Try to envisage Odysseus, on stiff headland, on the Western Atlantic coast of Ireland, tilling the soil with an ancient looking hoe. His hands are dry, chapped and his thick fingers curled around a parched shaft, steady palms supporting the implement, with which he works effortlessly. The slap, jut, and pull of the short blade into the earth turns up an odd purple worm which twists its belly upwards to the hot palpitating sun; and a hessian sack, half-filled with grass seed ready for planting, is slung over his back; its strings stretched across his well-defined, sinew-led, shoulder. Small dragon neck swathes of lime-coloured samphire shoots slowly emerge in sandy verges of the high field where he works. There is not a cloud in the endless ream of blue sky.
When he spreads grass seed, as he has done in the past, many times, the canvas bag becomes a sail and his hand arcs as minuscule seedy flints shoot out over fertile mother earth and come to land among waxy ribbons of grass.
The man looks now over a fluttering Atlantic Ocean, and it could almost be the Aegean Sea. It roars, breaks, and shatters into lucidity and calm, with white horses crashing on out further, out towards the ellipsis of the infinite horizon of his gaze. Gleaming, smooth black cattle, way off to his right, graze in a greenfield, in a verdant county. A county older than the Celts. Even Mother Nature does not know of its name. The herd, glistening, serves as a bovine footnote of nature’s essayistic form. They bellow and holler at each other with an incongruity that floats on the air. A brocade of whitethorn keeps them penned in. The enigmatic cattle are dark forms, staples of a slowly sifting tenure and lenient to the west’s wilder ways and moods. It suits them to bellow here in the hull of infallibility, amid the streaming whitethorn, sea Campion, and sandwort. The whitethorn is in flower, billowing, and its scented blooms are carried by the wind.
Atop these cliffs, sat Eoghan whose hands were worn, he rubbed the soil and clasped his hands together to smell the earth, the olfactory bulb flickers, antediluvian and almost pristine in a broken social world. He drew a deep draught and took in the living earth with one unbroken breath. These were the elements, indeed, the pastures of his making. After a few minutes of solitude, he heard the scrunch of footsteps on seashells and sandy screed in a lane nearby. Eoghan turned his head to see a girl in her early twenties walking towards him.
“Hi-yah”’ she called out as she approached. He cleared his throat, smiles, and replies,
“Hello there; nice day…”
“Oh, aye, it’s a grand one, that’s for sure…”
Coming closer, he noted her translucent plastic sandals, linen-white shorts and a sleeveless t-shirt of navy blue with white stripes. Her auburn hair, worn in a ponytail, danced and bounced as she walked in the golden sunlight. She studied him and then cast a glance at a shred of olive green kelp which had blown up from the shore and was now stuck to the barbed wire fence on the headland.
“Bladderwrack… I believe they call it,” he said mildly.
She turned to him with an almost startled look, her tawny eyes furtive and her lips thinning, then biting her bottom lip she said,
“That’s a rare auld name for some seaweed, isn’t it now?”
Eoghan nodded and smiled up at her in the summer sun. She dropped down onto her knees just in front of his sitting position.
“I remember, the other morning, on Inch Island, disturbing an old heron that was in a settled way…” he began.
“What happened?” She exclaimed, looking at him more attentively.
“I was just walking past when he looked at me,” he continued in a quiet voice, “and rose, languidly, from a clutch of rushes and off he took, one foot trailing behind the other slightly and flapping away towards Lough Swilly.”
“Sure. It must have made a good picture. Did you upload it on to Instagram?” She asked smiling.
“No.” He replied, softly, “No Instagram.”
“Then what use is that?” she said, giving him a look of yearning.
“Mother Nature has the table ready and all we have to do is go and eat. When I rise very early in the morning and go out to nature, I like to immerse myself in the landscape, to see the countryside come alive and open up in front of me; to see bright buttery gorse flower flourish, to smell honeysuckle; to smell wild garlic in woodland, Nature’s larder.”
She was quiet, looking nonplussed and uncomprehending. An uncomfortable silence then passed between them.
“Are ya on Snapchat or Twitter?” She asks her voice suddenly brightening.
“Twitter?” He tentatively queries.
“Why? Are you eighty, like?” Her teeth glittered with the brightness of the sun as her mouth curved into a cynical smile.
Eoghan looked down from the headland towards the sea; the sea breeze caught his thoughts and corresponded with the ripples in the blue torn water. He drew a deep breath as if to acknowledge her persistence.
“Well, I guess, I just don’t really like this modern stuff …is the honest answer,” He replied turning his blue eyes back on her hazel brown ones.
“We live in an age,’ he began again, but looking at her, taking stock, he realised he did not know her name. She comprehended this and gave him the thought he was seeking.
“Aoife, we live, as I say, in an age known to thinkers, and to those logical enough to figure things out, as Neoliberalism. In an age of instantaneous gratification, of wishes granted instantly. And this is a kind of curse, this culture is a throwaway culture, and it’s not really for me that stuff…these belief systems.”
The imbroglio of her young mind sent her into a dream state. Yes, she thought this young man, this guy was, “Oh, Janey-Mac, pure gorgeous,” but she was still on the faltering line between being a young girl, and the precipice which would send her into womanhood, and which had not yet been delivered fully formed to her feminine threshold. Just then her phone buzzed. She shook off her teenage sensibilities and looked at the phone’s screen.
“I have to go,” she said, looking back up to him. “Me Mam wants me to look after our Daniel, a wee dote.” And she took off, saying as she went, “Hope to see you around sometime,” smiling. He smiled as he watched her disappear into the horizon.
Early the next morning, very early, before any hint of daybreak, Eoghan was at the water’s edge in Inishowen, by Inch Island. He was in deep silence as images entered into his consciousness: yew trees; blue milk; a honey drop caught in pure amber sunlight, wheat-chaff which dances away in a furmy haze; three girls were strolling across a golden beach, past a wooden curragh laden with salt and beginning to crumble into wisps of wooden flakes that disintegrate in the hand. Insects given a firmer design by ancient runes with Neolithic symbolism, crawl, swirl and settle down to become geometrical shapes and patterns, known as Celtic Art. They retire and pass into the art and geometry of stone. A cow’s loin and flanks turn on a spit over a fire pit in the hill fort, Grainán of Aileach. The creature’s dead eye, bulbous, staring, almost bull-like, reminded Eoghan of the tearful eyes of sage storyteller, Paul Auster. Whose gaze could strike the bullseye of fear and desire among those he knew with big, wet eyes, like he had been crying. Bull-eyes.
A crowd of screaming dark crows broke from branches where there was no tree trunk or tree and scattered across the immediate skyline of his memory’s eye. A spearhead of mackerel which were shifting and turned in a giant ball in the ocean; the sky darkening and rabbits and hares quaking in laneways; stars agleam in a bowl of night water strewn with a garnish of seawrack, seaweed, a mermaid’s shawl.
He exhaled for a long moment and slowly opened his eyes; the sun continued to traverse its solitary hike towards the noon-time hour. He was down upon his haunches, almost kneeling, but had begun to rise. Feathers grew over his skin like a soft suit of pallid armour. He rose from the reeds, water dripping off his golden, feathery membrane, and gave out a loud piercing squark. He took off towards the beckoning sun which knew the bipedal, avian shapeshifter. This majestic bird that was soon flying high and then gone. Unwatched by man.