Journeys of Lightheartedness

 

IRELAND REVISITED

An interview with Nicholas Mosse 

Bennettsbridge, Co. Kilkenny, Ireland

As the 40th anniversay of Nicholas Mosse's pottery operation in Bennettsbridge, Ireland, approached (it's now well underway) we were honored to have the opportunity to spend some time with Mosse and his wife Susan. The product of that interview will be out in a few weeks, but here's a teasing taste of what's to come. READ MORE

IN TRIBUTE

Seeking the Gold
Paris, Kentucky
An impressive stallion, Seeking the Gold was born and lived his entire life at Claiborne Farm. In sixteen races, he won six and placed second eight times. He posed for these portraits between peppermints in April and he passed away from old age in July. He was 31. Farewell good fellow.

 
 

CURRENT DISCOVERIES

Copper Falls State Park
Mellen, Wisconsin

The Pfister
A Snapshot of Milwaukee's Elegance

Many years ago, sitting in a mountain-top bar just outside Hendersonville, N.C., someone told me I should take the time to visit Milwaukee. We were both in town for business and had just met, and we were trading our knowledge of various cities. But what about a Milwaukee? she wanted to know.


“I’ve never been there. Never had a reason to go.”

“Well, you should make the time,” she said with the quick wink of a secret exchange. “You won’t regret it.” And then she proceeded to describe it in a way that has stayed with me: Milwaukee is a series of small residential towns, she said, with just the right-sized dollop of a city thrown into its center. That sounded kind of cool, so I filed it away under Places I Hope To Go.


After that, I seemed to run into Milwaukee everywhere. This person had just visited family there and found it charmingly Old World. That person had moved away and was pining for its large and infinite parks. A student longed for its endless summer ethnic and music festivals. If Milwaukee wasn’t Shangri-La, it certainly sounded close to it.


Many years passed before I finally had the chance to find Milwaukee, after I married a Wisconsin native and we ended up moving to the Badger state. Before too long, I found myself living there part time. So I know Milwaukee and the truth about all that praise: It was the truth. There are things I love about Wisconsin, and things I hate about the state, but Milwaukee is indeed a great city.


If it’s not Shangri-La, it’s only because it isn’t as isolated.


It manages to do what few cities can — convey a distinct sense of place that is at once comforting and adventurous. Milwaukee is a place where you can feel happy by just being there.

Edisto Island, SC 
Photos courtesy of Cork Hutson

Unable to visit Edisto Island this week — that will have to wait until September — I can still enjoy the island's spectacular sunrises thanks to my childhood classmate Cork Hutson. Cork graciously provided the following photos.

Sunrise on Russell Creek and on Edisto Beach (top). Porpoise on the far side of the creek (below).

Growing up in Walterboro I endured long sweltering summer days by riding my bike down the dangerous Devil's Gorge and searching for the ice-cream man. Mostly, I waited go to Edisto Island.


My uncle had a beach house there and, though my parents weren't beach lovers, I got to visit and spend some time on the island. Cork's family owns Brick House plantation and he, no doubt, spent many days on the property of that historic home. In the early 90s, unaware that I was interviewing Cork's father, I wrote about Brick House simply because the landscape had captured my imagination and I had planned to put it all in a book one  day. Had both Cork and I known we had ties to the island, we may have had some fun there as kids searching for buried treasure or pestering the adults for ice cream. 


I'm looking forward to catching up with Cork in September, after so many years, and I again offer thanks to him and his family for our recent trip there for the opportunity to take photos.

 

Brick House, second story fireplace

 

Sunrise and Sunset over Russell Creek

 
 
 

Paris, Kentucky Claiborne Farm 

 

Keeneland April Racing

 

Surprise interview at The Kentucky Horse Park

Funny Cide and me, 
April 9, 2016

It’s been an awesome experience so far here in Kentucky. But I scored an absolute high point of my entire life with a photo op and interview with, well, I’m sure you’ll recognize the superstar yourself but it’s none other than Funny Cide, the winner of the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness in 2003. 


The interview was short and sweet but here’s the gist of it: He likes to be petted between the eyes, and he likes peppermints, pies, and brownies, not necessarily in that order. Oh, and about that 2003 Belmont he lost, costing him the Triple Crown, he said he drew a post that was nothing but mud coming out of the gate that day in the rain, or he would have beat them all. Then we smoked a cigar.

 
 

Edisto Island, South Carolina  Brick House [c. 1725]

West view of the live oak canopy leading to Brick House (circa 1725) ruins. Often called the first manor house in the United States, and unusual for its brick construction even in wealthy cities, the castle-like Brick House was composed of brick imported from Boston, lumber seasoned for seven years, and stucco quoins.  “With a distinctively French air," as architectural historian James Dillon put it, the Brick House "illustrated the important influence of the French Huguenots in South Carolina."


A special thanks to the Brick House families who so kindly showed us around the grounds. Some of the results are posted below.

A Work in Progress
EDISTO The True Story of a Sea Island's Survival

 

Presenting a written story about Edisto, at least beyond a skeletal sketchiness, poses a problem: The island is too compelling for words alone. Words alone could never provide a just accounting of its essence. All the island is a sensual testimony, a fluent unity of past and present, as visible in the wispy Spanish moss as in its agrarian ways. Edisto, islanders like to say, is not so much a place as a time, and a time that for the most part has resisted the twentieth and now the twenty-first centuries. Edisto time brings into sharp focus powerful images of a long duration, set on the face of a mystical clock whose hours and minutes move slower than in the rest of the world. The Edisto experience composes a “ feeling clock,”  a living camera with an eternal shutterspeed through which images of the past whim their way into the present. Edisto shatters the boundaries between time, space, and emotion and scatters their very pieces across the landscape like so many sea shells. 


Even the air looks mossy.


A normal camera might capture Edisto’s beauty in its particularity, in colorful bursts or through the intensities of black and white; but Edisto’s “feeling clock,” its living camera, embraces the sublime beyond the beautiful, an integrated and whole human experience. Such an idea demands a medium of equal integrity and complexity -- hence the vignettes of words and photographs — but it demands something else again: Edisto demands imagination. Bring it along.

 

Edisto Beach February 

Below - Intracoastal Waterway at Whooping Island, SC 

 

Cranky Jack

We were befriended by an alert gull who kept watch on our beach set-up. Crankster got a few rewards that day and rewarded us with his unique style of wildlife management. 

 

September Visit 
Connemara, Co. Galway, Ireland

From Doolin, we headed north to Connemara and, regretfully, only scooted briefly through the karst region of The Burren, beautiful though the cracked expanses of limestone were. 

The road to Galway past the villages of Ballyvaghan, Kinvara, and Lisdoonvarna offered many spectacular hints of the full Burren, though. One we stopped at was The Gragan, or the withered stump of the tree. From the overlook we gazed down into a natural amphitheater bounded on either side by the Moneen Mountains and Cappanawalla Mountain and offering ahead of us a gap through which we could see Galway Bay and its Martello tower.
But our appetites were whetted by Connemara. Nothing hitched my breath more than the drive to Leenaun from Galway and then, later, to Westport in County Mayo. The curves yielded to scenes of rounded mountaintops, their beige landscapes giving way gently and slenderly – easily and naturally – to clusters of dark green trees and sizzling Irish green fields below, punctuated by a white farmhouse. It had a very western feel to it, as if cowboys would come galloping over the hilltops at any moment. Perhaps because of that, and because of the low warm hills around us, it was very comforting, a little like home but not really, like hauling your own warm blanket to another house to sleep beneath. 

Ireland could be like that, a certain and welcome familiarity lurking in the creases of the unfamiliar, and this sense was at its strongest for me in Connemara. It is said by some that Ireland is a thin place, meaning the barrier between tangible life and the spiritual dimension is thin and close and crossable. I prefer to call it a slender place – gracefully and comfortably thin, that is – and not just between the physical and the spiritual world but between your home and and the new home you are in. There really are no strangers here, and in Connemara the beauty of the landscape intensifies the winsomeness of the welcome.

Driving in Ireland The Great Atlantic Way –done our way

Ireland was my first experience driving in a foreign country. We picked up the car in the morning of our first day and drove from the Dublin airport to our hotel in Dalkey. Getting accustommed to driving on the left was not difficult. It was the narrowness of the roadways and my tendency to overcorrect to the left that required some time to adjust. We left a little of the tires with Dublin's curbs and some of Ireland's greenery inside the passenger window. After a week I got used to the roads, the sheep lying in them, the tourist buses careening towards us, and Irish roundabouts.


I also blew out a tire in Kilkenny – the AA road service showed up after 40 minutes, though, and the undecipherable man cheerfully put on the pathetic spare – and came close a thousand times to losing the side mirror. Lisa re-acquainted herself with knitting, and, for some reason, especially in the car. Her headband was mostly a wide affair, but in the car it became narrow and tight, like an Irish road. 


The thing is, we had wanted to walk this beautiful country, from town to town and out and about in the country towns. It didn't take us long to realize you can't walk Ireland this way, unless you stick to the more remote trails. The roads are narrow, there are few shoulders – no margin of error because there could be a hedge or a stone wall or building where the shoulder should be – and nowhere to go. 


So if you're dying to walk Ireland, you can do both. The buses and the trains don't really get you where you need to go to see the real Ireland, so rent a car. Then close your eyes and knit through it. 

It was difficult at times to get a picture while on the road. Often a choice shot was left behind because we couldn't find a place to pull over and park. Turning around was difficult because there were few breaks in the stone walls or the trees that lined the roads and no warning before any break would appear. Lisa obligingly carried out photography while I drove and we stopped when I could see a clear place ahead to pull over. She rolled down the window and got some rather nice pictures anyway.

Doolin and the Cliffs, County Clare

We stayed at the Boherbui B&B, where John Garrihy met us at the door. John helps his parents run the inn, which is in its first season and is a picturesque place to stay, though the one-lane road to the house – about a mile out of town – could get interesting when there is two-way traffic. The family is a fan of Nicholas Mosse pottery – if anybody runs across the strawberry pattern, give them a yell at [email protected]The B&B is the perfect location to set out on a morning excursion to the cliffs.

The cliffs, of course, are so much a tourist attraction they are almost cliche, but some tourist attractions are that because they really are worth seeing, and this is the case here. It is both a beautiful and sublime experience. They rise to 390 feet above the sea at Hag’s Head and continue to a top height of about 700 feet: awe-inspiring. More serene, and beautiful, is the panoramic view, where visitors can see, on a clear day, the Aran Islands seaward and the Maumturks beyond them.

Beware, though, the dangers. Tourists routinely ignore the signs cautioning walkers not to go any further as they trek to the edge of the precipice. Ill-advised. Gusty winds and erosion can quickly turn awe-inspiring into tragedy-inducing. The site minimizes the occurrence of death but it does happen: a woman fell to her death in 2006, a double suicide occurred in 2007, and an Estonian doctor plunged in 2012. Enough said, get your pics safely and be done.

Irish Crafts Shop  www.irishcraftsonline.com

Doolin itself is too touristy for me. A cute town but trying to get through the throngs and the tour buses and then having to come back through a second time was way too much, and it was late September and far from the height of the tourist season. Still, a fine shop, Irish Crafts, netted me a great wool sweater for far less than I would pay in the U.S. and there is a great variety of knitwear, crafts, hats, and other cultural gifts for those in shopping mode before heading out into The Burren or going on to Connemara. Online shop launches Oct. 26. Great place.

County Kerry Culture

Ballyseedy Monument

On Saturday, Sean Lyons, who also is the chairman of Ireland’s annual Writers Week, the nation’s largest literary festival, gave us a tour of Tralee and the surrounding area. We started with a stop right outside Tralee at the Ballyseedy Monument, a memorial sculpture to the republican dead of Kerry. Specifically, the monument commemorates eight IRA prisoners executed at the location by government troops during the Irish civil war in 1923. The sculpture is astonishing, depicting not only the brutality of war itself, as well as the suffering it causes not merely for fighters but for the entire population, but capturing hope, defiance and determination, with a young resolute man with clenched fist facing the opposite way, toward the future.

We made our way through the streets of Tralee in the year 1450 (an outstanding hands-on and sensory experience in the Count Kerry museum), through the town park, which hosts more than 5,000 roses and honors participants in the annual Rose of Tralee competition, and Sean and I took the stage at Siamsa Tire, Ireland's national folk theatre. I finally had made my way to the big stage! 

Tralee Food & Shops

As luck would have it, we visited during the city’s first ever food festival. We have been warned by local leaders not to be disappointed as this was the town’s first ever food festival, but we held high expectations anyway because of Tralee’s growing reputation as a foodie town. The festival did not disappoint. I was especially taken with the venison sliders offered up by Mozart’s Restaurant

Looking down Tralee's Denny Street from Dawson’s Restaurant. Get the window table for Sunday lunch or for coffee or tea and slice of tart apple pie with Crème fraîche. Denny is a wide Georgian Street and said to be the widest in Ireland. Quite a treat.

 

A great welcome in Tralee, County Kerry

The biggest mission of this trip has been to get to know the city of Tralee, the capital town in Co. Kerry. We arrived for lunch at DB’s on Denny Street with Tralee chamber CEO Kieran Ruttledge, chamber president John Drummey, chamber representative (and writer and poet) Sean Lyons, and James Finnegan all giving us a great introduction to the town. Many thanks for all the time and help these folks have given us in Tralee.


As an aside, Tralee is getting to be known as one of the best foodie towns in Ireland (we were here in part for their inaugural Food Festival, after all), and DB’s did not disappoint.


After lunch, Kieran took us on a tour of the outskirts. We headed for Fenit, a classic seaside village just outside Tralee. Fenit sits on the north side of Tralee Bay and is a mixed seaport. The small fishing boats come and go, but so do big freighters hauling container cranes manufactured by Liebherr and shipped around the world.

Kieran arranged for a quick boat ride out into the harbor and around the lighthouse built on Little Samphire Island in 1851. On Great Samphire Island, we visited the sculpture of Saint Brendan the Navigator, who (legend has it) is said to have traveled to America before the Vikings and before Columbus. The two-ton statue does justice in conveying the legendary life of this Irish monastic saint.

On then to Tralee Golf Club, a course designed by Arnold Palmer. It’s a magnificent golf course on the dunes, offering views of the sea at every hole. It’s known to be strategically treacherous, and the winds can make it even more treacherous, but magical is an even better word to describe it. Kieran told us that when asked about the design of the course, Palmer answered: “I only designed the front nine; God designed the back nine.” That tells you all you need to know.


Out-of-the-way Ireland — Between Castle Island and Tralee, County Kerry

We stayed with the kind Walsh family in Castle Island near Tralee Thursday night – many thanks to them – and were treated Friday morning to an invigorating walk at Glanageenty, located just outside Castle Island on the road to Tralee. 


Visit Walsh Brothers Electric 

We have set out on this journey to visit out-of-the-way places – towns the tour operators don’t emphasize, paths the hikers don’t usually find – and Glanageenty is one of the latter.


Driving in to these rugged and hilly woods, we passed the site where the Earl of Desmond was beheaded by the English during the Desmond rebellions, two uprisings against the English designed to maintain the power of feudal dynasties. The Earl and his men fled into these woods but was ultimately turned in by one of his own men and beheaded in 1583. According to the history, the English took his head to London and displayed it as a cautionary note to those who might be tempted by treason.


There are two walking loops here, and even the shorter one is moderately de-energizing. But it is beautiful. The shorter path takes you through dense woods of oak and hazel and spruce and along a rising ridge where you can see Ireland’s highest mountain, not to mention the famous gap of Dunloe and Mount Brandon. Wind farms now puncture the sky from less fertile fields, but they make the views no less awe-inspiring. The Glanageenty stream and other small creeks bubble hollowly beneath the bridges you cross, and it’s the perfect place for an occasion of reflection and to enjoy a pure feeling of satisfaction and arrival.


Nicholas Mosse Pottery — Bennettsbridge, County Kilkenny

When you are in Co. Kilkenny Ireland, head to Bennettsbridge. There you will find Nicholas Mosse pottery and witness the artful process of producing handmade tableware. We had the pleasure of spending time with renowned potter Nicholas Mosse and his equally renowned wife Susan who designs the beautiful and whimsical pottery patterns. At Nicholas Mosse you can observe some of the steps it takes to make pottery as their family of employees skillfully work to make these world class wares. Equally impressive is the sustainability of the operation–Nicholas Mosse uses electricity generated from the nearby river, recycles all of their water, and is  considering ways to utilize heat generated by their kilns in the firing process. 2016 will be a celebration of 40 years for the pottery and will be marked by a book documenting their patterns. 

Francis Power is adding a handle to the cookie jar lid. He has been with Nicholas Mosse since his teens and joins a number of local folks who complete the 20 steps to a finished pottery piece. Visit Nicholas Mosse pottery online.

Enchanting pottery, enchanting garden 

Enchanting is also the word for Kilfane Glen. It was refined by Susan Mosse and a host of others from an overgrown 18th century formal garden to become a delightful meander of footpaths through forest, waterfall, and greenery. It's open to the public during certain times of the year and if you can't find inspiration here, it isn't to be found.


Killiney Hill — Dalkey, Co. Dublin

We landed in Dublin at 5 in the morning and immediately set out to walking the sea coast suburbs south of Dublin, which, like all of Ireland, are rich in history and beauty. The favorite of the day was Killiney Hill. The hill is home to the Killiney Hill Obelisk, built in 1742, and described as one of Ireland’s most adored “follies.” As one walker we met there translated it, that meant it had no purpose, or, better translated, its purpose was nonsense. That’s true of the structure itself, which has no reason for being, though its construction was purposeful, meant as relief work for the poor at a time in Ireland when winters were severe and work was scarce.The views from Killiney Hill are spectacular. Alternately wooded and rocky, with miniature deciduous forests tucked in along the trail, this is a walker’s paradise, and, judging by yesterday, a dog walker’s paradise. Happy dogs of all sizes and shapes and breeds frolicked about. We walked from Fitzpatrick Castle Hotel – a truly spectacular experience in its own right – climbed the hill, and headed to Dalkey and the James Joyce Tower. 

 

For now, suffice it to say that Killiney Hill might have a folly at the top but the trip is certainly not a folly. One of the most scenic bay views I’ve ever seen, matching the spectacular coast of Patmos, Greece.