It is love’s frolic that your heart most cares about . . . Rumi
When it is my turn to plan, I trust something deep, an intuitive tug that pulls me in a direction and plops me down somewhere on this spinning globe that we call home. The first year, I was envious of our sons, the two of them, in their early and mid-twenties, more seasoned at traveling abroad than the two of us, the stay-at-home-in-the-emptying-nest parents. I chose Portugal, two weeks in this European country with no plan at all. It was Adventure I was seeking, and a trip we could create together, and a feeling of being foot-loose. Years later, when the inner call came to climb on board a plane to India, it was something else, something big and unwieldy and out of the box that beckoned me eastward, a knowing that we would find some inner stability in a land that thrums and hums and leaves nothing out of its thriving dying blossoming-again on-fire-with-color-and-life culture. And two years ago, at a time when my mother’s ninety-two year old body was failing her, and the family cottage was about to be sold, I was craving nourishment, and it was Sicily and her goddess Demeter and the golden fields of wheat and the olive trees and the fresh fish from the sea that wrapped loving arms around us and provided it.
These trips, these Mystery Trips, usually planned for a week or two in mid-spring, have been a game we’ve been playing, my husband, Cam, and I, for a decade now, taking turns once a year, surprising each other with an adventure, anywhere in the world, keeping it a secret from the other for as long as possible, maybe even until boarding that final plane, the one that will take us to our destination. And this year, it was my turn to listen once again to my inner navigational system as it guided me forward with the scheming. And it was never about the exotic this time, or the startlingly new. It was something else, something that called out to me last September, while walking on the wide expanse of beach at Popham in my birth-state of Maine with my friend, Muriel, in a thick foggy mist, with the taste of salt on my lips and my hair flying free, something as familiar as this foggy day on the sandy shore of a sea I have known forever. I was barefoot and the tide was coming in that afternoon, and, although Muriel and I could hardly see each other through the sopping salty fog, this idea was as clear as a sparkling blue-sky day. And I said it out loud, into the Maine-thick fog, out loud to Muriel and to the sea. “I want to go to Ireland for the next Mystery Trip.”
And maybe the breeze was blowing in off the sea that afternoon. I think it was – blowing in the mist from Ireland and the fiddle music and the haunting melodies, and the poets, those poets that I grew up reading, their words, too, blowing in on that breeze. And although I tried to convince myself that Scotland, where both Cam and I have solid traceable roots, might be a better choice, the songs of Ireland kept on blowing in my direction, and, in February, after an especially poignant open mic Out Loud evening at Joy Center, an evening where the Irish songs were indeed being sung, I booked our tickets to Dublin, for an eleven day trip to Ireland in late April/early May.
When you look out over the water, your bare feet sinking into that silty sand at Popham, sometimes all you see is fog, fog so thick you feel as though you could slice it into pieces, and other times, on the clear days, you feel as though you could see forever. And it’s Ireland that is the first country in Europe that you fly over when you travel across the Atlantic, and it’s Ireland that we tasted as kids in Maine, in the potatoes we ate for dinner most nights and the songs we sang in school and in the faces of our friends, some of our best friends with sur-names like Shea and Doyle and Jumper. It’s Ireland, along with England, that my father visited on his one trip to Europe as a young man, and I remember him saying that they have the same lobsters, the same seaweed, the same kinds of fish. And so, it was never about the exotic or the startlingly new. So, what was it that was calling me to Ireland this year?
Cam and I, a week after returning home, are both saying that we loved it, this recent Mystery Trip 2013, and, for sure, there was plenty to love. And yes, there was the exotic, the enchanted, the startlingly new. On the drive from Dublin to Galway, the grass on the rolling hills in Ireland’s mid-section was as green as green could possibly be: shamrock green, leprechaun green, the green of the emerald stone in the ring I inherited from my mother. And the Cliffs of Moher took our breath away and the birds who lifted themselves up into the wind above those seven-hundred foot cliffs, wheeling and gliding there in front of us, high above the sea, were not gulls at all, but something new to our North American eyes, and the Aran Island of Inishere where we spent two days, with its barren landscape and its sea of stonewalls and its 15th century castle, was nothing like the spruce-covered granite-stoned islands that I explored as a child in Maine. And yet, my father was right. There was the familiar too. The smell of the sea — I’d known it my whole life — and the fishing boats and the lobster traps and the mackerel fish on the pub and café menus and the barnacles on the rocks and the deep blue of the North Atlantic on a sunny morning in early May. And there was something else, too, that felt welcoming and familiar, that invited Cam and I to relax our shoulders, breathe a little deeper, and settle in for a frolicking good time. It was the people.
When I was in third grade, our teacher, Mrs. Brooks, gave us pencils for Christmas, with our names inscribed across their stems. There was a typo on my Irish friend Sally’s set; Salty, it said. And Salty, she was – for the rest of his life, she was Salty to my father. And it’s a perfect name. It’s a salt-of-the-earth name. And we met people in Galway and Inishere, in Adair and Dingle who were down-to-earth and earthy and as salty as the sea that soaked into their skin. People, who salted their language and spiced up their songs and placed their hands on our shoulders and chatted as if we had known each other for years. And it felt as though we had, and, we, Cam and I, who have not drunk a drink that is stronger than a non-alcoholic beer in years, found ourselves swept up in it all, into the music and the stories and the humming singing fiddling life of the pubs. And the music and the stories spilled out onto the streets of Galway and Dingle and we swam in a sea of music and fun. And is that enough? Can that be the reason to be called across the Atlantic on an eleven-day Mystery Trip? For music and fun? After all, it was the songs I had heard in the mist that afternoon back in September as I stood on the shores of the Atlantic in Maine, the songs from across the sea that were calling me forward.
One evening in Galway, after our afternoon/early evening hike along the whole length of the Cliffs of Moher, we sat in a seafood restaurant waiting for the main course of sea bass and baby asparagus to be served. It was an elegant restaurant in the newly-renovated upstairs of tiny medieval building, with white linen table cloths and an innovative menu. Yet, we, still dressed in our hiking clothes and smelling a little sweaty, didn’t feel out of place. “Look!” Cam said. “That guy is sitting like you!” And I looked over, and sure enough, the young man, in a sweatshirt at the table next to us, was scooching, feet tucked under him, just like me! And others were too! And there were plenty of hiking clothes. And buckets of laughter. And boisterous conversations. It was fun to eat in this restaurant, fun to chat with people in cafes and pubs and Bed and Breakfasts, fun to sing the words to the songs that we had known on some level our whole lives, fun to reverberate with the music and the laughter. It was fun to find our tribe of salty fun-loving people. And for that, my frolicking heart is grateful.