Thursday, June 19, 2008

CROMANE TO ANNASCAUL

This may be what it will be like when I die and awake in heaven:

Bright, white, clean sheets. Sun filtering through gently curtained windows, politely telling my eyes It's time to get up. There's an adventure to be lived today.

I slept well, and I awoke refreshed. This may seem inconsequential to most, but for me, this is a rare and delightful gift. I showered, put on freshly washed clothes, and followed the scents of breakfast down to the kitchen. The three of us ate a delicious breakfast. Eggs and bacon and sausage were involved. It was lovely.

It was also time to be moving on.

The three of us hopped into the little car and made our way into the nearby town. We came to a good spot for catching a ride at the edge of town, and said some warm good-byes. I grabbed my backpack and shoulder bag and waved as Mark and Carol-Ann drove out of sight. I walked a block or two with my left thumb outstretched.

Soon a little car pulled up. A 50-ish man was inside. He had kind eyes and a frumpy suit, which means it was a suit that used to look good, but was now comfortable (You can't have it both ways, gents). He cleared his open briefcase from the passenger seat and bid me to sit. It was apparent that this humble little car was also his office.

“Thanks,” I said as I sat down. “I'm Aaron.”

“I'm Dick,” he said as we pulled out onto the road.

Dick and I drove for a long time. I think he was one of my favourite rides. He was a talker, but not an obnoxious talker. He was a kindly, and not at all a self-important type.

We drove along thin, Irish roads at a speed that, only a week before, might have been alarming. I had realized early on that the Irish have a different pace on those skinny roads, but they are very aware and conscientious drivers. I told him about my trip so far, and mentioned that I'd gone to mass at the Black Abbey in Kilkenny.

“Are you Catholic?” he asked.

“Yes, I am,” I said.

“Ah,” he said with a smile.

“I try to go to mass two or three times a week,” says Dick. “I'm not trying to say I'm holy, but I think it's important to go to mass. It's important to pray. I pray for people while I'm there, you know? And it works. It really does.”

He told me about a man he knew long ago who was a desperate alcoholic. His wife was too. Dick prayed for him “Every day. Well, maybe not every day. But often, and whenever I went to mass.” Life took the friends in separate directions, but Dick continued to pray for him. Years later, he got a call from a stranger who said, “Do you know who this is?” It turns out it was this man and his wife had been sober for several years. “It really works.”

I could tell that Dick would the kind of person who would be a good friend, like one of those little black-and-white shepherd dogs. The kind of person who is faithful in prayer is the kind of person who is faithful in friendship. Actually, I wouldn't be surprised if he's at mass right now, saying a prayer for me.

We came to the place where Dick was heading in a different direction than where I needed to go. I shook his hand. He was a good man with a good handshake. I stepped out of the car.

“God bless, Dick!” I said as we parted ways.

'God, bless Dick.' I prayed as he turned and drove away.

I was near the outskirts of another small town. I suppose in Ireland, that's called an average-sized town. With only 6 million people to fill the country, it has kept it's small towns. They seem to be what keeps Ireland alive and charming. There was an auto body shop to my left, and as I walked past it, I pooped my pants as the guard dog suddenly started barking. I believe he was asking his owner to please let him have a piece of me. Thankfully, I could hear the owner telling him to be quiet. And no, I didn't actually poop my pants.

I stopped just past the last house in town, beside yet another green, open field and set my bags down. Several cars passed until a little blue hatch-back pulled up just beyond me. It was chock full of stuff. I saw a suit case, clothes and blankets piled up in the back seat. There was a lot of stuff on the passenger's seat to clear off.

The driver, a slim man in his late 60's asked me, sincerely, “Do you want to wait for another ride?” referencing the mess.

“Oh no,” I smiled, “This is fine!”

I climbed in and introduced myself to the bald man with glasses. “Robert,” he said. “Or Bob.”

Robert was pretty cool. Born and raised in Ireland, Bob had been married and raised children in this beautiful country, but had never really seen it for himself. He had never travelled. So, the widower decided to pack his things in his car and see this country of his.

And what a country it was.

My drive with Bob was one of the most beautiful I'd had yet, and that's saying a lot. We drove along hillsides into the mountainous regions of County Kerry. This country did not stop taking my breath away. I began to see the forty shades of green that our friend Johnny Cash sang about. Green turned to an earthy brown as hills became mountains. Stone fences rolled along the terrain and over distant peaks.

We came upon an open vista overlooking a green field with sheep, and the mountains in the distance. Bob pulled over to get some shots. He had an old-fashioned camera, one which actually used “film” to store pictures. He even had to place the viewfinder right up to his eye. I marvelled at this archaic technology. Bob was concerned about not just taking pictures, but getting the right shot.

"I could use this as a foreground,” he said as he motioned towards the old fence and field in front of him. “with those mountains in the back.”

“This is incredible,” I said. I surreptitiously switched my digital camera to video, and got the perfect shot of Bob trying to get the perfect shot.


video

video

It really was incredible. Cottages and farm houses pierced the green here and there, as sheep grazed with their young through the farm land. I snapped a few more pics, and we got in the car and drove on.

Bob was a talker, too. He had some great stories. One of them involved driving down a back road in the middle of the night, in Australia, and crashing into a kangaroo. The car was undriveable, the 'roo did not live (sorry), and Bob had an adventure trying to get to the next town.

Robert took me as far as Annascaul, population 271. I waved good-bye, and Bob drove on to his next adventure.

God bless Bob.

video

I walked past lonely shops, down the hill to the edge of town, across a bridge, and around a bend. Men chatted and smoked and laughed outside the local pub. I set my bags down by the side of the road, and remembered hunger.

“Sandwiches!” I thought. Carol-Anne had prepared some sandwiches for me that morning. I opened up my backpack and found the zip-locked bread. As I ate, I wondered how long it would be before my next ride.

Annascaul. A small town with not much traffic.