I woke yesterday morning remembering. We lived in Wexford when I was 9 or maybe 10. I was riding my pony along the sandy lane to the sea. It was summer I believe. The sun was at it’s zenith, no shadows of evening yet. It was warm for Ireland. We were nearing the beach. In a moment the long stretch of hazy blue horizon, broken only by two islands, would bare itself to us. The blue would take my breath away.
It was a five mile ride to the beach. I was hot, sweating beneath my black riding hat, my forehead slippy and salt dripping to my lips, in patched blue jeans, an old t-shirt and riding boots, my usual attire. I remember being alone, but wouldn’t have been. Joanna or Juliet, my sister’s would have been riding too.
The sea grasses were singing in the breeze. Sun-dried, they made a gentle music like reedy instruments, long wispy flows in waves out along the quilt of green and grey/blue grasslands before the sand dunes. They came to crescendo with a chorus of sea birds calling. The Curlew’s call was my favored section, a melancholy call that pulled my heart strings, it does now to this day. Thirty years later and an Atlantic ocean away, I can here it in the deep core of me, reminding me of Dad and those islands where we scattered his ashes.
I was bracing myself. For when we would turn that corner and he caught the first site of that view, he would take off. My young body would not stand a chance in holding him back. Any discipline he had learned would be overwhelmed by the instinct to gallop that open space. I was nervous and smiling ear to ear. We had carried the anticipation the entire ride. He was sure to run. He did every time, I was counting on it.
My small hands grasped round the warm leather reins entwined with the coarseness of his rowan mane. I held on tight, grasping my thighs around his middle. And up went his head and a side long glance, we were off. At break neck speed we galloped down the beach. His legs thundering beneath me, my hair rushing back behind me in a torrent with the wind in my ears, loudly rushing past. I could barely look ahead into it, and had to turn my head to the side. To the right of me the sea, waves rushing in too and turning over, underneath ground passing in a blur of sands and shells. The thud and rhythm and me doing all I could to keep with him, in that rhythm and not fall off. He wouldn’t stop till he was done. I could only surrender to the wildness. And surrender I did with yips and roars “Hahahahahha …Wooohooo ….. yeeeehaaaaa”. There we were wholly wild and free. Liberated at once from stable, home and school. He could have thrown me off but didn’t, not today.
My encounter’s with this freedom were plentiful as a child, and what of them now. They are ingrained, embodied memories of being alive, connected, full spirited. I want this for my children. A natural growing of strength with tests of courage, supported in freedom.
When he was run through he would veer right into the sea, and I would get a soaking. The cold water coming over the tops of my boots and cooling us off. His splashing steps throwing water up to my hands and face. It was a complete sensational experience, every part of it. And both of us thirsty and nothing to quench but salty water, we would have to wait the five miles home. When we were ready that is, to leave this kind of heaven. A full days work to get there and back. And what a reward.
This new work, is called Cailín Eala/ Swan Girl it is about coming of age, inspired by watching our youngest daughter coming to eleven, and all the great enthusiasm she has for growing up, and that unmistakable power of potential in her. This is her as I imagine in a couple of years time, readying to enter her womanhood, guided, safely enfolded by nature, with a deep courage like a warrior and feminine gentleness alike, going forward naturally, true to herself and in balance with her world. I hope I can offer her lots of wild days and opportunities to feel so fully alive, even in this urban life.