Saturday, 8 December 2012

The Girl

I slept in until 8 am, when The Girl tiptoed over to her Advent calendar and began looking longingly at the tiny unopened doors.

“No peeking,” I mumbled from half-sleep as she whirled around, her hand covering her mouth. “I wasn’t,” she said. “I just wanted to look at the days we’ve had so far.”

That morning we threw coats over our bedclothes and padded outside as I chopped wood for the fire, The Girl holding the chopped wood and advising me on my technique. The last two years we faced an unusually cold winter, and this year we had no summer -- as I mentioned here earlier, the average temperature for June was 12 degrees, in the 50s Fahrenheit.  We have turf – peat from the bog near our home – that I “footed” two years ago, a year’s worth that we’ve stretched into three years. But it’s running low, and we need more wood.

Unfortunately, by the time I get home from work at 7 pm it’s been completely dark here for three hours, so on weekends I have to chop as much as I can. As I worked, The Girl and I talked about how long wood needs to dry, what mushrooms might grow on it, and why smaller bits of wood burn faster.

Later I got a ride to my weekend of basketry; you might recall I have been learning to make baskets, and have found it a far broaderand more fascinating subject than you might imagine. Basket-weaving techniques have been and can be used to make buildings, boats, vehicles, armour, animal and fish traps, weirs, hedges, and shelters. Skills like basketry take time, though -- especially if you're a regular working person learning in bits and pieces -- so I spent most of today with the amazing Beth Murphy at her homestead in County Kildare, learning a little more each time I visit.

When I came home we had no water, something that has happened more lately. After a boom, a bust and a bailout the Irish economy continues to struggle, and yesterday’s budget will see higher taxes and less money for social services, even as a significant fraction of homeowners struggle to pay the mortgage and basic utilities seem to fail more often. Still, Ireland is hardly alone, and people here seem far better able to handle austerity than in many countries.

That night The Girl and I read more of The Borrowers, and she put on a Buster Keaton-style silent performance to go with the song “Donald Where’s Your Trousers.” We watched David Attenborough’s Blue Planet series, where we watched baby lobsters being born and tiny jellyfish paddle for the first time.

We sang “Greensleeves” and “The Water is Wide,” folk songs perhaps a thousand years old, and talked about the birth of Jesus and the Golden Rule.  And we discussed the tiny dinosaurs recently discovered in China, including a tiny early bird no bigger than a wren.

By the end of the day she was ready to sleep, and I kissed her goodnight. The days we've had so far, as she put it this morning, are the days of Advent, which leads up to Christmas in the Catholic calendar as Lent does to Easter. It is a time of austerity and preparation before the catharsis of a holy day, when we celebrate before the year and seasons turn and a new stage begins.


Ronald Langereis said...

Hi Brian,
On the budget, I read an insightful post by David McWilliams, the Irish economist and Zero Hedge offered a clear view of the utter cluelessness of European politicians on what to do about the crisis in general, making it worse instead of creating opportunities for their beleaguered citizens, like Iceland did.
In less than a fortnight, daylight will grow again and though this will herald the onset of yet another winter, you'll be comforted by your own endeavours, you and your bright little companion.

M said...

You might enjoy CNN's recent feature on Gullah culture which shows the tradition of basket-making with sweet grass and how the baskets are still used to sift.

Brian Kaller said...


I haven't read David McWilliams' writings extensively, but he makes some good points. The number of people here who can't pay their mortgages, for example, is truly apalling. I tend to agree with Zero Hedge (thanks for the introduction) that more countries should have behaved as Iceland did, although it's admittedly easier when you have only 100,000 people, a close-knit culture and easy geothermal energy.

Thanks for the link! The more I learn about basketry, the more there is to learn.