My father knew well the one road due west of Galway, the road into Connemara country, through Spiddal and on to Clifden. One-shop villages of cement houses the color of rain, the odd one white-washed. Between them are endless expanses of rolling green hills, but not a soft lush green. These fields are pockmarked with rock. Here he could see the earth’s hard core beneath a slim layer of sod.
The only thing that gives any sense of dimension to the landscape are the stone walls separating the fields. His ancestors had been pulling the emerged bedrock from this land for centuries, stacking the rocks in a three foot high line which marks where one family’s land ends and another begins.
There is no pattern to this system, for some fields are but a quarter of an acre, while others half. Some are almost square, others close on a triangle. But the farmer knows each of his fields as a father knows his child – their faults, their promise.
My eye would get caught into following these random lines of granite, and giving up on trying to decipher a pattern. I am always so sure of a pattern. I eventually moved on to determine if there really were forty shades of green. ‘I have that song on tape,” he’d say.
It is usually raining in Connemara, and on a wet day, the place is truly miserable. In the rain, Connemara is an endless expanse of rock and soggy soil. And the rain here has no pattern either. It falls from above, hits from the side, and seems to bounce up from the ground to strike your face. There is no natural shelter from the wet on these treeless ridges. The landscape is stark, like a father’s face when his daughter turns away.
But on a sunny day, these stretches of green come alive as the rocks sparkle in the sunshine. He points, and my eye follows the line of one rock wall up to the tip where the ridge of green hill draws a line and the blue sky begins. I am quite sure that if I were to walk up there, I could touch the sky. But then I see where my father’s finger is pointing.
One stone wall runs along a ridge, and on this day, from that spot, the sun is behind that ridge. And for one moment, as warm light filters through the spaces between the rocks, the stone walls appears to be lace. And in that moment, we are one.
My father loved Connemara Country. These days I am the age he was back then, returning to Ireland each summer where I dutifully manage to catch the sun through one of those same stone walls, and in that moment, he is there, beside me.
I suppose the most important thing my father gave me was a fine education. However, a large part of that education was not in classrooms, but by his side as he took me with him- from summers living on a boat on a lake in New England to other summers in Paris, Heidelberg, Lausanne, Interlocken, and London. I was all of 21 when he passed away: too young to understand how much I owed him. But if I were able to look him in the eye and thank him for his greatest gift to me, it would be his taking me to the land of our ancestors, Ireland.