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I Have a Cottage in Ireland

 
My wanderings have taken me from Toledo to Tokyo, Pittsburgh to Paris, Vacaville to Vienna, Charleston to Cologne.  I have marveled at the wonders of the world, made my home in exotic locales, and forged bonds with people of many nations. 
 
Of all my journeys, none has resonated with me as deeply as my recent trip to Ireland.  I made a soul connection with the place and her people.  This should probably come as no surprise to those who know me well.  After all, I have an abundance of Irish DNA surging through my veins.  The connection is cellular.  I'm also an enthusiastic storyteller and conversationalist (a nice way of saying I have the gift for gab). 
 
Still, I was surprised by my immediate affection for Ireland.  I had only been there a few days when I began daydreaming about buying a cottage in Kenmare and opening up a bookstore/tea shop on her quaint, colorful main street.  I envisioned spending my days chatting with customers about Wilde, Joyce and Yeats, and evenings in a boisterous pub listening to trad music and sipping Bulmer's.  When the south winds rattled my windows, I would hunker down beneath my thatched roof and write novels.  Maybe I would even write my memoir.  My opening line:  I have a cottage in Ireland at the head of Kenmare Bay.  (It worked for Meryl Streep in Out of Africa.  "I had a farm in Africa at the foot of the Ngong Hills.")
 
There's usually one spectacular tour, museum, or site that attaches itself to my memory of a journey; one thing that makes a place truly unique.  In Ireland, there were two things: her people and her coastline.  I will write about her warm, friendly, beautiful people another time.  Today, I would like to share my memories of her spectacular coasts.
 
Better writers than myself have tried to describe Ireland's majestic land and seascape.  I'll spare you the poetic waxing and instead share some of my photographs with you.  Unless otherwise stipulated, these photos were taken on the Dingle Peninsula.

The Emerald Wave
I stood on an abandoned boat launch, watching as the sun burst through the clouds and transformed the forbidding, churning sea into a magical body of luminescent water.  I could have stood there all day, watching the play of light on water and listening to the roar of the waves as they crashed to the shore.
 

Ocean's Kiss
Have you ever stood ankle deep in the surf just as a powerful wave rolls to the shore, sending sea spray all over your face?   I love the way the soft spray feels on my skin, like tiny kisses from the ocean.  
 

Clarity
 The modern world is such a chaotic, cloudy place. It's easy to feel lost in the commotion of life.   I always find clarity - in my sense of purpose, my relationships, and my faith - when I stand by the sea and watch the awesomeness of nature. 
 

 Ageless
The first time I heard Amy Grant sing El-Shaddai, I was a confused teenager searching for a rock to cling to in the tumultuous sea of life.  Her pure voice and lyrics brought tears to my eyes.  When I stood on the Baera Peninsula in Ireland, I recalled her lyrics and felt the familiar sting of tears behind my eyes.  I looked at the rolling hills, ancient stones, and ageless sea, and thought about a Power so great it could bring such a landscape into existence.  I thought about the thousands of people before me who stood in the same spot, staring out at the vast world, and marveling at their insignificant role in it.
 

Where the Land Meets the Sea
When I asked an Irish friend my chances of encountering a banshee, selkie, or fairy, he said, "'Tis not hard to find the mystical in Ireland.  Just look for it where the land meets the sea."  

Strange Tales
The former Taoiseach of Ireland, Charles Haughey said, "Ireland is where strange tales begin and happy endings are possible."  Watching this emerald wave rolling toward the ocher hills, I imagined many strange and wonderful tales.  Tales of selkies swimming by day and then slipping out of their skins to shape shift into slender, beautiful humans by night.  A shift of the light and I imagined their sleek heads bobbing in the waves.  A gust of wind that howled and echoed in the caverns and I thought I heard their mournful cries. 
 
As for happy endings, I got mine the morning I met actor Colin Farrell in a little town called Sneem.  I am working on a novel, aptly titled, Finding Colin Farrell, so my serendipitous encounter with him in a hotel lobby could certainly be considered the happy ending to my magical Irish adventure. 

Rooted
I stood on the edge of the cliff while the wind tried to body check me into the sea.  Any normal person would have felt a healthy dose of trepidation, but I felt strangely calm, content.  My Wellies were firmly rooted on the land of my ancestors but my heart was soaring far above the emerald waves.  After years of wandering, I was finally home.  Photo taken on the Baera Peninsula, Ireland.
 

 

Look for the Dragonfly Moments

I confess, I am a travel harlot.  Each time I journey to a new locale, I capriciously give my affections away.  It doesn't matter if I am traipsing over the wild Yorkshire Moors, sipping lemoncello by the sea in Portofino, listening to the wind rattle through a bamboo forest in Arishiyama, or devouring Tex-Mex beside a trailer in Austin, I fall in love as easily as a tweenie-bopper at a Justin Bieber concert.  No matter the adventure (or, misadventure as is often the case), I always find something to adore.  That one thing that becomes, for me, synonymous with the place.  It might be a restaurant, park or museum.  Sometimes, it's just one moment.  One perfect, vivid travel moment painted upon the canvas of my mind.  A masterpiece to be privately admired over and over again.  I call it "looking for my dragonfly moment."

I coined the phrase several years ago, after a series of unfortunate events lead me to South Korea.  I stepped off the plane and into a fetid cloud.  The air in Songtan as thick and putrid as the inside of a kimchi pot.  A cacophony of thundering jets, screeching automobiles, and miserable humanity assaulted my ears.

I went to bed that first night feeling irritable and negative.  All of my senses were engaged in hating my surroundings. 

I woke late the next morning, still gritty-eyed and groggy from the disorienting sixteen hour flight, to find the fog and my malaise had not lifted.  My first thought was, "I hate Korea."

I'd had my feet on the ground for less than twenty-four hours yet my mental compass was determinedly fixed to "HATE."

I decided to go in search of sustenance.  My first step kept me headed in the direction of loathing.  Outside my apartment, I stepped on a slimy green patch of concrete that nearly sent me head over Converse.  (I would learn that the sewers in the area were too shallow to accommodate the waste and frequently backed up, belching offal that would ferment on the sidewalks).

Keeping my Converses cruising, I navigated around the slick spots, peering through the fog, until I came to a small park.  Ahead stood a most unusual tree.  With branches laden with short pine needles growing in tufts and blue pine cones, it looked like something Dr. Seuss would draw - if he had been chosen to illustrate Mulan.  Exotic.  Beautiful.

I was standing alone in the park, staring up at the oddly Asian tree, when a single dragonfly appeared in front of my face, fluttering its diaphanous wings with an almost undetectable whir.  It hovered there, staring at me staring at the tree.  Then, a swarm of dragonflies descended, flying around me as if characters in an animated film, sent to cheer the hapless Princess.

I listened to the whir of their wings and something miraculous happened.  I felt my compass begin to turn away from hate. 

I would never truly appreciate Korea, but that single moment - that dragonfly moment - became a symbol for me.  It was a perfect travel moment - a brief, fluttering moment of beauty and acceptance. 

"Look for the dragonflies" has become my mantra.  No matter where Fate tosses me, I know there will be at least one memory I will take with me to love, to cherish.  In South Korea, it was the dragonflies fluttering on a foggy morning. 

Sometimes, I am fortunate and Fate tosses me somewhere splendid, somewhere with loads of backdrops for perfect travel moments.  A place filled with temptations that have me falling in love again and again.

A place like Edinburgh.

It was my second trip to Scotland but my first to Edinburgh.  I landed during a torrential downpour.  The airlines "displaced" my luggage (Cheers, British Airways!).  The taxi got a flat tire.  My expensive hotel room was located between the stairwell and the lift and, inexplicably, smelled like my grandpa's house on Saturdays (Gramps, a retired cop, hosted beer, brats, and sauerkraut feasts for his German and Irish cop buddies every week.  Fifteen men in a Depression-era bungalow sauced up on kraut and brews makes for one odoriferous environment.  Just sayin'.).

Not an auspicious beginning to my Grand Highland Adventure.

For three days, I was forced to survive on what I had carried with me on the airplane.  I felt like Bear Grylls only without the sexy scowl and savvy survival skills.  (I tried to fashion an Armani-esque pantsuit out of the pinstriped down comforter but the feathers kept sticking to my fingers.  Besides, not even Bear with his mad skills could have salvaged enough thread out of the Hilton's complimentary sewing kit to construct a couture ensemble.)

I abandoned the butchered comforter.  Surrounded by a swirl of goose feathers, I ventured beyond the confines of my over-priced hotel to go in search of my dragonfly moment.

From the Battlements
by Leah Marie Brown
The buildings of Edinburgh's New Town stand like
soldiers in a straight line.
I started at Edinburgh Castle, where I learned a wee bit about the fierce battles and political rivalries that scar Scotland's brawny countenance.  After the tour, I stood on the battlements and admired the city below.  The rain had stopped.  The sun had returned triumphantly, like Lady Godiva in all her splendid golden glory.  In the distance, the Bay spread out like a shimmering blue cloak. 

I descended the battlements and began my walk back toward Deacon Brodie's, a colorful pub I had spied in the heart of Old Town.  I was walking down High Street when I encountered a cluster of tourists watching a street performer.  Dressed as William Wallace, he was swinging a sword through the air while delivering a rousing speech about the need for his countrymen "to stand in defiance of tyranny." 
 
I am not usually one for blatant, cheesy tourist attractions, but something about this performer's impassioned delivery captured my interest, so I remained with the throng of giggling, tennis shoe-wearing tourists. 
 
I watched as a woman walking a West Highland Terrier struggled to keep hold of her lunging animal.  The terrier broke free from its master's hold and charged up to the street thespian, tail stiff, growl rumbling deep in its furry belly.  Undaunted.  Terrifying in his dogged determination (pardon the pun). 
 
Without missing a breath, the thespian lowered his sword and said, "Be gone with ye, ye wee mangy beast, or I'll gut ye as sure as I did the English."
 
The dog's embarrassed owner seized the leash and tried to pull her barking canine away but the Westie had dug in and was determined to see his battle through.
 
The blue-faced thespian made a few more quips.  The crowd laughed and tossed coins into his bucket.  The thespian dropped to his knee and continued to beseech his countrymen to fight the snarling tyrants.  The metallic cling of coins dropping into the bucket confirmed what was already obvious -  several of the tourists (especially those in the young, female demographic) were lapping this scene up.  Some were pleased by the impromptu entertainment, while others were falling in "love" with the William Wallace-wannabe.
 
Braveheart and the Wee Beast
by Leah Marie Brown
 
I didn't realize it then, but I was falling in love, too.  Not with the man in the kilt, but the dog on the leash.
 
For me, the brave little Westie became my first Scottish love.  Like a kid on a cross-country trip shouting out "slug bug" every time she sees a Volkswagen Beetle, I would search for the squat little dogs and squeal with glee each time I found one. 
 
I saw an elderly couple strolling through a park in the Victorian town of Strathpeffer, leading a pack ambling Westies.  (Cue squeal!) 
 
In Plockton, a picturesque fishing village on the shores of Loch Carron, I saw a precious Westie pup wearing a yellow rain slicker sitting in a rowboat. (Cue double squeal!) 
 
The few times I did turn the tele on, I saw the same dog food commercial featuring a freakishly sympathetic Westie following its master on errands, including a visit to a cemetery to leave flowers on his dead wife's grave.  (Cue sad awww!)
 
There are many things to love about Scotland: her verdant paps that appear to be blanketed in a quilt of golden gorse and purple heather, her finger-licking good crispy fish and chips, her potent Drambuie, her fascinating history peppered with fiercely loyal and courageous characters, and her warm, welcoming people.
 
Any one of Scotland's appealing features can charm a tourist into yielding their heart. 
I enjoyed hiking her paps, eating her delicacies, sipping her liqueur, learning her history, but  her scruffy little canines stole my heart and gave me some of my most treasured dragonfly moments.
 
That's the amazing thing about travel, though, isn't it?  No matter where you find yourself - a thatched hut in Honduras, a farmer's market in Omaha, a blueberry eating contest in Anchorage - if you take the time to look, you'll find something remarkable.
 
On Guard
by Leah Marie Brown
I fell in love with this little Westie, who stood
guard at Cawdor Castle, a beautiful estate
high in the Highlands.  I couldn't resist dropping to the ground
and snapping his picture. Though, I did wonder what the Laird of
Cawdor thought when he looked out his window and saw
a crazy American sprawled on his lawn, cooing at his dog.