Tag Archives: family

Mo Chuisle

May his pursuit of happiness never end
   This Sky   
   where we live
   is no place to lose your wings
   So love, love


It has been a really long week.

Without going into too many personal details, I’ll just say that it began with a wedding of some dear friends, and ended with my uncle’s unexpected funeral. And from the highest joy to the deepest sorrow, I have been surrounded, literally swarmed, engulfed, and enveloped by the warm, steady, murmuring, kinetic, complicated embrace that is family–both the given and the chosen. With never more than an hour to myself, I have spent the week encamped in various hotel rooms and yards, in various states, laughing, drinking, dancing, sharing, holding, grieving, weeping, remembering, and loving with these beautiful people.

This morning, alone again after so many goodbyes, through the buzz and bustle of more airports, I kept thinking I heard the voices of my family in the crowd. At first this was unnerving, in my under-caffeinated haze of utter exhaustion, but eventually those lingering echoes became a comfort–as if I were a child again, falling asleep to the sound of laughter in another room, carried into another place by the security of those murmurs and the certainty of unconditional love.
All this is to say, in your heart or in your arms, hold them close, your kin and kindred. 
Life is short, but it can be so, so good.

Oh, Royal Tannenbaum

Today, on this cold and blustery upper-Michigan Monday, my intrepid mama and I crunched out into the far reaches of the back woods and cut down a wee Christmas tree. Well, the little guy is more of a sapling than a tree-tree, more of a Charlie Brown than a General Sherman, but still. This was my first tree-cutting excursion in many years, and, being the soft-hearted ninny that I am, I was predictably conflicted. I mean, no question, no question, real trees are far more magical, special, and deliciously-scented than their Made in China alternatives… but it does feel like a huge luxury/waste to cut one down just to tart it up with glitter and bling for a few weeks before literally kicking it to the curb. And yet our little, ultra-local tree was one of many in a thick patch of forest regrowth that probably would have been out-competed eventually. Anyway… We gave thanks to its brief but wild life before crouching down in the cold, and working a small saw clasped in a mittened-hand.

As we walked back to the house carrying the tree and a bouquet of red willows, I started thinking about the tannenbaum tradition. And so, after a little interwebbing, I bring you some random yule-tree factoids:

– The first known Christmas tree was decorated in 15th-century Livonia (now Latvia and Estonia) by the dubiously-named Brotherhood of Blackheads, who sound like your typical bachelor-merchant group of sketchy dudes executing bizarre night-rituals while, let’s face it, likely wearing funny hats. But to be fair, the tree-honoring tradition was probably co-opted by the Christians (like so many holidays) from some tree-hugging, dirt-worshiping pagans doing their freaky Solstice dance, while yes, wearing funny headgear.

– The German word for Christmas tree is not in fact, Tannenbaum. Apparently that describes just your average fir tree doing its thang. No, the Germans call their Christmas trees “Weihnachtsbaums,” which to me sounds a bit like a sticky nocturnal digestive situation.

– Artificial trees first arrived on the scene in the 19th century. They were made of the most obvious evergreen-needle substitute around: goose feathers dyed green.

Don’t get me started on the jazzy firewood brought to Britain by farmhands looking for free beer from sexy farm wives, aka the Yule Log.

The Emerald Isle

Caps for sale

Gypsy Wagons

Just some kid

Phantom velvet

A fine seat for a masochist
Stone shrooms

Bring us one
One guess

Bunratty Castle, still looking good
Try walking down these stairs in metal boots

Crossing the River Shannon

Doolin Town in Dingle

I bet she has a hard time clapping

Famine Hut: starving with a great view

Woolly Tocks

Bringing business to the Aran Islands

Sunken chapel in an old cemetery

A fine and private place

A labyrinth of rock walls

Aggressive snorggling

Really letting the place go

Ubiquitous Vans shot

Hobbits were here

What are you rooking at?

Give thanks and praise

Oh, Mama


Someone needs a comb

One of the forty shades of green


The hippies were here!

The Burren

The Irish burn peat instead of wood

Save the date!

Seaside charm

The deep green sea

The Art of a Storytelling

We arrived in southwestern Ireland yesterday, stiff-hipped and bleary-eyed, but happy to touch down. From above, the Shannon airport of County Clare cuts like a slice of asphalt in a blanket of green, peppered with bumbling sheep on both sides–just like you would hope. The weather is blustery… fitful and moody, misty and gray, windy and riling, punctuated with errant sunbeams–just as you would expect. But my first impression of Ireland had little to do with sheep or shamrocks, gingers or jigs… It had to do with birds. With rooks to be exact, and jackdaws, too.

Cyrano O’Bergerac

Both birds are smaller members of the Corvidae family. Rooks are the Barbara Streisands of the corvid family, flashing prominent schnozes. Unlike some other rooks, these friends can move any way and where they want–up, down, diagonally. Jackdaws are small and portly, with gray hoods and bright, light blue eyes. This time of year they seem to hang out in big family groups (rookeries!), peering down through new-green oak leaves, making a racket, and adding a Hitchcockian element to the neighborhood. Actually, considering they kick it around the nearly 600-year-old Bunratty Castle, they remind me more of carrion crows gathering before a medieval battle than a creepy black and white film. That said, I love corvids–so cool–and am constantly trying to make friends with them. Obviously. Apparently groups of rooks can be called a building, a parliament, a clamor, or my favorite, a storytelling.

Like all corvids, these guys are avian geniuses, making and using tools and such, so you have got to remember to be careful of what you say out loud in their presence. They might be writing it down and informing the little people.

On an unrelated note, I have been singing, humming, and whistling Christmas in Killarney non-stop since we arrived, much to my sister’s mighty chagrin. I know. I’m sorry. I just can’t help it. The door is always open. That is one catchy jig.