Sunday, 28 April 2013

Day along the banks

Most images of Ireland, like those stunning photos featured on calendars and postcards, have a secret: they were taken in the rare moments of sunshine. Clouds and rain are much more common, however, especially through the winter – and last year the summer never came, while the rain and chill stretched almost unbroken from one winter to the next.

Today, though, the sun shone brightly across the landscape, and The Girl and I travelled the length of the canal – she on her bicycle and I jogging – to see our surroundings in a new light. Our ducks remained near us, happily paddling about our patch of canal, and our neighbour took his white stallion out on the road for a walk to munch the roadside grass. The Girl collected dandelions for the dandelion wine I made this evening, and we were pleased to see a bumblebee – bees did poorly last year in the rain.

The Girl and I stopped here and there to see, through breaks in the hedges and walls, green fields extending into the distance, and beyond them the brown bog-lands.

They’ve cut the turf already, I said – we have to stop at Tommy’s on the way back. He owns that bit of bog, and I need to make sure he cuts some for us. Turf, I should explain, is peat from the bog, which we dry and burn in our fireplace – it has an earthy smell like nothing else on earth, and while it’s not really sustainable, it’s one of the only fuels you can gather within walking distance of one’s home.

“Will we have to go into the bog and get it, Daddy?” The Girl asked.

I’ll have to foot it again this year, I said. I should explain that when turf is cut is lays like giant strands of liquorice across the ground, and then I and my neighbours have to “foot” it – break it into brick-sized pieces and stack it as cross-hatching a few bricks high. We then wait a few months until it dries and then bring it all home at once, their fuel for the year.

So, on the last good day of the summer, locals drive their tractors into the bog, fathers behind the wheel and the mother and children riding in the back. At the end of the day, we see them driving home again, the trailer full and the whole family hanging onto the sides.

I footed the turf with Liam three years ago, I told The Girl, and we’ve stretched that into a year, but we’re almost out now.

“Can I go with you again?” she asked. “I remember last time, when I found a frog on a log.”

In the bog, I know, I said, amused she remembered a passing joke from years ago. But you were five then; you’re almost nine now, and old enough to help me. Someday you’ll have to do these things yourself.

“Awww…” she said, but half-jokingly, and then tried to race me to the rusted bridge that was once used to load the turf onto horse-drawn barges for transport to the cold families of Dublin. 

We got all the way to the end of the canal road and half-way back before rain began to lash, and were able to linger at Tommy’s door, under his awning, until it passed.

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