The Grandeur We Behold

Labor Day was Monday and it seemed that all the world was basking in the sunshine and cool breezes, out and about and determined to suck the marrow from the last hoorah of summer.

I found myself wondering about the roots of this holiday, where this weekend that so universally, though unofficially, marks the end of summer came from. So, in the way of super cool kids everywhere, I looked it up on the Department of Labor’s website. This is what I found:

"Labor Day, the first Monday in September, is a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country."

Later, the article quotes one of the contested founders as suggesting a day to honor those “who from rude nature have delved and carved all the grandeur we behold.” While I take exception to the 19th century idea that the manipulation of nature for the sole purpose of benefitting and profiting mankind was to be celebrated, I do think that a re-interpretation of his words contain a deep truth: that our own labors and hard work can transform our own own “rude natures” into real grandeur to behold. 

We all know that this is true in the “doing your work” sense of addressing our personal and emotional baggage through everything from therapy to stress-management, etc. But I mean this in the more literal sense of labor and work…in the work of our chosen professions and the work of goal-setting, literally getting shit done.

I think it should be obvious if you’ve ever talked with me for more than five minutes or read anything I’ve written that I am quite firmly in the camp of believers that life is meant to be utterly lived and enjoyed. But I no longer believe that the path of enjoyment or fulfillment or real, lasting happiness is a life of unlimited leisure. On the contrary, I think too much empty leisure is often a good recipe for discontent, listlessness, and dissatisfaction. 

Whether it’s the labor of pursuing excellence in a field or profession that fascinates and excites you, or training for a marathon, or learning to play the viola, or simply the work involved in actually noticing your life and being present with it, there is real joy in work well and truly done. In his book, The Happiness of Pursuit, Chris Guillebeau explores the idea that it’s the pursuit of a challenging quest that brings real and lasting happiness to our lives (by the way, if you haven’t checked out his work, do it- he’s awesome). Alistair Humphreys brings this idea to life over and over in his work, and I am constantly inspired by his investment in small, close to home adventures as well as big, life-altering ones (check out his most recent quest where he taught himself the violin and then busked his way across Spain, singing for his supper). 

So I've come to think of Labor Day as more than just a day to take a well-earned break and bbq with friends, but a celebration of the growth and satisfaction of pursuing our labors, of pushing ourselves to learn and excel, of exploration and discovery that can only come with peeling back the layers of what we’re capable of, of transforming our own rude natures into grandeur.

What grandeurs are you laboring to build in your life? 

I Ran In The Rain Today

I ran in the rain today.

I didn’t feel like it and put it off with everything I could think of, from emails to a long dog walk to reorganizing my supplies for showering at the gym. "I’m busy," I told myself, “and it’s raining and I’m tired and I can do it later.” I even went so far as to sit for several minutes in the parking lot debating whether to get out of the car. I really didn’t feel like it.

I ran in the rain today.

I went to the woods to run. I rebel at the idea of running anywhere else these days. My logical self knew that I needed time among the trees, that I would be less cranky and snippy and more productive if I made time to stretch my legs under a canopy of leaves and sky. Sometimes I’m glad when my logical self bullies my emotional self into doing what must be done. 

I ran in the rain today.

It wasn’t a torrential downpour, but instead came down with steadiness and reliability. It sometimes sounded like the palm of a hand slapping down on a tabletop as fat drops reached their terminal velocity before colliding with the enormous leaves of late summer. The slaps became the rhythm that I timed my footfalls to, my own backwoods drum circle as I wound around muddy trails.

I ran in the rain today.

Blackfly season is over, but the horseflies have been a nuisance unto themselves this year. Whenever I began to let my thoughts drift away, to disconnect from the burning in my out-of-shape legs, their bites would pinch me awake and pull me back to the moment, labored breathing and all.  These last many weeks I have given in to “busy” and let my to-do lists edge out what I know I need to be sustainable, to push my run or my yoga practice down the list until it fell right off the bottom of the page. Now my legs burn and my lungs burn and I have to get past the painful beginnings all over again. And the horsefly just won’t let me pretend otherwise.

I ran in the rain today.

I didn’t cure cancer or bring peace to a war torn nation. I didn’t even manage to get through the first part of my own checklist of tasks that must be done. But I got out of my car in the parking lot when I didn’t feel like it. I laced up my shoes. I put one foot in front of the other for a few miles. And I felt the coolness of the water on my skin, sating a thirsty soul that grows parched by long days at desks and chasing lists that have no end. I moved my animal’s body through its habitat in the forest and it remembered, for the briefest moment, what it was to be a wild thing meant to run. 

I ran in the rain today.

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A Holy Well

I sat in my rental car in the parking lot of Kylemore Abbey and opened my still-stiff copy of Connemara & Mayo: Mountain, Coastal, and Island Walks, A Walking Guide to the page I’d flagged that morning. Over an Irish breakfast of toast and tomatoes and what seemed to be sixty varieties of meat alongside a steaming french press of excellent coffee, I’d cracked open the guidebook and briefly scanned the maps for a walk in my area of Connemara. The Mweelin loop looked about right: relatively close to my B&B for my rather late start and an introduction that described the walk as an “introductory, difficult grade, looped mountain walk with just one hard climb” that was a mere 8.4k. 

So. Here I was. Reading through the actual route description in the parking lot, suddenly feeling a little more trepidation. I’m an experienced hiker. I’m comfortable with map and compass and the pack I’d loaded that morning had plenty of layers, snacks, and even a Stanley thermos of good, hot tea as a luxury afforded a short day hike. But while I had a compass in hand, my “map” consisted of nothing more than a red dotted line and the most basic of topographies and as I scanned through the route description, I noted a distinct lack of references to trails or trail markers. But seriously, how hard can it be…I mean, it’s a mere five miles and not exactly isolated backcountry wilderness.

“At the main road turn left, walking carefully along the N59 for about 200m- just before the dangerous bend- where there is a basic gate on your right leading to a wet track."

So I turned left at the road and began my walk. The road was quite winding and had no shoulder to speak of (we’re in Ireland after all), so every bend felt a bit “dangerous” as cars whizzed by at 80km/hr. About 3 minutes after reaching the road, there was a gate on my right, a bit overgrown by brambles, and the faintest indication of single track on its other side. Was this my gate? I peered back down the road in the direction I’d come. Had I come 200 meters already? Why has the U.S. not switched to the stupid metric system already…how far was 200 meters? A football field is 100 yards, and a yard and a meter are roughly similar…had I walked at least two football fields? I looked again at the gate and then at the bend in front of me on the road. Was this the dangerous one? I decided to walk a little further and turn around if I didn’t see something that seemed more…legitimate?

I passed a wild goat and her kid munching on the brambles along the road, giving momma and her stink eye as wide a berth as I could without stepping too far onto the death trap of blind curves that the N59 was beginning to feel. A few minutes later I came to a bigger gate and a double track whose tire marks were defined by long lines of standing water. Ahhh…”wet track”…this must be my gate. But do I really just open some farmer’s gate and walk onto the property? Was some Irish version of the cattle rancher going to set upon me with shotgun yelling at my trespass? I consulted my guidebook again.

“Follow this track over the stream and past the excellent remains of a limekiln."

Okay then. Apparently crossing onto this property was acceptable.

Making sure the gate was securely fastened behind me, I began following the track. My feet were immediately soaked, but I’d anticipated that when choosing my footwear for the occasion, running shoes not exactly being famed for their water tightness. What I hadn’t expected was the spongey ground, the way the water rose and puddled around my feet as I stepped into the grassy areas around the standing water. So this is what “peat bog” looks like. I’d always envisioned something more swamp-like, more fetid and decomposing, but these golden grass covered hills were simply breathtaking in their openness. I was smiling as I walked and already feeling the effects of being in open air despite the sounds of the N59 directly behind me. 

I reached what were clearly the remains of the limekiln and paused to take some photos and just watch the sheep surrounding me, the antics of the new lambs hysterical. I reached for my guidebook, feeling an unwarranted sense of confidence considering that all I’d done at this point was manage to find and cross the proper gate and follow a well-marked track (that ended at the limekiln). 

“Continue up the quarry and past the remains of a megalithic (court) tomb to the holy well; there is a children’s burial ground to the south which may have earlier been a monastic site."

Ummm. Cool. Sooooo…in this landscape of hills small and large around me, will one of them be obvious as a megalithic tomb? And precisely what, exactly, designates a well as “holy”? Will there be a sign? A cross? If I drink from it, will I stay forever this age as in Tuck Everlasting

There was a sheep trail leading toward the hills and that seemed as good a path to follow as any, so off I went hoping that the tomb and holy well would be apparent when I came to them. The day was crisp, the clouds coming together to darken the skies and then breaking apart to allow sunshine and blue sky to set the golden landscape sparkling. The wind was ceaseless, but not unfriendly in its pushing and as I walked, I could feel myself shedding the rigors of travel, the sense of claustrophobia I’d been fighting for weeks as my schedule at home was buried under long weekdays at my computer and weekends in rigorous study.

I was reminded once again how little is truly required to get here, to get to this feeling of wildness and freedom. It’s an amazing thing to walk into wild places and spend time days away from the nearest person. To be on land that is rugged and unforgiving and to be tested. But much of that sensation of being able to breathe, of feeling connected to the rhythms and cadences of the birds and the wind and the terrain underfoot, doesn’t require such extremes. If I turned around and looked back in the direction from whence I came, I could see the winding roadway below as it slipped in and out of the trees. I could see the imposing structure of Kylemore Abbey on the banks of its lake. “Civilization” was less than a full mile away. But if I turned my back to that road, I could no longer hear it. If I turned my back to that road, only the golden hills were before me and beside me. Yes, the sheep surrounding me were domesticated, but is a new mother any less fierce in her protective instincts simply because humans collect her wool? I was bawled at and run from and postured at as I walked, and the wide dark eyes of the new lambs were no less magical for their domestication. I felt the freedom and connection wash over me with every soggy step I took and thrilled at the beauty surrounding me.

As I came to a small stream with a tiny ancient stone building at its root, I guessed that this must be my holy well. But was it a well at all? It seemed to be a spring. And it seemed old, but could that designate it as holy? I dipped my fingertips into the icy water. Good lord, I love moving water. Raftable whitewater rivers or minuscule trickling streams, it doesn’t matter, I feel for the sound of water gliding over rocks the way some people feel for the sound of waves crashing on a beach. I closed my eyes and reveled in the sound, taking it in in deep gulps, sating my thirst for the sounds of water running free. Holy indeed.

Eventually, I looked around for anything that might resemble a megalithic tomb. Had I passed it? The hills around me were rolling and none seemed any more tomb-like than the others. I pulled out my compass and looked south. Could that grouping of lichen-covered stones be the children’s burial ground? I walked toward it, wind whistling around me. As I approached, I saw that someone had kindly erected a small headstone wishing eternal rest on all departed souls and felt a wave of compassion for the bereaved parents of these long-buried children who were granted such a view in their final resting place. 

“Continue in a southeasterly direction until you reach the National Park’s deer fence on your right. Follow the fence until it turns sharply right. Leave the fence and continue straight uphill into a grassy bowl."

I spotted the deer fence and made my way to it. I followed its ascent for a bit and when it seemed to veer right, I continued straight. And by straight, I mean straight uphill. Which was what the guidebook instructed. But "straight uphill” went quickly from walking to scrambling, trying to find purchase in the soggy earth for digging fingers and toes as I lumbered upwards with my pack suddenly feeling like it’s meager weight was working to pry me backwards and send me tumbling. After nearly 15 minutes of this scrambling, I reached what seemed to be my “grassy bowl.” I wiped my wet hands on my soaked knees and looked around at the spectacular view I’d just earned with my efforts. It was quite wonderful and I felt quite pleased with myself.

Right up until I looked down at the deer fence that I’d been so eager to leave at its first veer right.

What I’d assumed was my sign to depart the fence line was no more than a slight curve, I now saw. If I’d continued to walk along it’s edge for another 50 yards or so, the fence there took- you guessed it- a sharp right turn. From my view atop my little perch, I could clearly see the intended line, the steep, but hike-able (albeit longer) route to the grassy dip between my little hilltop and the larger mountain next to me. Duh.   

I looked down at the route I’d just scrambled up. And then I looked at where I was supposed to be. And then I looked at the gathering storm clouds that were parting for sunshine with less and less frequency. And then I laughed with the tiny adventure of it all. It’s a glorious thing to feel a bit lost occasionally. I was safe. I had plenty of warm layers and a view that stretched to the general area of where my car was parked. I was in no danger. But I had taken several leaps of faith, wondered which gate I was to cross, wondered whether the building over the spring qualified as a “holy well,” taken a wrong turn and needlessly scrambled up a hill that turned out to be wrong. And it was absolutely, incandescently, wonderful.

There was soggy peat under my fingernails from where I’d plunged them into the earth, where I’d connected in such a tactile way to this land so far from my home. It’s usual, when we travel, that we travel to a nation’s great cities. It makes sense that we would do this as these cities are hubs of language and culture and history and it’s only natural that we would want to absorb as much “foreignness” as possible when we’ve spent our hard-earned dollars on plane tickets to somewhere far away. But there is something to be said for stepping away from those cities, for heading to the open and wild spaces of another land, to experiencing this connection to the taste of its wind and sun and rain, the texture of its soil. 

I remembered my thermos of good hot tea and my journal beckoning from my pack and decided that I was happy on my little hard-won patch of soggy peat and golden grass. As I spread my rain jacket on the ground and sat back against my pack, the sun broke once again through the dense clouds and warmed my upturned face as I felt shallow roots begin to reach from my soaked feet into these saturated hills.

We both find and leave behind bits and pieces of ourselves as we travel through our lives, as we dig out places where we fit and feel and call home, even temporarily. I don’t know if the spring I came across here was holy in the traditional sense or not, but I do know that the search for it certainly was. That to step out of comfort, to cross an unknown gate to step in muddy waters and trudge up unknown obstacles without feeling sure that any of them will take you to your intended destination is indeed a holy crusade and one for which I will take up arms again and again in search of the grail of deep contentment and limitless connection.

A Peek at Ireland

I'm back from the Emerald Isle and can't wait to share more of this trip with you here in the coming weeks! Here's a little peek at the fun we had!

The Connemara hills near Clifden

The Connemara hills near Clifden

Connemara in County Galway

Connemara in County Galway

The Cliffs of Moher at dusk

The Cliffs of Moher at dusk

Leslie and Lucy soaking up some post-run sun by the Cliffs of Moher

Leslie and Lucy soaking up some post-run sun by the Cliffs of Moher

 

 

The "Mosey Method" of Travel: Ireland 2013

I am heading to Ireland tomorrow to shoot a job for Freeport Yoga Company and the brand-new Running On Insight and as I began my planning, I thought it might be a good idea to look through my old photos/journals from my last trip to Ireland in 2013 and see if it sparked any ideas.

As trips down memory lane are wont to do, what began as focused research quickly devolved into oohing and aahing over remembered adventures and it occurred to me that this was the trip that really marked a shift in how Justin and I approach travel. It was the beginning of what we've come to think of as the "Mosey Method" of traveling.

The Mosey Method has a few key defining features:

1. Take your time. I mean this. This is at the heart of the mosey method. Have a second cup of coffee in the morning. Chat with the host of your B&B casually. Pull over to look at the sheep or pet the donkey or just take in the view. Stop for a beer. Have a second one. Get caught up watching Manchester United play Everton and cheer with the locals. Avoid hard deadlines to be places whenever possible. Stay an extra day if you like. Do not rush.

2. If you have an itinerary at all, make it loose and flexible. I am a planner by nature, so I tend to want to make myself familiar with what's around and what attractions/towns/events/etc are most appealing to me. BUT. Don't be married to a strict itinerary. And ask anyone you can (host at your B&B, girl scooping your ice cream, bartender pouring your beer) what they recommend doing/seeing...there always seem to be things off the beaten path that are more interesting than the big guidebook attractions. It's how you can find yourself watching a college cricket match in the midst of Dublin on a beautiful afternoon or being regaled with tales by an weathered old fisherman in a little coastal pub while Dougal, the bartender, buys you a pint on the house. These are the experiences that stay with you long after your souvenirs from tourist trap gift shops have gone in the trash.

3. EAT!!! Okay, so admittedly this is always a mantra of mine, but when traveling, I take this especially seriously! And by eat, I also mean DRINK! If alcohol isn't your thing, that's cool...stop for coffee or tea or a milkshake or whatever instead! But stop. We had one of our best meals and interactions on this trip when we decided to stop for a beer and a bite in a pub that was the only building aside from farmhouses for miles...it just stood alone at a crossroads near Newgrange and we just had to check it out. We were rewarded with hilarious overheard banter between locals, great advice for a place to stay, and a bit of local history that may or may not be true, but was certainly entertaining to hear. And c'mon...snacks are always fun!

And since I've never shared our 2013 trip in this space, I thought it would be fun to recap our first true Mosey Method trip around Ireland...

Dublin

After an overnight flight, we picked up our rental car and checked into the Fitzwilliam Hotel (I always make it a point to book my first night's accommodations ahead of time...it's no fun to be sleep deprived and wandering about an unfamiliar city with your luggage trying to figure out where to go). I have a small obsession with books and history and I couldn't wait to stand in Trinity College Library's Long Room and smell the old leather bound volumes, so that was our very first stop, along with the famed Book of Kells.

From there we staved off our jet lag by walking in the crisp May air...

We grabbed coffee and absolutely scrumptious baked goods at KC Peaches coffee shop (located where the old famed Fred Hanna's booksellers spent more than a century) before wandering over to the cricket match across the street...

From there, we wandered...stopping to listen to the buskers on Grafton Street, admire the locks of love on Ha'penny Bridge (which have since been removed), and have our first Irish pints in a tiny bar we couldn't find the actual name of. We passed by the Temple Bar and it's throngs of American tourists and eventually made our way back to our hotel when the jet lag finally did us in.

Tipperary

After a tremendous night's sleep, we enjoyed a short run in St. Stephen's Green before a casual breakfast and hitting the road. Around lunchtime, we rolled into Cahir in Co. Tipperary and, after a beer of course, explored Cahir Castle...

When the opportunity came up to stay the night at a castle-turned-bed & breakfast, we grabbed it. The Carrigeen Castle was just a short walk from Cahir Castle and although more modern (I love it when early 19th century is "modern"!), still a cool experience...

Aaaand...more beer.

Nothing says haunted castles like red uplighting...

Cork

I just couldn't bring myself to pass by Blarney Castle, so upon leaving Cahir, we made our way to the famous keep. While we skipped kissing the stone (yuck!), the castle and grounds were among our favorite excursions in Ireland and absolutely worth the price of admission. We toured the castle, which was incredible (did I mention that I love history?), and then spent several hours wandering the grounds and gardens.

Anyone else thinking what I'm thinking? ...Downton Abbey...anyone? Anyone?

Ring of Kerry / Dingle

While motoring happily along the narrow winding backroads toward the Ring of Kerry, we spotted a small trail leading into a wood and stopped to investigate. We spent nearly an hour in this mossy faerie wonderland before resuming our travels...

We arrived in Dingle just after twilight, eager for a bite and to find a place to stay for the night. The next morning, we took all the time we wanted as we wandered along the peninsula toward Doolin. While we never caught sight if Fungie, Dingle's famous dolphin, we did manage a few sheep, the fascinating beehive huts, and, of course, the magnificent views...even if our GPS did keep trying to tell us we were driving into the ocean!

Doolin / Inis Mor / The Cliffs of Moher

In Doolin we found phenomenal music and...you guessed it, beer and snacks! We had a rollicking good time before the moonlit walk back to our B&B...

The next day we were lucky enough to catch a break in the weather. The ferry to the Aran Islands from Doolin hadn't been able to get out for more than two weeks, but we were met with, if not sunshine, at least mild weather and jumped at the chance to head out to the islands. We had to make a decision as we couldn't do them all, so we opted for Inis Mor, interested in seeing it's renowned cliffs. The island was a delight and we pedaled around it with silly grins plastered to our mist-soaked faces...

Doonagore Castle looking all princess-y...

The Cliffs of Moher were spectacular to say the least! Do yourself a favor and get past the throngs at the visitor's center...well worth the walk.

Meath

From the Cliffs, we began our journey back toward Dublin and home, but not before stopping overnight in Meath to see the Neolithic passage tomb and temple at Newgrange. I have such an interest in these types of historic sites and so much wonder that Stone Age people could build such a structure to align with the winter solstice more than 5,000 years ago. It was absolutely fascinating.

In retrospect, I might have stayed longer in a single place rather than move on almost every day...something that we've since incorporated as part of our usual travel strategy...but it was actually pretty great to get a bit of a feel for the different areas of Ireland on this first visit and we truly employed the Mosey Method, so we never felt rushed or harried.

I'm looking forward to heading back tomorrow and will keep you posted as I explore the Connemara region a bit before hunkering down to work near the Cliffs of Moher for a week! Be sure to follow along on Instagram for updates along the way!