Tuesday 12 January 2021

Salty sea: You let me be

 I’m easily swayed. I change my mind but not with a sense of whimsy or floatiness. No. I sway like branches in a winter storm, bending in directions not known possible, drawn and pushed to ideas and notions, places and vocations with intensity and determination.

In the last few weeks alone, I’ve dug my heels into the ground, adopting new battle plans and strategies for our self sufficient, creative life that we desire so much. The land. It’s calling me. And I can’t make up my mind exactly where it’s calling me to.

About ten weeks ago, all we could talk about was Sligo. Wild west. Surf and sea swims, vegan cafes, the Glen, an Institute of Technology and full of people our own age who were creative, setting up businesses, outdoorsy. I convinced him that it had to be Sligo. Nowhere else made any sense. Then the land prices. Out of reach.

Look outside of Sligo he said. Adapt.

I refused. Red headed ringlets of my four year old self tossing her head from left to right. Arms folded, eyes rolled. No way, I said. It has to be Sligo.

A quick search on the property website. What’s Lie-treem? he asks. Leetrum (Leitrim) I correct with the pronunciation his Spanish mind will understand. Noone wants to live in Leitrim - the land is shit. The main town is for stag and hen parties and the rest is covered in horrible Coillte forested pine plantations. 

Adapt, love. Look at this one. As we Zoom, he sends me a link to a site. 10 acres, native woodland, a derelict cottage, a stream running through it. 120k. I didn’t know. I spent the next six weeks giddy over Leitrim. It has to be Leitrim I announce, over and over again.

Adapt, he repeats. I only hear limits. He only hears stubbornness. 

We struggle to find anything that suits. I don’t want to live in the arsehole of nowhere. I want to be semi-isolated but within driving/cycling distance to a community or at least a small town that has the makings of a farmer’s market. He would happily live in the arsehole of nowhere, with no one around.

Months ago, before I came back, we were determined to build a wooden tiny house on wheels to live in, then build our own wooden open plan house with as many windows  as I could fit. Then I came up with the plan of building a tiny house in Ireland and renting land to put it on while we saved for land of our own. Then it was cob. A pacific dome after that. Back to cob. A derelict cottage with a wooden and cob extension. A dome. A cabin and then a cob house. 

Last weekend, frustrated with my obsessive nature, he suggested removing the county filter on the property search page. Just put d

own acres and max price and see. Love, you have to stop being so focussed on just one thing he says while clearing his throat and involuntarily twitching his left eyebrow. He does this when he’s stressed. I take note and begin the search. And look at Mayo, he urges. There are lots of cheap places in Mayo. What’s the problem with Mayo? If no one wants to live there, we can buy land cheap.

For me, Mayo conjures up wet, westerly gales coming off fjords and bays and curving up the sides of towering mountains, like a perfectly formed crescent wave in reverse. The wind and damp whips upwards and takes a gulp of your own energy with it. Little sister got the biggest midge bit while swimming in one of the rivers coming down the mountain in Leenane one summer. It was reminiscent of a Jurrasic Park mosquito bite and took weeks of scratching and lotion to go down. Westport was for people who wanted adventure sports and go drinking afterwards. Ballina was on the way to Enniscrone, the lesser Strandhill for surfing. Castlebar was inland and let me know as a kid that we were in fact not there yet. There being the sea, which is all I cared about. Achill was the beautiful curved beach of

Keem and mountains with black faced sheep that I kept meaning to visit and never did.

The surf was shit in Mayo. That’s what I thought.

I grew obsessive when I saw photographs of the surf off Louisburgh. I was drawn to how close Leenane was with the familiar mountain sheep. I researched like a maniac to prove my new plan. Westport attracted tourism but was also sustainability and eco conscious. There was a cool eco shop. We had to move close to Westport. A search for cycling, since we both miss this so much, shows the Greenway and then my eye follows a rugged pathway to Achill island. Basking sharks in the bay, a salt water lake, a bog filled with wild flowers and island life come flooding into my view. The plan changes again.

And I’m exhausted. 

There are countless housing options. Abandoned and derelict stone cottages on the northern point, snuggling with its back to the bog. Complete renovation and full planning permission required before you could even open the door.

Near identical listings of white walled single story imitation cottages, once holiday homes and vacant for months at a time, are online too. How could we change the layout to work for us? I would happily renovate and live in a shack until it’s done. How can we add the cob? I think about the 40sq m extension that doesn’t need planning permission and how many extra windows for much needed light we could put in. 

There are plots of vacant land with full planning for the most hideously boring and predictable housing designs known to man. We could buy the land and still have to pay to build a home we don’t even like. All creativity gone. 

He came home from work yesterday, tired after a long commute. I told him what I had been up to instead of job hunting, about the hours I had spent looking online for Achill land. We both get stressed. He gets a tickle in his throat again and I can feel my eye sockets sink into my head from too much screen time and obsessive detail. 

Since coming back from New Zealand at the end of November, I’ve been at a loss. I can’t understand why it is so difficult to know where to settle. Neither of us want to be chained to one place for our whole lives. Really, we would like a base. Our own safe settlement where we can eat, grow food, craft practical wooden things in a workshop, read, watch movies, chop wood for the fire and stack it to satisfaction. We would like a home that is our own, that doesn’t impede on others and cannot be influenced or manipulated by them either. The land is sometimes more important than the dwelling. I imagine my herbal remedy garden, plum trees and bee hives, curved raised beds of rocket, chamomile, beetroots of different colours, chunks of hardy spinach. Meadowsweet and dandelion would grow on the edges. Mulched pathways with soft turns where you sometimes need to duck beneath a woven willow arch or a collection of sunflower heads greeting you on the way to the compost heap. 

Maybe it doesn’t matter where. I gave up on the idea that it HAD to be New Zealand. I am happy to accept Ireland now. Under the current global circumstances, having somewhere on the West Coast as a base works. When we are able to travel again, our home will be the port we dock at for months at a time, a space to rest and restore and grow and learn, before heading off on an adventure again. Both of us want that. We’ve just been too scared to have that kind of life before. Both children of the recession that we are. 

The sea doesn’t call to him in the same way it does for me. His feet long for mountain slopes. 

But not those here in Ireland he says. They are not real mountains. Real mountains are like those on Camino. 

He’s right. For him, since the same awesome feel of insignificance in the face of something so grand is not possible in Ireland by comparison to say, Asturias, he is content to live anywhere that is cheap and let me tend to my garden and my ideas.

I just need my workshop. 

We can’t forget the workshop.

I may compulsively and destructively be drawn to one manic idea/location after the next with the comparative ambition of an ice age era squirrel looking for a hiding space for the last acorn on earth, but I do know that I could adapt to mostly any land or town.

Jessie says that I shouldn’t worry. I think a person can make anywhere a home and you could find community anywhere, she comforts me. Jess always tells the truth. Her comment is less about making me feel better or her belief in my social skills and more about the general truth that home can be made anywhere.

Maybe that is both the solution and the problem. 

Home, for more than the last fifteen years, has been a nomad’s slot machine at a cheap casino. I just keep pulling the lever hoping for a unique outcome or at best, one better than my current situation. I have put up with living in places that I really didn’t like, hated even, for the sake of getting ready for the next stage. 

I moved to Dublin four times in nine years to get enough money to get the hell out of there and ‘really start my life in a place I really wanted to live’. Since I was twenty years old, I’ve had the same dream of living in a small coastal community, being involved and connected in that community, growing and living on the land, writing and teaching my way, travelling in between.

It’s not a grand idea. It’s quite simple and yet I haven’t been able to do it. Its realisation eludes me. Am I being picky or is the sea really so fundamental to my wellbeing.

Love, you seriously need to adapt. I can live without the mountains, you can live without the sea.

I look at him as if he’s just bludgeoned and goldfish and then swallowed it cold.

Remember the entire year we were apart? I ask. The two main things that kept me sane that year was Inis and the sea. Everyday Inis would wake me up, no matter how lonely or tired or stressed I was feeling and I would go outside to walk him and feel awake and alive instantly once we stepped outside. I made friends with people I never would have met thanks to Inis. He was my comforter and my baby, my snuggle buddy and my confidant. Despite all of that, Inis isn’t like the sea.

There were days where I couldn’t cope, or even just lived the day out as if I was out of it, the days were my head felt stuffed with cotton wool and my small mind would walk around up there doing its best to trample it down while walking in a circle, only to come full circle and have to start again.

Those days, I got into the car, sometimes just holding a towel and wearing my normal clothes because the urgency of my need for the sea didn’t have the patience to wait for me to change into my swimming togs. 

I would pull in at the carpark by the playground next to the footbridge and stamp my way down to the shoreline and strip down to my underwear in a kind of drugged trance, eyes fixed to the water line, peripheral vision off, selective hearing on. He could have walked across the footbridge straight off the plane from Dublin and I wouldn’t have noticed. 

No thinking, just walking then, feet sinking into the dark metallic sand. Shins, knees and just below the waist, diving forward into the centre depths of the harbour water. Eyes wide open, the softness of the heavy salted water soothing my irises when for others it would sting. I come up for air, the dive again. And then again. Always three times. On the third surfacing, I roll and glide onto my back. The tide is almost at full height now so it’s still trickling into the inner harbour. I’m not at risk of floating out to sea. Starfished, I closed my eyes and let the womb-like orange and reds of my inner eyelids become my viewpoint. I feel warm. I can hear my breath in my ears. The water is cold and it burns my fingertips a little. I feel like a human again. Invigorated. I’m not thinking of agendas or deadlines or time differences or mortgages. I’m just floating and breathing and everything is ok in my world, just for those minutes. And I don’t want to get out of the water. Not ever.

When I step out and back onto land, a part of me wants to cry but the energy I’ve been injected with from the salty softness of that sea fills me with a strength that is intoxicating. I feel alive and womanly, energetic and strong, calm and graceful and as if anything was possible.

No other experience in my life has come close to the gripping effect of the sea. I transform.

And so, the land needs to be beside the sea. That connection needs to be there. What would be the point of living, being, buying, growing, building if there was no sea nearby to nurture, rebirth and revive?

I am still consistently confused and overwhelmed about the location of this land.

But at least I know where the salty water lies.

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