Journeys of Lightheartedness


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Posted by richardmoore on June 17, 2016 at 10:00 AM

An interview with iconic Irish potter Nicholas Mosse

One word aptly sums up Nicholas Mosse, both his accomplishments and his aspirations: sustainability.

When I asked him what his goal for the future was, for example, having had 40 years of such phenomenal success, he joked, “To get older.” Sustainability of the self, to be sure, but sustainability has driven his pottery throwing – a desire from the start to revitalize the traditional and fanciful design of rural Ireland in spongeware that could be used as well as admired.  

“The spongeware was all over in the little cottages in the west of Ireland,” Mosse said. “They were dark little places, and people didn’t have much money. But they were very proud, and they had their big, open fire, and they had their dresser – something like a cupboard – and in the kitchen you would have this big, open dresser with all the mugs lined up, and it was always very colorful. So I was drawing on that sort of thing, which is a very Irish tradition. It was happy, colorful, and whimsical.”


Preserving tradition is not Mosse’s only preoccupation with conservation. So is his concern for the environment .... Stay tuned.



Posted by richardmoore on April 3, 2016 at 5:05 PM

Not too many years ago my son Dylan was lamenting with me the fact that America doesn't seem to have any heroes anymore.


It crossed my mind that this occurred to him not only as he was talking to me but because he was talking to me, but since he had called to wish me a Happy Birthday—in itself, grounds for celebration—I just chalked it all up to melancholic coincidence.


Whatever the reason, he was truly sad about it.


No political heroes, he protested. They're all about money and personal power. No sports heroes, he grumbled. They're all about money and steroids. No entertainment heroes, he complained. The real-life ones are all in rehab and even fictional figures like Batman are mostly studies in darkness.


I cut him off at some point, but I knew he had a point. It's slim pickings out there in heroland these days. True enough, certain specific constituencies have heroes they look up to, but it's been a long time since the nation had a Dwight Eisenhower or Neil Armstrong that the whole nation admired and respected.


A long time, a very long time. You have to search far and wide to find a good role model in modern America. It's not only a personal dilemma, it's a serious issue in a country needing to hope and dream again, for heroes are critical to that mission.


Society, of course, cannot long stand without a canopy of heroes above its head. Heroes are awe-inspiring, larger-than-life beings who attain immortality the only way immortality can be attained—by acting courageously in the name of an altruistic cause.


That's the very definition of the compassionate hero. They lead us to dwellings in which we do not live, and force us to see how others endure, how they think and feel and sometimes suffer. They teach us to ease the pain of our civil neighbors.


Heroes teach us that compassion can be rewarding and successful, and they show us it is necessary. A nation of people who lack such empathy, who cannot feel the despair of others, such a population soon turns one against the other, and civility and social order begin to deteriorate and crumble. It is not surprising to me that the decline in the number of America's heroes is accompanied by an inversely proportionate increase in the number of slash-and-burn, just simply mean politicians and celebrities.


Then, too, as professor Gregory D. Foster has observed on, we are all followers at heart and, while we "praise and preach leadership, . . . we practice followership."


We constantly seek people beyond ourselves to lead us, Foster asserts, because it is better that we "relinquish ourselves to someone worthy of adulation and veneration than to the many charlatans and demagogues who prey on us." What's more, young people need older people whom they can look up to; it triggers the desire to learn. Heroes transfer not just upstanding character but great knowledge and skill. They show us how to surpass others by trying to better ourselves—to literally race against ourselves.


Yes, we need heroes, and not just in times of great duress, but in eras of peace and prosperity.


People choose heroes, in times when they can find them, because they personify that culture's social ethic. And, I might add, they help strengthen and reinforce that ethic. They endow a culture with the fibrous integrity it needs to survive over long periods of time.


But where are our heroes? Why are they hiding from us? What should I have told my son, mourning as he was for a nation that has lost its ability to dream?


For that's precisely what America was becoming then, and has become in 2016, or is at least dangerously close to becoming. Once, we put men on the moon; today, we cannot even afford the fuel to get us there, and it's doubtful our spaceships would make it anyway. In these dreary days of zero expectations, the truth is, we can't put a man or woman back on the moon, nor, if we could, would we have a hero we could send.


It was different when I was young. In the idealistic 1960s, the mountaintops were bursting with heroes, of different color and gender and nationality, and they towered there on the peaks above us, fearlessly rousing us to new accomplishments, which, in turn, led us to dream ever-greater dreams.


There were political heroes—Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. were mine—and there were baseball heroes (Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris and all of the mythic and mighty New York Yankees) and even entertainment heroes (Marilyn Monroe, but that's another story).


The point is, there was a long line leading from the mountaintop, a concatenation of strong and stirring people that a young boy or girl might look to for guidance in pursuit of the American Dream.


Back then, even animals could be heroes. One of mine was a horse, truth be told, the great Triple Crown winner of 1973, Secretariat, and, in the end, with my reluctant birthday looming, that's how I decided to answer Dylan. He didn't say anything when I told him to be like Secretariat, but I knew what he was thinking: You're going to tell me to emulate a horse!


Precisely so, son, precisely so.


Secretariat was certainly a hero, a horse of a different color, and I am not the only one to believe it. When ESPN released its list of the 100 greatest athletes of the 20th century, it had but three nonhumans on it, Secretariat leading the way.


And when ESPN released its list of the 100 greatest sports performances of the 20th century, Secretariat's win at the Belmont Stakes to cement the Triple Crown was on the list at number two, second only to Wilt Chamberlain's 100-point basketball performance—this time the only nonhuman on the list.

When Secretariat came along in 1973, horse racing itself was like America today. Without a Triple Crown winner in 25 years, the sport was bereft of heroes. The country itself was in a deep funk, exhausted by war and scandal and stagflation.


Our heroes were pretty much gone, defeated and dead, shot in the head.


But there was Secretariat and there was something about him that captured the fancy of the nation right away. The horse, fondly nicknamed Big Red, had all the hero's traits. He was intelligent and empathetic, with a keen awareness of where he was and who was at his side. He showed a generous love for people, and he was gentle with children, with a distinct and teasing sense of humor.


And he had courage—the heart we hear so much about in a racehorse. As it turned out, all that character, all that heart, that was just the beginning.


Then he started to run, and soon the nation was running with him.


There was the Kentucky Derby, where Secretariat came out of the post dead last in a field of 14. So much for the hype, you had to wonder. But Big Red had different ideas. On this day no horse, or anything at all, would outdo him.


He began to run. Tenth place. And run. Sixth place. And run. Second place. And run. First place and victory and a new Kentucky Derby and world record for the time.


He did it again in the Preakness Stakes. By now the nation was abuzz. People had something to cheer for. Young children began to name their pets Secretariat.


All that was left between Big Red and immortality was the Belmont Stakes. It would be, for those who saw it, an unforgettable and unbelievable moment in life.


Secretariat came out battling with Sham, the one horse that had given him any challenge at all that year. But Big Red was running strong. He would not be had, and by the beginning of the backstretch, Sham gave up. Secretariat now was alone. The rest of the field faded.


But Secretariat kept running.


By now the jockey, Ron Turcotte, wasn't telling his horse to run. He was just trying to keep in the saddle as the lead lengthened, and the horse seemingly soared with Heaven-sent energy, now to an incredible 20-length lead halfway through the race!


Secretariat, though, didn't relax. He didn't look at the crowd. He didn't hear their cheers. He just kept running. And running.


The horse now was racing against himself. The others didn't matter. The crowd didn't matter. The jockey didn't matter. He was running into history. He was running to surpass himself.


He crossed the finish line 31 lengths ahead of the second-place horse—the length of a football field. Secretariat had run the fastest mile-and-a-half ever recorded by a horse. It's still the fastest today.


I was dumbstruck, moved and overwhelmed, and I was not the only one so mesmerized. He appeared on the cover of Time magazine, the headline blaring Super Horse. And here's a portion of a sermon by Unitarian Rev. Elizabeth A. Lerner in 2003, recalling that race:


"Perhaps I would have been even more moved if I'd been there on site, but while I was a little girl sitting in the living room, as indoors and suburban as one can get, even there I saw nature in the form of a horse explode in beauty and strength and almost infinite capacity across a black and white screen. Some things are so beautiful and riveting, they fill you with wild joy and delight almost to the brink of fear, they may seem almost proofs of divinity. . . . However you liked him winning, he was a hero, courageous, true and beautiful, in 1973 to a country that was reeling with domestic and international turmoil: Nixon, Watergate and Vietnam."


How well said, Ms. Lerner. Yes, Secretariat was a national hero, and gave a richness of insight that here and now, amid our poverty of heroes, I wanted to share with Dylan. These days, I told my son, we are going to need heroes who become so not by following others but by racing against themselves.


Not running for themselves, but against themselves, the Big Red way. There's simply no one else to race, at least not with integrity.


In so doing our children can not only surpass others, but give others moments of memory they can share and cherish, and use as inspiration to run their own races against themselves.


Secretariat died when he was 19; his obituary appeared in newspapers around the world. In death, he was given an honor rarely accorded to a racehorse, to be buried whole rather than just the heart, head and hooves. He had a big heart, literally and figuratively, and even now I can hear its booming beats, thundering down the racetrack with his message for the ages.


I hope Dylan heard it. I hope other young people do, too, for now is a time for heroes:


Just run. There aren't any heroes out there you have to beat. So just set your goals and run toward them. Run hard and don't stop. Pass everybody by. Don't let your guard down. Don't let them catch you. Don't let the crowd of onlookers distract you or intimidate you. Just run. And when you're alone, realize there's more competition—the competition inside yourself. Just run. Run and never stop running, and you just might find there's still a place for heroes in the hearts of a nation.


You just might run yourself into history.


To see the Belmont Stakes of 1973, visit http/

Of Irish follies and dogs

Posted by richardmoore on September 16, 2015 at 1:50 AM

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. More about the tower in a future post.


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.


Another journey begins

Posted by richardmoore on August 30, 2015 at 3:40 AM


The daily blogging starts September 14. In the meanwhile, we're still in preparation mode – what to take with us, what to leave behind, and that most difficult stage of planning a trip of exploration – trying to build a schedule without being shoehorned into it. Right now the call is to the west. We'll cover the popular destinations, but Ireland can still surprise with some less well-known spots where the country's seamless integration of place, people, and time perfectly assimilate, and we'll navigate our way there, too. For a year now, I have also been intrigued by the town of Tralee, and so it's off to their first-ever food festival. And what about Athlone, where some less well-known writers helped to make Ireland's more well-known writers, well, more well known?


Stay tuned!


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