Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Ireland: From the Mountains to the Sea

Have you ever been to a place for the first time and felt totally at home? That's what happened when I first set foot in Ireland.

Wicklow Mountains, County Wicklow Ireland, c. April 2011, Susan E. Hance,
The hills, the green misty fields, the people with their sense of humor, the laughter, coastal life...and the music...oh, no way I can hear that and keep my toe from tapping. Small pubs with musicians playing fiddles, guitars, bodhran drums, and harps filling the cozy space with tunes of love, loss, and a sense of place.

Glendalough(Glen of Two Lakes), 6th century monastery
c.2011, Susan E. Hance
I loved it all at first sight.

The Appalachian mountains, where my parents were raised and where I was born, have a connection to Ireland and the British Isles. Not only did Scots-Irish and British immigrants make up a large portion of European settlers in the Appalachians, the mountains themselves are connected.  They are the same mountain range!

Sharyn McCrumb's novels are typically set in her native Appalachian mountains and she writes:

Hemlock Inn, Bryson City, North Carolina
c.2009, Susan E. Hance
The proof of this can be found in a vein of a green mineral called serpentine which forms its own subterranean “Appalachian Trail” along America’s eastern mountains, stretching from north Georgia to the hills of Nova Scotia, where it seems to stop. This same vein of serpentine can be found in the mountains of western Ireland, where it again stretches north into Cornwall, Wales, Scotland, and the Orkneys, finally ending in the Arctic Circle. More than two hundred and fifty million years ago the mountains of Appalachia and the mountains of Great Britain fit together like a jigsaw puzzle. Continental drift pulled them apart at the same time it formed the Atlantic Ocean.

Clouds in Jones Gap, South Carolina, c. 2009, Susan E. Hance
Blood and Bone Remember: Poems from AppalachiaMaybe the immigrants felt at home in a new land because it seemed so familiar. It begs the question: Does DNA have memory? In her work, Blood and Bone Remember: Poems From Appalachia, Jane Hicks, poet and fiber artist, suggests that it does.
Ireland has beautiful mountains and coastline. Perhaps my heritage informs my comfort zone, making me comfortable in both landscapes. Two of my favorite locations in Ireland are the Wicklow Mountains and Dingle Bay, opposite landscapes on opposite sides of the Isle--which by definition is surrounded by salt water.

The Appalachians are older than the Rockies, worn down over 10 million years of erosion. My beloved mountains that rose from the sea now continually wash into the sea. And so it goes.
Dingle Peninsula Ireland, c 2011, Susan E. Hance
Mountains and water, Ireland, c. 2011 Susan E. Hance

On the Sky Road, Clifden Ireland


Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Friendship on Foreign Shores

True friendship knows no nationality, no boundaries, no international law. My friend, Kyoko, who celebrates her birthday this week, is as dear to me as someone who grew up living next door, though her neighborhood is in Tokyo Japan.

We've been good friends since 1977. No, I'm not from Japan and she's not from the US. That's part of what makes our friendship so extraordinary. We met in Iwakuni Japan when another American woman and I were looking for a department store that was having a sale. Shopping: The universal language for women, right?

Millie and I were in Iwakuni to visit our husbands, stationed there courtesy of the USMC. Having ridden bikes into town to shop, we stopped some ladies on the street to ask directions. "Sumimasen," I said, "Excuse me." That and a few other words filled the short list of Japanese at my command. We spoke in English, and showed the women an advertisement. The women smiled and nodded to show understanding, but our communication was hindered by lack of a mutual language.

Millie, Kyoko, Susan 1977
Always helpful, the Japanese women stopped a young woman who was passing by and explained our situation. The young woman possessed a joie de vivre, a curiosity of all things that was immediately evident in intelligent eyes and a quick smile. And she had recently graduated university---majoring in English literature! How lucky for us to meet Kyoko on that day in that place. How fortunate I've been ever since.

Kyoko acted as our guide in her free time, showing us prominent sights and out-of-the-way places for the month I stayed in Japan. It was all new to me. Tatami mats, futons, toilets in the floor (even on trains--try to go with the flow in that situation!), Japanese etiquette and seafood (squid, octopus, and kelp). Before long we could ask her almost anything without offense and vice versa.

Kyoko married the next year, wearing beautiful traditional costumes; then changing into other outfits for the wedding events.

The next year, we received photos of beautiful twin boys, their sweet faces crowned with gobs of gorgeous black hair. We had two sons, as well, while Kyoko had a third son. Over time life got busier and the letters fewer. Without email and Facebook, snail mail and expensive phone calls were the communication methods of the day.

One evening in 1997 my husband answered the phone to a string of questions.  Kyoko had called around the country until she found us again. She remained effervescent. One of her sons was attending school in the US and he was in a difficult situation. He no longer had a host family, so when school closed on the holidays, he had no where to go. Our home became his home for the holidays.

We loved having Kyoko's son with us, partly because he reminded us of her. He has the same gusto; a reach-out-and-grab-life philosophy. The first time he came to visit he opened an email from his mother. The first part was addressed to me in English: Thank you for having my son, etc. The second part was in Japanese. "That's for me," he said. I left him alone to read.

When he came downstairs, he reported that his mother's email instructed him to "be nice, pick up your clothes, say thank you." I laughed out loud. It was an ah-hah moment for me. Mothers are the same the world over. We just want our children to be safe in a place where someone cares for them and to be polite in return.

Kyoko loves to travel as much as I do and has visited many different shores. She visited large cities in the US such as New York and San Francisco, where she could take tours and public transportation. Visiting slower paced areas such as the NC coast is more problematic for foreign visitors. Renting a car to drive the coast or mountain areas of our state can be daunting.

So in October 2010, Kyoko came to our house to visit the southern coast. We took carriage rides in Wilmington, ate shrimp and grits in Charleston, visited the Biltmore estate in Asheville, went to a college football game in Clemson, shopped the outlet malls, and stayed in my relatives homes along the way. As we traveled, we caught up, filling in details of our years apart. Kyoko said to me one day, "We're lucky we get along so well." Even though we had enjoyed communicating all these years, being together for two solid weeks puts the relationship to the test.

 My cousin Judy, Susan, Kyoko 2010, Grove Park Inn, Asheville
And we passed with flying colors. Our friendship is a blessing to me and it shows me how connected we are around the world. She and I mother in the same way; both of us helicopter mothers.  I understand her concerns for her children and she understands mine. When there is an earthquake and tsunami in Japan, it affects me closely. When she cares for an elderly family member, I know her concerns.

 We can look at each other and see ourselves. That's a gift.

 Silver Pavilion

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Family Traditions

Sunset on the Cape Fear River, © 2012 Susan E. Hance
Here it is near the end of January and I'm almost lucid again. I loved every minute of our holiday family time--well almost every minute. The memories: who can forget playing "Headband" with adults and children sitting around trying to guess what's written on the card attached to the headband on their own head; rushing into Christmas Eve candlelight service, all eight of us late as usual, hoping the kids wouldn't set anything on fire with the candle on the way out; grazing on the homemade peanut butter balls coated in chocolate and any number of other "sinful" delights; walks on the beach trying to burn off holiday calories and horseback riding lessons.

Walks on the beach trying to burn off holiday calories...

CrossRoads Farm, © 2012 Susan E. Hance

...and horseback riding lessons.

The pre-holiday wind up was intense, so the unwind by all rights had to be the same, only it should have been faster, right? You know when the old style phone cords got wound up and you took the cord close to the phone, held it up in the air with the receiver hanging down like a pendulum and the cord spun around until it started to go the other way? That's it.

Oftentimes the things that are worth doing may not be easy. The easy thing is not always the right thing. We could cut back, skip Christmas, have a limited version. While reducing materialism is a great idea, skipping traditions would change the culture of the family.

 Over the years the kids have developed routines when they come to our house. At Christmas they ALWAYS watch Home Alone 1 and 2 and they look forward to it. They sleep on air mattresses in the FROG (family room over the garage) and if we tried to put them in a bed, they'd be insulted. According to them, sleeping in the FROG with the TV and DVD player readily available is their birthright.

There were songs to sing, presents to wrap, and gingerbread houses to decorate.

When the extended clan came to visit for two days, we had around 20 people in the house. Everyone helped, everyone laughed, everyone had a story to tell. Those are the memories that stick with us and become a part of the fabric of the family.

One of the best parts is finding treasures when everyone leaves. I found a note the girls wrote about how much fun they had with their cousins (until one of them threw up) and how great family is. How'd they learn that?  From family gatherings.