a jaunting car ride in killarney

I so wanted to get this post in before or during the holidays so as to capture the full effect of the over the river, into the woods, to grandma’s house…with gently falling snow, but I didn’t make it. With any luck there’ll be one more day of snow courtesy of WordPress. I hope you enjoy this nostalgic ride with me in Bourne-Vincent Memorial Park, which forms the core of the Killarney National Park in Ireland.  Our ride combines the special serenity of mountains, lakes, woods, and waterfalls, most of which you won’t see due to the limits of my camera prowess. Suffice it to say you just have to have been there! The air is crisp and clean, only a few short hours until dusk. Because it’s what travelers do when they on tour, we have nothing to do but sit back and relax to the clip-clop trot of the horse–for the life of me I cannot remember her name, perhaps Sally (?). It seems to me that one of the reasons we like to get away from our own homes is that it’s so refreshing to be somewhere else where we don’t have to be concerned with the problems that plague the locals in any country. There’s plenty of chance–as you’ll see–to get into that later.

A jaunting car isn’t really a car at all. It’s a light, open-air, four-wheeled (sometimes just two) carriage drawn by a single horse. Once upon a time, it was the typical mode of travel for people in Ireland. Today jaunting cars remain, but mostly catering to tourists in some parts of the country. Their drivers are referred to as Jarveys, and they’ve been around since the Victorian age.  Always one to wonder what it’s like for the animal in service, I mentally add up a rounded-off figure of 450-500 pounds (I’m being modest 😉 here) this one horse was carting about. While these buggies seem ideally designed for four, there are six in our carriage, plus the driver.

Here we are about to enter the Park itself after a quick jaunt through the streets of picturesque Killarney. Hubby and I are sitting just behind the red-plaid blanket thrown over the driver’s box seat. By the end of the ride, that blanket will be cradling the two of us.

This is our Jarvey, as they’ve been called since the Victorian age. As I mentioned, it’s close to the end of the day as our tour bus arrived rather late to the hotel. We had only time to check into our rooms before hurrying back out where our jarveys and their horses were waiting, first come-first served. I guess I’ll always wonder how our ride would have been different–more stories, more wit?–had we been a tad faster on our feet. We had been promised witty and well informed jarveys–they were authentically Irish after all. What we got was mumbling and what I noted to be a general lack of enthusiasm, although it could have been language barriers as we soon learned spoken Irish is mostly what we’re used to, but sometimes can sound like another language (more on that in future posts). It could also have been the lateness of the day or plain boredom. I’ve been a docent and I know how boring it can be to tell the same story over and over and over. He certainly looked like he came from central casting, no?

Hydrangeas! I simply cannot resist photographing them since I feel such a strong connection, having grown up with women who tried growing them (myself included) with marked lack of success despite all their efforts. Now I understand why. They need a richer soil than Florida’s shifting sand can offer. Ireland offers so many colors, from blues to pinks, purple, at times almost fiery reds! I think it must be easy when you get a lot of rain as Ireland does.

Land for this park was presented to the Irish State in 1932 by Senator Arthur Vincent and his parents-in-law, Mr and Mrs William Bowers Bourn, in memory of his wife–their daughter–Maud. This expanse of land covers about 26,000 acres of mountainous country that includes the highest mountain range in Ireland, the Mcgillycuddy’s Reeks. Here we’ll have glimpses of the three major lakes (Leane, Muchross or Middle, and Upper) of Killarney. Passing by waters like this always takes me back to cane pole fishing taught me by my grandparents, all of whom had connections with Ireland, Scotland or England. They would have loved fishing here, and it isn’t difficult at all to imagine them here. Can’t you  just sense a school of trout just waiting patiently in the water here?

Below is a distant look at one of the three lakes, the Lough Leane, (or the Lower Lake, Lough is Irish for Lake). That structure to the right is the Ross Castle, which I learned not from our unenthusiastic jarvey but from Wikipedia. According to them, the castle is typical of strongholds of Irish chieftains built during the Middle Ages. The tower house had square bartizans on diagonally opposite corners and a thick end wall, and was originally surrounded by a square defending wall with towers on each end. Historically this castle was a stronghold in defense against Cromwellian forces and even though the owners lost it for a period, they were able to retain rights to it until 1620 by showing that their heir was too young to have taken part in the rebellion.  They erected a mansion house near the castle, and eventually their adherence to James II of England caused them to be exiled. The castle then became a military barracks, and remained as such until early in the 19th century.

We pass many animals along the way, including herds of native red deer, unique in Ireland, present in the country since the last Ice Age. While I was able to capture some quick snaps, none were of sufficient quality to post. Somewhere near the end of our jaunting experience, a member of our group inquired about the lack of horse dung on the roads around the trails. The air was surprisingly pristine, not at all what you’d expect with 66 horse-drawn jaunting cars, according to Ireland’s National Park & Wildlife Service. Except for an occasional fart or two from our horse I’ll call Sally, the air and the streets were sweet and clean. It seems the NPWS has jurisdiction over the internal roadway within the National Park and as of have now introduced regulations that an equine sanitary device has to be fitted to use these routes and keep the park free of manure. You might think of them as horse nappies–or as we say in the U.S.–diapers.

It’s a long story, really, beginning in 2009. It was a long arduous argument between the jaunting services and the NPWS, something akin to the ongoing diatribe between the U.S. Republicans and Democrats, divided somewhere along the middle if you were to read the online diatribes between the locals. As an outsider, I have to say I can appreciate how disgusting 66 horses trotting about day in and day out, added to any animal’s tendency to poop where and whenever they feel the urge, combined with day in day out drizzling rain drizzle could put a downside to a tourist industry, let alone the locals who use the park for walking, bike riding, picnicking, etc. In July 2009, jaunting cars were banned from entering the park. Finally the jaunting services relented, agreeing to try the dung catching devices they had insisted would spook and cause havoc for the horses on a trial basis. Apparently things went smoothly as they were allowed to re-enter the park in May 2010 after nine months!

I just know that, like me, my readers would be curious as to what a dung catcher would look like, so there it is–you can see the basket like contraption there just below the horse’s tail about mid-leg, ending just above the wheel. The weather gods are with us this day. As we are delivered to our hotel with just enough time to shower and change for a dining in the round experience, the sky is overcast and there’s a drizzle in the chilly air. In spite of the jarvey’s seeming lack of interest in doing more than answering specific questions, he responds to our more personal queries. Have you ever visited the U.S.? (Yes, Massachusets, last fall. He’ll be returning there later in the year.) Charming is still the best way to sum up our jaunt in the park, since I’ve forgiven the jarvey his lack of enthusiasm, and I wouldn’t change a thing.



baby ducks “quack me up” – how about you?

How’s the weather treating you where you live? There are signs of spring here in my neighborhood–people are out walking, trees budding and blooming–the daffodils and hibiscus really putting on a show. In one day’s time we’ve gone from  rain, hail, snow–one or the other every single day–to pretty close to perfect this week. I complained loudly just as most people around me were doing, because we knew that much of the country was faring far worse! So I’m giving in. Rather than continuing my India travelogue today, I’ll be outside enjoying the sunshine while I get my flower beds cleaned up and ready for planting, while I try to resist the temptation to plant too early. You just can’t trust Mother Nature this time of year!

Another sign of spring are the number of videos that feature baby ducks are cropping up. If you think you’ve had weather-related problems, consider the plight of this mother duck as she leads her troop to water during a heavy wind. An adult duck typically weighs between 8 and 11 pounds, so their babies probably weigh mere ounces.

I’m throwing in this one just because I adore watching babies learn about the world. These little ducklings would like to learn to yo yo.

You can watch them both in just 68 seconds, but I’ll bet they’ll make you smile inside all day. Here’s wishing all of you a sunshiny day.

love and hate springs from the same passions . . . separated by the merest of threads

Sometimes–like today for instance–when confronted by hideous stacks of folders filled with papers with tabs like “ideas for development”, I hate myself for being unable or unwilling to throw stuff away. I have narrowed it down now to one room–my office–and at least once every two years I go through and get rid of some. Always I promise myself, when I get back (from wherever we’re headed, usually a trip of some sort that takes command of precious time needed to ready for the trip rather than devoting to search and destroy projects, and why is it I’m inspired to do it at those times?) I’m going to really get rid of this junk. And just as often, sometimes–like today–I’m really glad I don’t.

Today’s continuation of my India 1980 re-capturing was to have been devoted to the train journey commencing in Delhi to our destination in Madras, where Hubby’s mother lived and where he spent much of his childhood. As I’ve explained, however, this series of reflections based on my first impressions has come about through notes jotted on a kitchen calendar. There are just enough notations that I’m able to partially reconstruct much of the events of each day in an orderly fashion. While I remember what I felt much of the time about so many new experiences coming all at once, obviously those feelings have been tempered over the years by other visits when I was less “new” and knew what to expect. I keep thinking that it’s too bad I didn’t write these in a journal DURING, not 30 years AFTER that trip.

The following is almost as good as a first-hand journal, as it captures more succinctly than this series does my love-hate issues with India. I found it–it appears to be a draft of an essay–in one of those old yellowed folders. It’s printed on fold-out paper and the print is dot-matrix and looks so ancient, so I’m pretty sure it was something I wrote for a University of Ohio writing class, which I believe had to be around 1985 or 86. It’s untitled and I have no clue as to the theme I was trying for, but it is quite revealing, I think, about the person I was at the time. Although it’s putting the horse before the cart in a sense–as it winds up with a paragraph of the visit to my mother-in-law’s cottage I intended to share after this one–I decided to post it here as it was originally written. The next post then will re-cap, with a little more emphasis on what it’s like to travel a long length of Indian countryside in a sleeper train–an experience I now treasure. I hope you enjoy seeing this as much as I did! Like a long-lost version of myself.


How can I not hate India? It is a country of such diversity, such contradictions. It is a brown country, so hot and dusty and dry until monsoon that one becomes filthy traveling across country in trains. Parts of Delhi, Bombay, Madras, and myriad other cities smell like–and are–public urinals. People defecate on the roadsides, the only privacy being in their genetic makeup*.  I have walked in streets strewn with excrement, human or animal, doesn’t matter for it all looks the same, and I have walked on thick Persian carpeting in a home in Simla where the walls were lined with wonderful paintings in ornate frames. The summer home of Mrs. Gandhi.

Make one statement about India, immediately comes to mind a statement–equally true–that completely challenges the validity of the original indictment. Women have no power there. Many are  not educated and thus are doomed to lives of poverty. Many hold higher degrees of education and are held in great esteem as the fabric from which home and family are woven. Home and family is the most important seam in the greater fabric called India. There are many influential and political women throughout India’s history. How can I not love India?

I love the animals. Those forced to live in captivity: monkeys with skull caps and embroidered vests–collared and leashed–that dance in circles; large birds with brilliant splashes of color–reds, turquoises, yellows–as if sprayed there by an artist gone mad. Giant curved beaks, cocked heads, beady eyes looking as if they possess the larger truth of life that I will somehow never find; smaller birds among squatting sidewalk vendors, circling, declaring your future by a single peck on a chosen pebble; temple elephants painted with intricate designs from hoofs upward, garlanded with perfumed flowers of various hues, scantily clad brown skinned bones atop them–their mahouts, or keepers.

I love the animals. Animals living free among the thronging millions: giant myna birds with their incessant caa caas, pigeons leaving their droppings indiscriminately, squirrels balancing aloft like acrobats on power lines; monkeys in tree tops, the females watching out for the babies, giving them as much leeway on tree limbs as possible, then reaching out to rescue them just before they venture too far and fall. They scold them, sometimes resorting to spankings when a repeated reprimand seems to have fallen on deaf ears, just as millions of human mothers have done for eons.

I will never forget the magical moment I saw my first family of wild elephants in the forest on a car trek to Coonor, a mountainous resort villa with quilt-patch tea farm terrain. Actually I was told later that the elephants were probably part of a farm herd used by tractor-less farmers to assist with heavier farming chores. Despite the fact they were required to work for their living and weren’t truly free as I’d at first imagined, how sharply that image I saw and remember from that day contrasts with that of a metal stake in concrete in a zoo . . . a rope leading to an elephant’s rear hoof and attached to an riveted iron band . . . straw and dung scattered over a dusty floor, while her ancient watery eyes seem to look only inward, recollecting a faraway jungle home perhaps.

I recollect other contradictory images of India. My mother-in-law Neelu standing in the doorway of her tiny four room flat. She has been boiling water for tea on the tiny Bunsen burner stove on the floor of her kitchen. There are no table and chairs to sit at, no sink below a window to glance outward at birds while preparing food or cleaning after a meal. We have entered through the front of the cottage, passing through the kitchen area to the room Americans refer to as the “living room.” As the  honored guest, I am led to a single wooden bench, the only furniture except for one or two woven bamboo stools standing nearby. On opposite sides of this room are small lean-tos where Neelu presumably stores things–colorful sarees, blouses, woolen shawls–in old fashioned trunks with brass hinges. Letters and photographs rest in ornate brass and cardboard boxes alike. Neelu is an orthodox Hindu from the highest Brahmin caste. I know that to her I am an untouchable, even though my husband has teased her that I am an American Brahmin, that my family “went to America on the Mayflower (not true, I’m sure). I think she half believes it because she wants to. But I wonder if she’ll scrub the bench where I’m sitting after I leave.

*It occurs to me this might not be understood as it’s written, so I should state that what I meant by this statement is that when you grow up in a country of such crowds, I believe you are forced to move through your days as if you were the only person around. Since I grew up in the U.S. in the country, I was terribly self-conscious for much of my adult life, thinking that everyone must be looking at–and judging–me for being so awkward. Only after a trip or two or maybe three, to India, have I learned not to assume anyone is noticing me. It’s such total freedom I’m glad I finally figured out.]