed wage. Trailer-loads of firewood are backed down small boureens to be stacked by grateful homeowners as winter fuel. On Saturday nights, the main street is choked with cars as the faithful flock to the weekly Vigil Mass.

Winter in Eyeries is also a time for social activities. Of participating with the church choir if you've a voice. Or joining the local history club, or finding a moment's peace with the Yoga group, or learning to paint from local artists, or taking a walk along the coast despite the weather to fill your lungs with fresh sea air and watch the sturdy cormorants and gulls dive for their winter's breakfast.

It is a time, too, of reflection. And as we hurry toward Christmas, it is a time of anticipation as we await relatives to make their travels back to us from far-off distant lands. Here in Eyeries, the winter gives us time to weigh up what is most important. And often, we can ditch the complexities of the world simply by looking out onto the surging Atlantic or up at the night's sparkling, majestic skies, and know a bit of peace.

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