For me, it is ‘the low lands, and the full green of the summer trees’. My longings are for peopled places, rich with memory and story and song. These are the slow, rooting days by the river, so sleek that words slide off them and will not stick. Days filled with the flavours of being, when an hour can be taken to plant a lavender, and when sipping a mug of tea on the old milking stool by the stepping stones becomes the greatest priority of the morning. There is a wren’s nest in an ash tree by the river, and hares in the field at dawn. The brambles are flowering, and I am dreaming of autumn preserves and pie.
Now I haunt the gentler hills, content to admire Errigal’s sculpted slopes from afar, snuggled down in a green hollow at the base of a sun-warmed rock. Errigal, ever the drama queen, thrusts her way mightily up from the bog, but it is Muckish that calls to me now: Mucais, from the Irish for ‘pig’s back’, sacred sow in the landscape, lavish in curve and dimple and nook.
I linger along the early-morning boreen, sheltered by hedgerows of hawthorn and fuschia, watching Common Blue butterflies among the red clover and blue geranium growing wild on the verge. A little way along the track where I leave the lane to cut back home across the bog is a ford: a shallow pool through which a deep and fast-flowing stream can be crossed. It is nestled into a natural hollow, at the foot of a large green mound on whose sides small self-sown rowans are beginning to thrive. The pool froths blood-red at the edges with iron precipitates, and I creep down to it carefully, expecting each time (but especially on misty mornings) to catch a glimpse of the Washer at the Ford – the old woman of legend who washes clean the bloody clothes of slain warriors.
This is a landscape steeped in stories, and those stories stalk us still. They have seeped into the bones of this land, and the land offers them back to us; it breathes them into the wind and bleeds them out into streams and rivers. They will not be refused.
In a nearby hamlet, overlooked by An Earagail and An Eachla Mhór, is a well-known fairy wood. If you are wise, I am told with quiet certainty by our friend and neighbour the poet, you will never take a stick from this place.
If you turn south to Dún Lúiche, at the foot of Errigal you will find the beautiful green valley now known as the Poisoned Glen, in which the old sun-god Lugh killed his grandfather, the Formorian, Balor of the Evil Eye.
In this country, the Otherworld is as real as any other. It leaks into this summer valley, and if I close my eyes and listen to the low rumble of the river as she plunges through the stepping stones, deep bass notes leavened with the treble of ripple and trickle, I imagine that I might one day come to understand her song.
Riverwitch. We are learning to know you, learning along these long slow days the ways in which we might begin to belong.