Stereotypes No More

I was at the farmers market yesterday morning and had an interesting conversation with the gentleman from whom I occasionally buy pork. Most of these small farmers are selling “small ticket” items—a couple bucks for bell peppers, three dollars’ worth of Mr. Stripey tomatoes—and I always come with cash. I’d stopped at the bank on my way into town. But when you’re talking about a roast to throw on the grill for a few hours, the tally is likely to be more than a few dollars (and I had more shopping to do), so I asked if he could take my debit card.

Big grin. “Sure!” He pulled out an iPhone. “I only got a smart phone last year,” he said, while he settled a small plastic square—to swipe a card—into the jack on one end of the phone. “I never thought it would be so useful. My wife did the research and got us set up.” (This was Jamie Weaver of Weaver Farms, it turns out.) We had a chat about the beauty of technology.

Farming has long adapted to technology, of course: breeding, milking, high-tech tractors (and so much more that I, being a city girl, cannot speak about with any semblance of intelligence) long ago revolutionized the way farmers live their lives. But old stereotypes die hard, I think.

I grew up in the San Joaquin Valley of California—the heart of California’s agricultural industry—and when I was in high school (we won’t discuss how long ago that was) our social cliques divided along lines that seemed to indicate (to us kids, anyway) where our lives were leading: among others, the jocks, the stoners, kids headed to college, and … the aggies. The latter grew up on farms and were likely headed to a life of farming. At the time, that sort of life was the farthest thing from my mind.

Fast-forward a few decades. My brother earns his living as a farmer (mostly flowers and herbs), I love to garden (for a decade maintained a backyard vegetable garden, but a move to a new house with a shady yard put paid to that), consider myself a fair cook, and am an appreciator/supporter of the slow-food/locavore movement. I’ve read Joel Salatin, Michael Pollan.

Tennessee backyard, mid-summer.

Tennessee backyard, mid-summer.

I’ve blogged about the farmers market phenomenon more than once … the last one of the season; one I wandered through in Kilkenny, Ireland, with a raging case of pneumonia; another we found in Mountshannon (Co. Clare), Ireland; and one about a farm dinner. I have at least one other post planned but not written yet (so many ideas, so little time). This is a topic I love.

A Saturday Market on the Square in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.

A Saturday Market on the Square in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.

And certainly I love eating what comes home with me from the farmers market.

And certainly I love eating what comes home with me from the farmers market.

But this post is really about farmers and stereotypes. And social media (in this case, Twitter), which sometimes busts those stereotypes and sometimes is just plain fun. A couple afternoons ago I stumbled—via an editor in Co. Clare, Ireland, I follow—into a hilarious conversation with a bunch of farmers in Britain. Young guys, probably early thirties, clearly tech savvy, great photos of sheep (don’t laugh) and countryside. Look:

• “Keen young farmer working hard to produce your food sustainably alongside some diversification enterprises. #‎BuyBritish.” (@FarmerBeary) Located Staffordshire, UK.

• “Livestock farmer and free range egg producer. Amazing wife and 3 boys under 6. Trying to breed Texel sheep and Saler cattle. Loves: family, beer and triers.” (Will Case @will_case) Located Ulverston, Cumbria.

• “Husband. Father of 3 little Girls. Arable, Beef & Free Range Egg Farmer. Harper Adams Grad. Welsh Rugby, Test Cricket & LFC fan. History geek & Music lover.” (Will Evans @willpenrievans) Located Bangor-on-Dee, Wrexham, Wales, UK.

• “450 pedigree lleyn sheep. Producing purebred and commercial cross lambs. Fencing, hedge planting, firewood and a bit of arable keep us out of trouble.” (Hawcroft Lleyn @PVickerton) Located East Yorkshire.

• “Husband to the beautiful and talented @scarassem. Mid Wales sheep and beef farmer. Graduate of Aberystwyth Uni. Interested in learning more every day.” (Andrew Meredith @Merry_Meredith) Located Wales.

Seriously, great stuff. (Of course, Gerry noted drily the next morning that I have always had a soft spot for sheep.) Me, I know sheep-with-white-faces and sheep-with-black-faces. That’s pretty much the extent of it. But these guys know their sheep. (And cows.)

Our Stealth Sheep, in front of the kissing gate.

Our Stealth Sheep, in front of the kissing gate.

And there is a lot of, you know, farm-talk (ahem, farming industry) in their tweets:

• Tweet: Asst. manager position available on a progressive and expanding dairy farm, would suit an ambitious and driven person. All RT’s appreciated

• Tweet: Don’t forget it’s #BuyBritishDay on 3rd October pls make that extra effort to buy something produced here in UK #buybritishbrands

• Tweet: We are looking for an assistant shepherd for large sheep flock. Check out http://{etc.} livestock followers please retweet!!

• Tweet: Dear Tesco. Not very nice having your expected profits completely evaporate is it? Yours. UK Farming.

• Tweet: #pretupping continues today. Finishing fluke drenching after positive muck sample and two rams to fertility test #rathemthemthanme #sheep

• Tweet: Lamb freezer packs ready for collection as of Sunday afternoon from #GlenBeary Staffordshires finest lamb also available @EssingtonFarm

… but also a lot of current events—the Scotland referendum, Ryder Cup play, local politics about which I know nothing, ISIS, Emma Watson’s UN #heforshe speech—as well as, well, drinking, football (soccer to some of us), kids, and much more.

So if I still harbored stereotypes—I like to think I didn’t—they were well and truly busted this week. The farmers I met—in person and in Twitter feeds—are educated, smart, outward-looking and forward-thinking … and working the land. Makes me feel like maybe there’s hope for this planet after all.

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So You Want to Go to Ireland! (Part 8): Finding the Magic

This series started with an introduction, and here are parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7.

In every long-awaited trip, there is a moment in which you open your eyes a little wider and think, Oh my. This was so worth it. Or you open your mouth and say it to your traveling companion. Sometimes it happens at the end of the day and one of your party says, “I think [insert activity here] was my favorite thing so far.”

When that happens, you’ve had a magic moment.

On my first trip to Ireland in 2003, Gerry and I were driving from one point to another on a Sunday morning and happened to pass Jerpoint Abbey. It hadn’t been on our itinerary, but there it was. Was it open? We walked in. The place was deserted. I took some stunning photos (back in the days when you had to send film off and hope you’d gotten good shots), taking my time to look at every single rock and blade of grass. The morning was silent but for the blackbirds flying above our heads. I can still remember everything like it was yesterday—it was magic.

The altar at Jerpoint Abbey.

The altar at Jerpoint Abbey.

Most of these moments are completely unplanned—what else could they be?—but there are two things you can do to invite the magic to show up.

1. Accept the fact that you’re going to be out of your comfort zone. Relax.
2. Allow plenty of time, both in days and hours. Cut, don’t cram.

Both of these things seem self-evident, but you’d be surprised how many American travelers I’ve run into who aren’t really enjoying a long-awaited vacation, and it can almost always be tracked back to these two things. So let’s review.

Remember, this isn’t the United States—you will be out of your comfort zone. That’s a guarantee. So adjust your attitude now. Unlock your preconceived notions and set those puppies loose, friends. It always astonishes me when folks whine about some little thing that is “different.” Because I say, YAY! I’ll be home soon enough. These differences will make your memories. These differences will engage your mind. These differences are things you’ll be thinking about years later. Embrace them.

Americans also have a tendency to try to cram as much as they can into their vacation time—but let’s rethink that too. If you’re looking at the map you may think, Oh, it’s only fifty miles. But if you’re driving that fifty miles in second gear—and I’ve done that, due to road conditions (that is, mountain-y roads)—it’s going to take awhile. You think this is a small country, but the roads are narrow and you don’t know how to drive on them. (Trust me on this.)

So cut your itinerary, don’t cram it. You don’t want to be running from one must-see venue to the next, zigzagging all over the country, driving, driving, driving. You won’t enjoy any of it. And you’ll drive right past the magic.

Some of this crammed-itinerary phenomenon has to do with the difference between abundance thinking and scarcity thinking. That’s another post for another time, but in this context it simply means you should assume not that this is the only time you’ll ever take a trip to a foreign land, but that life is long and abundant, and you’ll be back to see those things you left off your itinerary this time. Slow it down. Your experience will be richer if you take the time to fully savor your adventure.

This can be said about life in general, of course, but that, too, is another post for another time. 🙂

Make sure you build enough unstructured time into each day for dawdling. Gerry and I stopped for lunch at a pub in a small village (Leap). The back door was open, and we could hear water running; when we looked, there was a picnic table next to a little brook. We sat and ate there. Then we lingered over a fresh pot of tea, reading the newspaper we’d pulled from the rack out front. Doesn’t sound like much to you, maybe, but I remember that as a magic moment.

Stop frequently, for no reason than to stretch your legs. If you see something you’d like to photograph, pull over. Found a beach? Take a walk. Say hello; talk to the people you meet. Turn off the main road if you see an interesting sign; 2 kilometers is barely more than a mile, so check it out. Go on.

I’ve learned to keep a loosey-goosey schedule, so there’s always a plan B, in case we find a venue closed or too crowded. I’ve also learned to simply let things go, quickly, if they’re not working out. Flat tire? Put the spare on and drive to the next town. Don’t stew. You’ve paid too much for this vacation in money, energy, and time to spoil it by fretting over things you can’t control. I once took some fantastic photographs of a thunderstorm from the garage of a tire shop near Kenmare. Magic. 🙂

A sudden shower, over in five minutes!

A sudden shower, over in five minutes! See the tires?

Look for the magic, and you’ll find it. My friend Margaret and I were at St. Fin Barre’s cathedral in Cork when lunchtime arrived. “Is there a good restaurant good close by?” we asked a docent we’d been chatting with earlier. “Would a vegetarian place be OK?” She referred us to Café Paradiso. “I wouldn’t say it’s close, but you can walk there,” she said. So we did. It was packed at three o’clock in the afternoon, and in spite of our not having a reservation (!), they fit us in. It was one of the best meals I’ve ever had in my life. The ambience was electric, there was a couple at the table next to us who were relishing the meal and each other, and … well, it was magic. (Later, back home, I learned the restaurant is famous. Who knew!)

We had another magic meal on that trip—pears we’d picked up at a grocery store a week earlier and let ripen to perfection (juicy and sweet), eaten with a hunk of Cashel Blue we’d purchased earlier that day. Much less fussy than eating at a world-famous café, but just as memorable.

Remember the stealth sheep? I count that a magic moment. I count as magic the time we stopped by the side of the road so I could call my college-age son to get some important news; I woke him up. The sun was sparkling on the sea far below, and the news was very, very good.

Somewhere in County Donegal.

Stopping to make a phone call, somewhere in County Donegal.

I could go on and on. (And I will post other “magic moments” later.) The point I’m trying to make is this: Dawdling is allowed. There will be no tests on this vacation, no prizes awarded for Most Things Seen. Instead, look for your beauty, look for your delight … and you will find it. Magic.

So You Want to Go to Ireland! (Part 3): DIY Vacation

Now that you’re getting in the mood to visit Ireland, let me make one thing clear before we go further. What follows next are suggests for a vacation you plan and execute yourself. That is, a do-it-yourself vacation.

There are plenty of guided, packaged tours available, of course. You could do that. I have friends who’ve taken tours and enjoyed them. Some folks like having all the details taken care of.

I am not that person. I don’t want to ride around on a tour bus, going from one “big” thing to the next big thing, being shown what someone else thinks I should see and told what someone else thinks I should know, and how long I have to stand in awe or take pictures. And I certainly don’t want to be told how long I have to shop! On a tour, you miss all the little adventures on the side—the getting lost (and finding something interesting), the unexpected chat with a local who steers you to a fabulous restaurant, the pulling over by the side of the road just because you can, the tender peace of having a sacred place all to yourself. Or, you know, the stealth sheep.

Long story short: in County Donegal, I took a wrong turn, and in getting back to the main road we came upon a sign: “Beltany Stone Circle, 2km,” and that was all the encouragement we needed. The road ended at a farm, the farmer directed us up a tree-shaded lane, and off we went. Ten minutes later the lane ended at a farm-gate, and next to it, on the outside, stood a large sheep, bleating its frustration at finding itself on the wrong side of the fence. We went through the kissing gate to see the stones (and a large herd of sheep), and when we came back, the solitary sheep was gone. We’d walked nearly halfway back to our car, chatting away, when we heard an indignant BAAA! right behind us. We were being followed by a stealth sheep. After we recovered from the near-heart attack, we laughed until we we were hysterical.

Beware the Stealth Sheep!

Beware the Stealth Sheep! (Note kissing gate.)

No doubt you had to be there to appreciate the magic in this moment. But my point is it would have never happened if there’d been thirty other people with us.

So, a reminder: the suggestions you’re about to read regarding what you might do on a vacation in Ireland are, as noted, predicated on your planning your vacation yourself and then … doing it yourself. In my personal case, that means renting a car and getting myself from one place to another, driving, yes, on the left side of the road instead of the right. (It’s not as hard as you think, honest.)

You don’t have to do that, though. You can stay in one place—probably a city—and use buses or cabs to get around (when you’re not walking). You can take trains or buses to other locations. There will be fewer wrong turns that way. 🙂

And now that we’re clear, stay tuned for my thoughts on what to do.

The introduction for this series is here. Part 1 is here, and part 2 is here.

The Ring of Kerry Is a Jewel (1/2)

Tuesday, 16 September 2003
Kenmare, Co. Kerry – Killorglin, Co. Kerry

Kenmare is a town to which I’d like to return when I have more time. It’s situated at the head of Kenmare Bay, right on the sea, and yet gives access to some of the loveliest inland countryside in Ireland. In addition, there are two peninsulas to explore—the Iveragh and the Beara—with rugged coastlines and sheltered coves (this was smuggling territory once), as well as many hiking, biking, and golfing opportunities. One could spend a whole vacation right there, in County Kerry, where the locals have a lilting, song-like accent.

On this stretch of road we saw a wide gamut of land formation.

On this stretch of road we saw a wide gamut of land formation.

One minute smooth sailing … the next shifting down into second.

One minute smooth sailing … the next shifting down into second.

For once we were not the only early risers in the dining room: there were four older Americans, dressed for biking, and a younger couple, neither bikers nor American. Since people-watching is something I enjoy, and since Americans do speak rather loudly, breakfast was quite interesting!

But soon we were back in the car, on the popular route called “the Ring of Kerry,” which circles the Iveragh Peninsula. We didn’t have time to travel the entire Ring, so we drove south to Sneem, for just a taste.

This was taken just past Sneem, 2003.

This was taken just past Sneem, 2003.

A view of Kenmare Bay from the N70.

A view of Kenmare Bay from the N70.

Another view of Kenmare Bay.

Another view of Kenmare Bay.

Then we circled around again, on smaller back-roads (R568), climbing into the mountains (Macgillycuddy’s Reeks, they’re called!) on twisting roads—and with sheep everywhere.

In the Reeks, 2003.

In the Reeks, 2003.

Very mountain-y. :)

Very mountain-y. 🙂

I know I keep mentioning the sheep, but I really found this aspect of driving quite charming: sheep munching grass, sheep asleep on the side of the road (literally), sheep watching us pass, or not. Sheep taking a stroll in the road. Sheep decorating the landscape in every possible way. Black-faced sheep, white-faced sheep. Sheep, sheep, sheep!

See the sheep?

See the sheep? You can click on the photo to enlarge, then click again to zoom in.

We drove through Moll’s Gap on the N71, which cuts through bleak bogland and high mountains, with stunning views… which we only occasionally had to share with tour buses.

Taken at Moll’s Gap of the valley below, 2003.

Taken at Moll’s Gap of the valley below, 2003.

Taken at Moll’s Gap, 2003.

Taken at Moll’s Gap, 2003.

Even my smattering of geology helped me recognize a sweet little corrie lake (corries formed in glacial times, when ice slid down the side of a mountain and carved out a bowl, which became the lake; corries are quite round, and deep, and the surrounding terrain looks almost like an armchair, with a high cliff on one side). This is such an old, old land, and it wears its origins right out where you can see it, if you know what you’re looking at.

A corrie: this is the back of the armchair.

A corrie: this is the back of the armchair. It slopes down on either side, which forms the arms, embracing the lake.

The lake is the seat of the armchair. This one stretched to very near the road. There are magnificent corries in Ireland; this one is minor, but I was delighted to have spotted it.

The lake is the seat of the armchair. This one stretched to very near the road. There are magnificent corries in Ireland; this one is minor, but I was delighted to have spotted it.

There were so many spectacular views to take photos of, I was starting to see even twelve inches on the outside of the yellow line that defines the edge of the road as room enough to pull over! God knows everyone else did it (those crazy tourists)!

At least there’s a lay-by at Ladies’ View, so named because when Queen Victoria visited the area in 1861, her ladies-in-waiting were quite taken with the view.

At least there’s a lay-by at Ladies’ View, so named because when Queen Victoria visited the area in 1861, her ladies-in-waiting were quite taken with the view.

From here we passed into Killarney National Park, which encompasses the so-called Lakes of Killarney—Upper Lake, Muckross Lake, and Lough Leane, the furthest north.

Upper Lake, the smallest of the Lakes of Killarney.

Upper Lake, the smallest of the Lakes of Killarney.

The interesting thing about Ireland is that one moment you can be in the lowlands, the next in rugged coastal terrain, into mountains, and then all at once into a deep forest, indistinguishable, really, from the deep forests I know from my youth in northern California. Deep shade, and pine needles everywhere.

Inside the park, on the shores of a beautiful lake, is the focal point—Muckross House, built 1839–1843 for Henry Arthur Herbert and his wife, the watercolorist Mary Balfour Herbert. This was actually the fourth house that successive generations of the Herbert family had occupied at Muckross over a period of almost two hundred years.

We parked, intending to walk to the house. But local entrepreneurs have set up near the site, offering rides on the grounds in “jaunting cars”—a horse-drawn, two-wheeled cart, the technology of which hasn’t changed in hundreds of years. At rest, the cart tilts up; it requires the weight of a body or two to bring it level. The young woman who approached us was hard to resist, and soon I found myself looking at the inside of a cart tilted nearly vertical, into which I was expected to pull myself!

I must say, once we were loaded, the cart ride really was an exhilarating way to view the gardens and approach the house.

We truly got car door to front door service.

We truly got car door to front door service, as if we’d come to visit a hundred years ago.

A view of Muckross House, 2003.

A view of Muckross House, 2003.

We were let off at the house, which we toured on our own. The rest of its history is that it was purchased in 1899 by a member of the Guinness (yes, that Guinness) family, who rented it out to wealthy parties, primarily for its fishing and game hunting. Then in 1911 the property was bought by William Bowers Bourn, a wealthy American, as a wedding present for his daughter Maud and her Irish husband. But Maud died unexpectedly in 1929, and three years later her husband and her parents presented Muckross House and its estate to the Irish nation, which thereby created Ireland’s first National Park. Today the principal rooms are furnished in Victorian period style and portray the elegant lifestyle of the nineteenth-century land-owning class.

A view from an upstairs bedroom at Muckross House. Yes, you are not supposed to bring cameras in, but this is to protect the house from the flash built in on so many cameras. But I walked in with my old film camera that did not have a flash. I respected the embargo and did not take photos inside, but felt that no one would begrudge me this view of the lake.

A view from an upstairs bedroom at Muckross House. Yes, you are not supposed to bring cameras in, but this is to protect the house from the flash built in on so many cameras. But I walked in with my old film camera that did not have a flash. I respected the embargo and did not take photos inside, but felt that no one would begrudge me this view of the lake. Wouldn’t that have been a fine sight to wake up to?

A last look at Muckross Lake before we caught our ride back to the car.

A last look at Muckross Lake before we caught our ride back to the car.

Leaving the park, we drove into Killarney for a brief shopping stop—I bought a beautiful red sweater. Killarney is pretty touristy, though, so we moved on to the village of Killorglin, where we had lunch at Kerry’s Vintage Inn (a pub, natch). I ordered the Guinness beef stew, a huge bowl of stew meat and carrots, which would have been plenty, but which was accompanied by a large bowl of … well, plain boiled potatoes. Under normal circumstances I would not have thought a bowl of boiled potatoes to be particularly exciting, but I must tell you that these were the most flavorful spuds I have ever put in my mouth!

Since this post has gotten long, I’ll stop here and continue in another entry. Stay tuned!