Happy Almost Thanksgiving!
Before settling in with Mum for a day of serious eating and lounging, I thought I’d finish the story begun in my last post about the day I spent trekking through Killarney National Park. It was actually a marvelous collection of individual treks undertaken via the assortment of vehicles I’ve been listing. I was truly sad to see this journey end.
I’m also sad (fair warning…) to be sharing here the end of another brave journey.
So. As things stood, I was hitching a brief van ride through the absolutely breathtaking Gap of Dunloe. I’d gladly agreed to leave our tour group’s tightly packed jaunting car on the uphill and walk to keep from over-taxing Paddy the Pony. Once the van carried me over the steepest crest, I figured I’d wait there for my friend Judy and the rest of the group.
But, as I gazed down into the next valley, I was hit with this childish urge to push on ahead – to be the first to experience whatever was around each scenic bend. So I quickly decided to let ol’ Paddy continue his well-deserved break.
All by myself on this drizzly November day, I continued down the road through the remote and regal mountains of the Gap until I came in sight of civilization again in the form of a little town. By some magical timing, the bells of a local church began tolling as if to welcome me. Maybe I truly was the Celtic monarch I’d been imagining myself to be as I strode along through my “dominion!” (Or maybe it was just the top of some hour – but that’s not important.)
Anyway, at a fork in the road, I finally decided it was time to let my loyal subjects in the jaunting car approach – um, I mean to let the tour catch up – so I could ride with them the rest of the way. Paddy the Pony must have felt refreshed because he clopped along with no complaint, taking us as far as a sturdy stone bridge over a river. On the other side, in amongst the fog and flora, was Lord Brandon’s Cottage where we stopped to dry off a bit, get some food for an outdoor lunch, and savor the pretty locale until it was time for the next leg of the trip.
At a dock along the marshy edge of nearby Upper Lake, we were handed off to another guide who doled out life jackets and ushered us into a small wooden boat. Thankfully, this mode of transport worked on a motor rather than oars or actual “horse power” (with due respect to Paddy) – because being asked to get out and swim at intervals could have proved somewhat of an imposition.
But we all got to stay inside the boat and cruise from the Upper Lake to the Middle to the Lower. Binoculars were kindly provided so the group could not only take in a big picture view of this gorgeous landscape but scan the lakes and mountains for wildlife as well.
I could happily have continued like this for hours – plying through the placid waters and peppering our affable guide with no end of natural and historical questions. But, all too soon, we came in sight of imposing Ross Castle which marked the end of the boat ride and, alas, the end of the tour. All that was left was to board the cheery little bus once more and head back to The Lake Hotel.
BY THE GLASS
Okay, yes – technically, our Gap of Dunloe adventure was at an end. But an important part of a trip in my opinion is taking time out to reflect – to sift through the day’s events and relive the memorable moments. To that end, Judy and I fittingly concluded our sojourn with an animated chat over Irish Coffees in the hotel bar. It was a dirty job but we did agree it was necessary – you know, for closure.
There we sat, heartily (and repeatedly) toasting the odd fact that we’d just spent an entire day traversing this stunning countryside only to wind up exactly where we’d begun! But, as I said last time, it isn’t just about the destination for me. That’s a fixed thing – a certain thing. It’s more often the twists and turns and adventures and laughs shared along a journey that I recall and celebrate.
And our County Kerry holiday didn’t end there! We spent another glorious day strolling around other parts of Killarney National Park: taking in the gloomy vestiges of Muckross Abbey; lunching on the ornate grounds of Muckross House; and hiking to dramatic Torc Waterfall. There was so much more of this enchanting place to explore but, since we had responsibilities back at our respective homes, it would have to wait for another day.
What a super bunch of memories though! And like the different ways we’d just gotten around the Park, Judy and I had different approaches to capturing these lovely moments for posterity. I tend to keep memory-jogging notes in a journal – and I guess it’s obvious that I also take pictures. (It wasn’t until later while studying the otherwise sylvan scene below that I saw I’d caught a gentleman’s capturing his memories on a tablet – see it?)
Judy’s real gift has been in recognizing and refining her experiences into the most entertaining stories. Over the years I roomed with her, I’d hear Judy recount tales over and over to family and friends until they became brightly polished, mostly accurate, and always amusing gems.
I also sure appreciate the people who have a gift for weaving stories into song. Like Simon and Garfunkel – man, they really know a thing or two about a thing or two, don’t they? Relationships (happy and heartbreaking). Hopes (luminous and elusive). Dreams (fierce and fading). The lyrics in the searingly beautiful combination of pieces “Old Friends” and “Bookends” really get to me, especially as I’m reminded at the end: “Preserve your memories – they’re all that’s left you.”
Preserve your memories. All the more important in this case because I won’t have the chance for another day of Killarney memories with Judy – I’m sorry to say that, after courageously battling illness for years, she passed away this summer while awaiting a kidney transplant. I haven’t even tried to describe her here or explain how much she brought to experiences like Killarney. I’ll just offer that she was a person of incredible intelligence, wit and fortitude who could infuse any activity – from the most mundane to the most dire – with her own remarkably special brand of humor and zest. It was such a great pleasure to call her my friend.
Loss touches every person’s life. It’s been touching mine quite a bit in recent years. I don’t want to dwell on it too awfully much here – or on our one inevitable “destination” (that fixed and certain thing). I want instead to try and recall the twists and turns and adventures and laughs I’ve shared along my journeys with extraordinary folks like Judy.
And to celebrate.
Thanks for letting me share – and, once again, a very Happy Thanksgiving to all!
If you’d like to contribute to the Kidney Foundation in Judy’s memory – or if you just want to support a good cause – please visit this page created for a team of us who participated in a charity walk for Judy (the walk has already taken place but donations are being accepted until December 18th): http://donate.kidney.org/site/TR/Walk/NewEngland?team_id=160131&pg=team&fr_id=5970
More views of Killarney National Park: