I’m glad you’re taking photos

Last night, you fell asleep to wind and rain; this morning, a cornflower-blue sky, still as stone.

You knew the beach would be beautiful today; light glancing off channels and pools, a mile of space between you and the sea.

(You didn’t know it would be this beautiful.)

You begin to walk the promenade, starting at the Mexican statue.  It will take twelve hundred steps to reach the end of the promenade, five hundred steps to reach the Martello Tower.

You like the Martello Tower, the strength of its construction. Oak beams support nine-foot wide granite walls. You like the Tower’s vigilance; its steadfast insistence on watching, waiting.  Two hundred years and counting.

You pass the remains of the Victorian Baths. You’ve seen old photographs of the pier that once connected the baths to the shore; sepia-toned images of elegant iron and timber. The pier’s heyday was short-lived: opened in 1884, demolished in 1920.

You turn at the end of the promenade. Two winters ago, you stood here and watched a flock of knot shape-shift in the evening sun. The birds rose and fell in unison, flashed black and silver as they swooped and turned.

You walk back towards the Tower, take your camera from your bag. A woman stops to say hello. “I’m glad you’re taking photos,” she says. You step onto the beach, puzzled by her comment.

You walk towards the sea, each step taking you farther from people, houses, cars.

You think about the oystercatchers and terns that make their home on the beach; the cockles and lugworms that lie within its sand. You think about the people who walk here, the children who play here; the buildings that have survived and the buildings that have disappeared.

You think about the woman who wants a stranger to make a record of it all.

You walk towards the cornflower-blue horizon and wonder what to do with all the space that’s opening up in front of you, all the time that’s closing in behind you.

Sandymount Strand

Sandymount Strand

Sandymount Strand stretches for 5 kilometres from Ringsend to Booterstown. It’s internationally important for the large number of birds it supports, including waders, terns and geese. 

At low tide, the beach extends 1.5 kilometres from the shoreline, offering city dwellers space, solitude, and wonderful views across Dublin Bay.

The promenade was added in the 1970s and is  a popular spot for walkers and joggers. On Christmas morning, it’s full of kids trying out their  new bikes.The Mexican Statue is called An Cailín Bán. It was denoted to Ireland in 2002 by the Mexican government and is the work of sculptor Sebastian. The Martello Tower was built in 1804 to protect against a Napoleanic invasion. It’s unusual in its construction – resting on oak beams rather than rock. All that remains of the Victorian Baths is the concrete substructure. 

Sandymount Strand is famous as a setting for two of the episodes in James Joyce’s Ulysses. 

But you knew that, didn’t you?

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Late Bloomer

You come here every summer. The gardens are beautiful then.

Flowers bloom in casual abundance. Trees are in leaf; the great 19th century glasshouses infused with scent.

The gardens are busy, too. Visitors mill about, pause to take photos or jot down the names of plants. Couples stroll along the riverbank, keep pace with mallards and moorhens. (The lucky ones will catch the low, blue flash of a kingfisher.)

Yes. You come here in the summer; enjoy the busy beauty of it all. But you come when summer is over too, when the air stings the skin and the dark comes early.

You come on days like today; days when the gardens will be empty (more or less). You meet a man with his collar turned up, and a woman wearing a red hat, but they pass by in silence. Their presence does not disturb you.

The flowers, too, are discreet. No heady excesses now. Pansies and violas lie low to the ground. Geraniums cluster in the greenhouse.

You step into the small walled garden.  You like this garden within a garden; its view of the graveyard next door. You like the poplars that rise into the sharp sky, dangling clumps of mistletoe like crows’ nests.

You run your fingers along the greenhouse wall; warm your hands on bricks worn smooth by seasons.

You take a moment to peer into the greenhouse and admire its assortment of gardening tools. (You know the name of only the most common tools: rake, spade, hoe.) Someone has taken care to hang the tools neatly on the wall.

The walled garden looks bare, unloved; its beds empty and dull. But the tools in the greenhouse tell a different story.

Be patient, they say.

The blossoms will come.

botanicThe National Botanic Gardens are situated in Glasnevin, less than 4km from Dublin city centre. Founded in 1795, the Gardens were originally designed to promote the study of agriculture. However, the focus soon shifted to botany and the collection of plant species from around the world. Today, the gardens contain some 20000 different species and cultivars, including 300 rare and endangered species.

The gardens’ twenty hectares encompass a sensory garden, a rock garden, herbaceous borders and an arboretum. An avenue of yew trees dates from the 1740s.

The curvilinear glasshouses were designed by Dubliner Richard Turner and built between 1843 and 1869. Turner was also responsible for the Great Palm Houses at Kew Gardens and the Botanic Gardens in Belfast, but these glasshouses have since been repaired and restored with steel. The Glasnevin glasshouses, monuments to light and elegance, are the only ones to retain their original wrought iron.

The gardens were placed in government care in 1877 and are currently managed by the OPW. Admission is free.

Fixing the Focus

IMG_7807Years ago, I had an old Nikon that I loved. One day, the cover of the battery compartment came loose and the batteries stopped holding their charge. The camera was unusable.

It never occurred to me to have the camera repaired. Or to replace it. Instead, I stuck a band aid across the battery compartment and carried on.

I’m not sure I’d have come up with the same solution today. Somewhere along the way, I acquired the notion that problems are complex and require professional solutions. I developed a habit of over-analysis, which led, predictably, to paralysis and procrastination.

Little things became big. Simple things became complicated.

And so I’ve been taking stock, wondering if fixing the small things might be a good theme for the year: the cracked glass in the photo frame, the dryer door that gets stuck. It sounds simple, a kind of broken window policy for the home. But it might encourage a return to resourcefulness, a renewed sense of competence. Who knows? It might even seep into other areas of life.

I still have that old Nikon and all of its (expensive) lenses. The lenses don’t fit the camera I use now, but I’ve ordered an adapter that should fix the problem. It cost me the price of a paperback.

Happy New Year everyone.