If a June night could talk, it would probably boast it invented romance. Bern Williams
Oh, the summer night has a smile of light And she sits on a sapphire throne Barry Cornwall
The two days on the island were magical. It was windy and brisk and the waves were thrashing against the shore in late April and the sun was shining on Day One as my guy and I hiked around the whole of it, around the entire shoreline of Inishere, the smallest of the Aran Islands. A month earlier, while planning this Mystery Trip surprise to Ireland for Cam, I had shivered with thrill-bumps when I had read about Inishere, a place of peace and tranquility with only two hundred residents and very few cars, a place where visitors can relax and slow down to a pace that is hard to find on the mainland. And relax we did as we clambered over rocks and sifted through sand for tiny shells and rested in patches of sun on the island’s lee side. Our days stretched out wide and long and there was time for everything, for a climb up the hill to O’Brien’s 15th Century Castle, for a jaunt down the ancient roads in the island’s mid-section as we searched out the Holy Well of St. Enda, for a lunch of crab legs at a picnic table on the lawn of a woman named Susan’s cottage-home overlooking the deep blue of the North Atlantic, and moment’s later, time for feeding a bottle of formula to her baby black lamb. Gray stone wall after gray stone wall after gray stone wall covered the island and it felt ancient, the stone and the sea and the history of this place, and I felt it in my bones and I sunk down to a place that was peaceful and ancient in myself as well. It was the same kind of feeling that I used to get when I would visit my mother in her cottage-home in Maine on the other side of the North Atlantic, a feeling of being salt-kissed and watery and soft like the sea.
I love this feeling, this sea-soaked relaxed feeling. Before dinner on Day Two, I leaned against the rocks that stretched out in front of our Bed and Breakfast and listened to the sea and dozed a bit, really settling into this sense of well-being. It was a delicious appetizer to a dinner of haddock and Irish potatoes. It was a delicious desert to a day well-spent. And this is what I want to tell, that I was surprised by my after-dinner yearnings. Galway had been our port of call before this mid-week hiatus on Inishere. Galway, a college town, “the most Irish of Irish cities”, our guidebook had called it, a city where the music from the pubs and restaurants and homes and college campus spilled out into the streets, a city of vim and vigor and creative verve. It thrummed with life and something in me, something in Cam, too, maybe something young and forgotten, thrummed along with it. It was fun opening up to all that music, all that life; it was fun moseying into pubs and tapping our feet to the Irish rhythms and ordering bubbly water and laughing and singing as though we were back in college, feeling a little naughty, we, who haven’t drunk alcohol in years, we, who would have told you that our days of bar-hopping were long long over. So now, on the island, on the breezy romantic slower-paced Inishere, as the sun sunk down over the sea to the west, as we walked the quiet pathways, I felt that teenage-self rising up to the surface. Where was the music? Where was the night life? Where was the out-of-our-box adventure? We can do puzzles and read books back in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. We can snuggle and cuddle and relax into a quiet night in our quiet life whenever we want to. I didn’t want to; I wanted action.
The summer before my senior year in high school, I was hired as a kitchen girl at a small seaside inn in Maine just three miles from my coastal home, three miles and a million light years away. I moved right in to my summertime job, to a cabin called Stone’s Throw where I, and eight other girls, three still in high school and the rest worldly and older and on their college breaks, lived a glorious out-of-the-box-for-a-seventeen-year-old-girl-like-me life. We worked three meals a day, every day – I’m sure not legal by today’s standards – and it was wonderful, the silliness, the games we made up to make the work fun, the sneaking of lobster salad and ice cream sundaes, the guests, most of them older couples from out-of-state, who adored us and thought we were the cat’s pajamas. During the day, in between work shifts, we napped and preened and swam in the ocean-filled pool and slathered Coppertone onto our bikini-clad bodies and water-skied behind our roommate Squish’s Boston Whaler as she flew at high reckless speeds across the sea. And at night, after the evening shift, after our boss thought we were quietly tucked in our nine little beds, we snuck out into the thick humid coastal air.
My rules, the ones that I had lived by at my childhood home just three miles away, the ones that I had carried into my high school life just weeks before, those rules that kept my good-girl persona in check, they went out the window. I swept my hair, hair that was supposed to be long and straight and hippie-like according to my invisible high school rule book, up into a little bun on the top of my head and I called it a “terd” and I let the wisps fall out of the side and sometimes I didn’t wear a bra — because who can wear a bra under a sexy halter top? – and okay, I admit that not all my choices were the wisest. Strawberry Boone’s Farm wine in great quantities is not good for anyone and it probably isn’t all that safe to climb onto the hood of a gold corvette even if you are hanging on and the driver, a cute guy your big sister’s age, is only going ten miles an hour. And today, would I make those same choices? No way could I swoop my short spiky hair up into a terd, though I bet the style was a cute one, and no way would I look as good in a skimpy halter top and Coppertone and baby oil, we know now, don’t do wonders for our skin. And Boone’s Farm? It’s not in my culinary vocabulary. But it was glorious fun. And I’m happy as I’m remembering it.
After our two days at Inishere, Cam and I headed back to the mainland and down south to the Dingle Peninsula, to a land of magestic mountains and cozy coves and rolling green hills sloping down to the sea. And once again, our days were stretched out long and wide and we hiked among the sheep on ancient paths out to the tip of the peninsula, to the very edge of Europe, to a place where the sea goes on forever, or not quite forever, where the sea connects our continents, connects our past and our present, to a place where it’s easy to relax into our bones, and feel that sea-soaked peace again. And at night, in Dingle, that familiar mist from my teenage years blew in and the town came alive with music, in the bookstore, in the pubs, and we, two teenagers in our fifties, stepped out of our middle-aged boxes, and joined in. So that’s what I’m looking for this summer, that’s what I’m seeking in my teenage-middle-aged bones, a feeling of ease and sea-soaked peace mingling with something a little naughty and adventuresome, something wild and windy with a hint of the reckless, something scented perhaps with Coppertone and the Tarzan swing of youth.