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Connemara: Landscape of a Dream
by Colleen Cabot

The day was gray. Cool. The pale sun strong enough to warm wet earth. My bare feet search out that warmth, are comforted in finding it..

I will ride today. Take the long way to the Inn. Excitement begins a slow tingle at the base of my spine.

I stand a while longer. The sun had cleared the ragged horizon an hour ago. The fence post roots me to my father’s land.

Throwing the dark cloak over my shoulders, I leap onto the small neat horse, kicking her to a lope.

The sun and sweet peat smoke mingle, somehow, in wind-blown hair. He loved to bury his face at the nape of my neck, my father did. Savor that wild perfume.

So I ride. Wild. Astride a half-wildhorse, bare feet and bare legs, skirts frothing across my thighs.

The afternoon coaxes the sun out to paint the turf emerald. Everywhere, tiny daisies like white stars, and buttercups, golden. The horse’s hooves light, skimming sand-packed turf among huge boulders like the backs of beached whales.

Would we watch gannets this evening, always the four, together, white with black wing tips flashing, brilliant, delicate yellow-washed heads, gilding the cushioned waves?

The Inn. Leaping from the horse’s back, I walk barely composed through the low door. The harpist sits in the warm corner of the hearth. Bright sun out of doors. Firelight a soft glow across the darkened room. Fire banked low.

“Connemara,” I heard him intone. His fingers pass over thick bronze strings, freeing a voice of wind and stars and wild mountains of gray-black stone.

You returned to this dream often. A tangle of images. That was all.

Several years later, the atlas fell open at Ireland. You traced the ragged west coast...there it is....Connemara.

Leafing through an encyclopedia to find out more: Connemara, a land of bog and lakes with an impressive range of dome-shaped mountains, the Twelve Bens, at its center. The Connemara pony, like those of Assetegue and Wales, are small animals but proportioned like larger horses, in contrast to the stubby shapes of Shetlands.

A calendar picture seen months later sent a shiver of recognition up your spine. White-gray horses. A black wild sky brooding over a ragged mountainscape. Images straight from your dream. The title: Connemara.

On a Wyoming June evening, the sun paints snow-mantled Tetons and billowing clouds with rose, as a harpist plays in Dornan’s local bar. Your heart thuds -- you feel his fingers touch the strings; you feel the pluck of wire and the throb of sound as if your own fingers play there. You had never paid attention to harps before, or harpists. What is this connection -- who was the harpist in your dream and how could you know how this feels? You think you will go mad as you stride out onto the road. You would give up all this, everything known and loved, to find out why you know so much -- and so little.

June, two years later, you walk out of Galway toward those Twelve Bens, rain lashed almost horizontal by the wind. North from the Bay, the road disappears across flat heath. Nothing stops the wind.

Ireland.

Unexpectedly big after the condensed landscapes of Wales.

In Carna, a goat-skinned bodhran leans up against a wooden-boxed accordion in a corner of the pub. Mid-afternoon on a Sunday.

The singing would start any time, they said at the bar. You didna’ find out until a week later that they still lilt and sing sian nos, the ancient acappella, down in Carna. Your ride left before they set in.

But the bayshore curves just so, water the color of time-tinted green glass, cystal clear over white shell sand. Cropped emerald turf studded with white daisies. Buttercups. And Gray boulders strewn everywhere, megaliths of time.

Your heart quickens.

From three thousand feet up on Benna Beola, the sea cuts a ragged edge of bays and islands across a mist-shrouded horizon. Boglands shattered by lakes, shards of glass mirroring the sun.

Your dream taunts you. But the scale is all wrong. You didna’ remember boulders or mountains...but tors, like the backs of beached whales.

Looking up ‘tor’ in the dictionary, this is the exact word. Why have you been so insistant? Tor: a high rock or pile of rocks; probably from Old Welsh turr, from Old Celtic tur; a heap.

The thousand-foot scarp of white quartz gleaming up Bengower’s flank catches you by surprise. Close up, it blushes rose.

Clambering around the rock-girt shore of one of those lake shards, you stumble into a wood. Ancient grandfather trees fed by a silver stream. Mossy banks strewn with white flowers. Emerald shamrocks dancing in golden air. The breath of ancient trees, murmuring...the words ruffle the edge of your memory...”Connemara,” he had intoned, brushing the bronze strings.

Standing in sea-thrown mist on the coast of Donegal, you watch jade-green swells shatter on the cliffs of Slieve League. Two thousand feet of mountain flank, gold and green and bronzed metasediments flung at the sea by a mountain wild and indomitable. Two thousand feet of cliff rises straight out of the sea here, they told you. The mist settles lower. You feel the weight of that mountain, didna need to see it. Standing quietly in the mist, you feel the tide turn.

You are going home. The back times are the back times. Your dream will have to be enough.

But then, back in Clifden, you ride north for a concert. The evening is gentle. Your acquaintances chatter gaily. Ben is eager to hear the penny whistle. Lynn remembers the woman’s golden voice, the clevernes of the fiddler. Five of you, packed into a small car. And late for the music.

Dusk lingers. Twilight is long in Irish spring evenings so near the Solstice. Rugged mountains, emerald land, all washed in golden twilight. The sea, silver along a ragged bayshore. The sky, soft, pink...salmon pink. And orange, with azure deepening to purpled blue at zenith. No stars yet; but you feel the slice of silvered moon hanging just below the horizon.

Gannets must be flying out across the waves...four gannets, flying in unison.

The sign points to Renvyle. You had seen the name on the map. Circled it. Almost taken the road west and north on your way to Donegal.

For weeks now, you have been studying landscapes. Asking folks about a place dominated by granite tors. “Not really mountains,” you had described it. “Boulders the size of houses.” They couldna say. No, nothing came to mind. You kept looking.

The energy amoung your friends is intense. And you are late. Twilight sharpens.

The hair at the back of your neck prickles. Sandwiched between Lynn and Ben in the back seat, you suddenly stretch to look out the car windows, take in the sweep of land and sea. You nearly panic. Yes. The gray boulders like the backs of great beached whales.

You could almost feel the cloak flung by the wind across your shoulders, feel your bare thighs against the horse.

Renvyle.

Your friends drive on. The music is fine. More than fine. Wild Swedish polskas. Irish jigs. Ballads. If there had been a harpist, you might have gone mad.

Back in Clifden that night you are, surprisingly, calm. No, you need not go back to Renvyle in full daylight. You had been in that landscape, felt it, knew it. All of it.

The landscape of your dream would propel your life forward now.