Friday, November 27, 2009

Treasure Hunting

My friend, Liz, is an avid treasure hunter.  Not deliberately, but she is such a great observer that she can come up with just about anything while walking along the shores of Liscannnor Bay.  Unusual rocks, fossils or the fragile heart-shaped shells that float up on mounds of seaweed around Brigid's Day, there is always treasure on the beach.

A few years ago, one Easter Sunday, after a week of gales, she found a giant rope during our morning walk with the dogs.  It was at least forty feet long and about eight inches in diameter.  It was waterlogged, covered with sand and had the odd bit of fishing net and wood attached to it.  One end still had the original woven loop and the other looked as if it had been torn violently from its moorings.  In other words, it was fantastic.  We were overcome with that universal feeling that all treasure hunters get.  Possession!  We had to have it.  I didn't want it for myself but I was adamant that she got to keep it.

The trouble was that the car was almost a mile away at the cemetery and the only other way out to the road was through half an acre of ancient blackberry bushes.  With no other options, we proceeded to drag the rope down the beach.  We tried dragging it by one end.  It didn't budge.  We tried dragging it by both ends.  It buried its middle under a mountain of sand.  We settled on dragging it by the middle and that worked, sort of.  People passed us on their own walks. They stopped to review our work before continuing on.  "So.. you've got a rope, then,"  said one man as he passed as if it was a most ordinary occurrence.

It was tedious work and after forty five minutes of pushing, pulling and trying to coerce the dogs into towing, we agreed to call her husband for backup.  While we were waiting for Liam to arrive, a woman walked by with her three sons, the youngest of whom was about six.  The boys excitedly eyed the rope and asked questions about where we found it and what we intended to do with it.  They all helped us drag the rope, amid much giggling and speculation about what kind of ship it came from.  A pirate ship, it was decided, and we all agreed to return tomorrow to see if the rest of the ship floated up.  The boys worked hard, but they soon tired and went off with their mother to finish their walk.

When Liam arrived, we had gotten about a third of the way to the cemetery.  "We'll have to saw it into pieces," he said.  "No. Please.  Anything but that," we cried.  He eventually came around to our way of thinking and we all continued pulling, pushing and dragging the giant rope down the beach.  Two hours after she found it, we rolled the rope into the back of the van, triumphant.


My eight-year-old nephew, Marcus, and I went geocaching a few weeks ago.  It is kind of high tech treasure hunting using a hand-held GPS and clues from an internet site.  It was our first time out so we didn't really know what we were doing but during the course of the day we managed to find three hidden treasures.  When we were tromping through the mud on the banks of the Monongahela River, Marcus found loads of treasure.  Not the treasure we were looking for, not right away.  He got a white rock, some sort of clam shell and a bottle cap.  He was so excited about seeing the bottle cap that he went in the water after it.  Eventually, we remembered what we were searching for and we located our first cache.  It was a great rush.  Now I know how the guys who raised the Titanic felt.


Liz called me from Ireland the other day to say that she'd found a message in a bottle.  Truthfully, her dog, Lily, found it. The note inside was from a man in Newfoundland, named Eugene.  Liz, being happily married, sent him a photo of the dog.  I wonder how he felt after putting his longing and loneliness into the bottle only to have the respondent be a border collie who likes to eat socks.


I pondered all of this as I was out walking the dog along the banks of the Monongahela this morning.   Is what we see as treasure and pick up or what we pass by unnoticed really so random after all?  If there was a message in a bottle floating here in the Mon, would I be able to pick it out amidst all the other litter?   

Eloise and I continued up over the hill past the Pony League field and as we crossed an area which must have been an old dumping ground for the glass factory before they made this into a park.  I looked down at something shiny peeking through the dirt.  I dug at it with a stick until it popped out.  I dusted it off on my jeans.  It was a green lump, as big as an egg.  I held it up to the sun.  "A giant emerald," I told Eloise as I slipped it into my coat pocket.

That's the thing about treasure.  There is always another one if you keep looking.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Cupan Tae?

When I moved to Ireland I had a coffee habit befitting a woman who lived in a neighborhood with a Starbucks on every other corner.  And I had it bad.  I suffered severe coffee withdrawal in the first few days I was in County Clare.  At that time you couldn't really get a proper cup of coffee.  Even if you ordered one in a posh restaurant, chances are, you got a cup of instant coffee.  Higher end instant coffee, but instant nonetheless.  Blech!  I was devastated.  Coffee was the fuel I ran on.  As I worked my way through increasingly more stressful jobs, my coffee intake increased accordingly.  It was the fuel I ran on.  And I kept running.

Life in my little village didn't require that much extra fuel.  No one I knew had a life so complicated that they couldn't stop for a cup of tea.  If you met a friend on the street one of you would say 'Fancy a cuppa?' and you'd tuck in to Connie's crowded little cafe in Ennistymon, the Atlantic Hotel in Lahinch or on a fine day, the garden of Mary Gray's Doolin Craft Shop.  Or if you found yourself in Dublin, the little girl's tea party fantasy filled with fairy cakes, scones and crust-less cucumber sandwiches served to you on tiered trays to the overstuffed sofas of the Lord Mayor's Lounge at the Shelbourne Hotel.  When the tea arrived, you'd relax and catch up for as long as you had.  Tea always fits into the time allotted.

Tea in Ireland is not really considered an event but it is treated like one.  In keeping with the Irish tradition of chatty hospitality, when you arrived at someone's home before you found yourself a chair you'd hear 'Will I put the kettle on?'  And not any kettle.  They have fabulous electric kettles that boil water in two minutes.  Then the biscuits would appear, not the everyday plain biscuits but the 'just for company' biscuits.  If it was near the holidays, giant tins of assorted biscuits would be offered up to guests.

There are rules for the making of the tea.  I have had instruction from the best experts in the field. Liz's husband, Liam, got me up to speed on the proper method for warming the pot to improve the brew.  And Mary's Auntie Mary in Tullywinney gave me a piece of advice I will treasure always.  "Kathleen,' said she, 'it's not worth boiling the kettle if you're not going to drink it from a china cup." She was right. It just tastes better.'

After a few days at Auntie Mary's house, she began to treat me like family.  She asked me to fill the jug from the milk in the fridge.  She laughed at my surprise when I opened the fridge to find a bucket of milk sitting on the shelf.  On a dairy farm, they don't bother putting it into a carton.

When I moved back to America, I felt a few steps out of sync with everyone else.  One thing led to another and I started drinking coffee again.

Recently while I was visiting Washington I had the pleasure to see some of my favorite friends.  The pace of the place makes it hard to catch up with folks.  It was just lucky this time.  Everyone I wanted to see was available.  I had some lovely visits and I drank countless cups of tea.  A lovely Chinese green tea with a faint fragrance of damask roses with Juliet, iced tea with Renee, and my favorite Lapsang Souchong after an afternoon of crunching through the fallen leaves along the canal with Kurt and the dogs.  Each was an event, perfect in it's own way.

A nice cup of tea always reminds me that Life is good.  So I've put my coffee pot up on the shelf for a while.

Will I put the kettle on?