Friday, early evening. I’m warm and sleepy, face burnt by wind and sun, limbs thick and loose with fatigue.
I hiked the Beara Way from Eyeries to Allihies today. Not so far really-11 kms, just over 6 miles. But the way was challenging: across the Slieve Miskish range, skirting the boggy and desolate peaks of Miskish and Knockgour, whistling through lonely valleys. Not a soul, even now, in the height of trekking season in Ireland. Just the wind, the sheep, kestrals, and my thoughts to keep me company.
Early in my novel, The Crows of Beara, three characters go on a hike along the Beara Way: Daniel, an Irish guide, Annie, an American, and one of Annie’s Irish colleagues. Daniel drives them from Castletownbere until they reach a service road. He parks at a crossroads, then the three clamber over a turnstile into a farmer’s field and begin their ascent up a boggy mountain. It’s overcast, windy, and the bays below are hidden by a layer of fog.
I wrote the scene not from any specific memory of my time hiking the Beara in 2002, but from a composite of images I’d captured and held onto.
Today, I came to a sign pointing me back the way I’d come—Eyeries to the north, or east to Castletownbere, or south, to my intended destination of Allihies.
I crossed a service road, clambered over a turnstile, and tromped through a field, scattering sheep in my wake. I began to ascend a boggy trail as thick mist raced down the mountain, obscuring my view of the sea.
When my character Annie reaches the peak on the trail, she pauses to catch her breath. The wind shoves the fog and mist aside and the bays, fields, and villages below reveal themselves. Something constricts and then expands inside of her, as if her very soul had stilled in wonder, before filling its lungs with hope and longing and inexplicable joy.
As I paused on Knockgour to catch my breath, the wind pushed past me, carrying the mist up and over the mountain and out to sea.
And my very soul stilled in wonder, before filling with delight. I realized I had written this moment. I had found the very place where Annie begins her transformation from one self into the next.
I’m on retreat here at Anam Cara. I’m a bit in retreat as well. I arrived a week ago (already, oh!). Only one other writer in residence this week; tomorrow the poetry group arrives. By the time you read this, I’ll have left behind a routine to which I’ve so easily, quietly adapted: an early morning run along country roads, breakfast in a steamy kitchen, writing until noon, followed by a couple of hours proofing the ARC of In Another Life, lunch, a long hike, home again to write before dinner, then a few more hours of writing and reading before the sun finally sets, well after 10 p.m. I leave my curtains open and from bed, I watch the clouds change colors and shapes over Coulagh Bay, until suddenly it’s morning again. Exquisite solitude.
I’ve written a couple drafts of an essay that’s been agitating for months to be released on paper. I finished proofing my novel. I worked on a class I’m offering at the end of July. There’s been an awful lot of gazing out the window from the desk in my room and meditating during my hikes, churning around ideas for the next novel. Tomorrow I’ll start researching some of these ideas. Go for another hike. Be deliciously alone.
But a new week begins Sunday, as the poetry workshop convenes, and I must open my heart to learning, studying, and sharing. Poetry. I’m terrified. I can’t wait. We’ll be doing some exploring, as well, including other sites in The Crows of Beara I’ve yet to (re)visit.
It’s Saturday now. I hear the others arriving. If I sneak out the back, with my pack, camera, notebook and water bottle, I can remain in retreat a little while longer . . .