My friend Jes and I are planning a trip to Ireland this year. Her dream is to visit the Aran Islands, a stone’s throw away from either Doolin, County Clare or Rossaveal, County Galway–depending on where you want to catch a ferry. Having visited both the big island and the small island on previous trips, I welcome the chance to show her around and also cross off Inishmaan, the middle island, from my Ireland bucket list.
It got me thinking, though, I never gave the small island, Inisheer, the attention it deserved on my blog. I circled the big island, Inishmore, on a bicycle in 2015 and meticulously captured every last detail in writing. But, what happened to Inisheer?
Have you ever loved a place so much that it’s just hard to describe? Words couldn’t do it justice, and you fear sounding like a travel brochure if you tried? That was my problem–which isn’t fair to Inisheer, an island which gazes back at the Cliffs of Moher through the rusted hull of a shipwreck, patiently waiting for more visitors to discover her.
Like many places in Ireland, I think Inisheer is best suited for writers, musicians, and visual artists, people whose imaginations thrive in quiet places, who can perch themselves high on a hill and draw inspiration from the ocean, a sunset, or a sliver of land off in the distance. People who can see the beauty in ruins.
I spent my time there circling the island on foot so I could stop and photograph the flora, the cows, the never-ending limestone walls that zigzag across the island. The village, though modestly sized, somehow manages to feel like a maze as it slopes down to the beach. As you navigate the streets, you’ll find a cozy tea room or a pub in which to enjoy the scent of a fine whiskey and listen to traditional music.
The real danger with traveling in Ireland is that you leave your heart in so many different places. I certainly left a piece of mine on Inisheer.
For the past year or so, I haven’t felt like me. Do you ever go through phases like that? Like, between work and school and whatever else you have going on, your creativity just vanishes into your daily obligations? For the first half of 2018, I didn’t even feel like taking pictures. I took a digital photography class, hoping it’d spark something inside of me; instead, the assignments became just more tasks to complete. And I would think, where did I go?
So, as I reflect on my summer–yes, the rain is already falling in the Pacific Northwest–I see that I needed St. Ives. I needed the remoteness of Cornwall, England with its narrow roads, pristine beaches, art galleries, and ocean views. I hope it makes sense to say, I felt myself returning.
On one particular night, I bought a glass of wine at a beach cafe and then sat on Porthmeor Beach, facing west. After an 85-degree day, the sun fell into a pink mist, turning the sky violet as it dipped below the water, scattering light across the waves. The sands cooled my feet, and I drank my wine. A German girl next to me took photos on her iPhone. A father chased a naked child who squealed and collapsed with laughter in the sand, wanting to be caught. Others lined the wall above the beach, waiting for the sun to set entirely. And we all got to experience the zephyr of ocean air, forgetting what came before and to abandon expectations for what might come after. Just to breath. Listen. Embrace a perfect moment.
Some peeled away after the sun disappeared, returning to hotel rooms or pubs to finish watching a game. Others lingered in the silence.
That was St. Ives to me, a few moments that existed beyond a camera lens. A few moments that showed me that stress and obligations can sometimes strangle the spirit right out of you, if you let them. It’s okay to slow down and enjoy life at a slower pace sometimes. I guess that’s why we go on vacation–to be reminded.
And I did feel like taking my *big* camera out, eventually. I captured a lot of photos on my cellphone this year, but here are a few from my Nikon as I explored St. Ives.
When I got my Nikon D800 four years ago I thought, this camera is going to change my life. I dubbed her “Fancy” and vowed to travel the world with her, taking once in a lifetime photographs that would have National Geographic pounding at my door. Today, I just think about how much she makes my wrists hurt and how there are probably thousands of people running around with Fancys of their own, wanting a shot with National Geographic or Lonely Planet.
I’ve learned that I’m lazy. I don’t necessarily want to learn all the nerdy and technical components about photography that will make me better at it. At the end of the day, I just want to capture what’s beautiful about the world around me. Sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn’t.
More and more often, I take pictures on my cellphone, which is funny because that’s how this whole blog started years ago: cellphone photos. That’s not to say I’ve totally lost interest in Fancy; I’m just a lot more selective about when I take her out. During my last trip to England, I took most of my photos on my phone. I mean, it’s compact; I can easily hide it in my purse when I’m done using it. I don’t have to worry about breaking it. I can instantly upload photos to social media.
So…sorry, Fancy. Here are some of my favorite cellphone photos from England earlier this month.
I returned home from Ireland in June with 742 new pictures. Some of them will become part of future blog posts, some will end up on Facebook or in my online gallery. Most of them will never leave my computer. One of the challenges I have after each trip is to decide what photo to edit first. This was especially difficult this time as there weren’t any once-in-a-lifetime-photos, nothing that will probably ever grace the pages of a magazine. But, as a complete unit, the pictures tell the story of my trip. Altogether, they capture Ireland. Here is a sample of some of the photos I’ve managed to edit so far. There are still many more to come. Enjoy!
Ghosts are good for business, and Port Townsend, Washington has its fair share of stories. Manresa Castle is haunted by a heartbroken woman, whose love never returned from the Great War, and a Jesuit priest. A Lady in White wanders the grounds of Point Wilson Lighthouse and is, allegedly, a bit of a snoop; she is forever rummaging through drawers of the keeper’s quarters. Fort Worden has its orbs and Man in Blue. I imagine if you started inquiring, every building downtown would have some sort of strange occurrence or shadowy figure. Sensitive people claim to “feel” their energy.
Whether the stories are true or not, they add an element of mystery and adventure to a trip, and this is one of the reasons I love visiting Port Townsend. I only ever feel “haunted” when I’m in the town’s antique stores, though. There’s something about being surrounded by the wares of a thousand departed souls that really gets to me. Maybe one of these days when I’m wandering around with my camera, I’ll catch something other than a landscape.
Here are a few shots from my last weekend trip. Anything look out of the ordinary to you?
Point Wilson Lighthouse and Grounds
I spent most of my time at Point Wilson and Fort Worden, so I didn’t have many shots of town. What did fascinate me was the Tarot card reader who is parked along the main street. Her boots are just visible beyond the door.
You first enter New Orleans a little tone deaf and flat-footed, tripping over the broken, heat-stressed sidewalks and the frenetic pace of Bourbon Street. Maybe there’s a Hurricane in your belly. You feel like simmering gumbo, stirred together with so many strange people—your flavors and stenches mixing, mingling with the notes of a distant band. A young woman melts into the sidewalk, a puddle of booze, pouring through the fingers of some boyfriend who has no idea how to collect her again out of the tumbling trash full of plastic cups and beads and food wrappers. You may wonder what appeals to people in that neon stew.
Don’t worry. Bourbon is just one street in New Orleans. Each has its own tempo, one suited for college kids on spring break and another for people like me—a middle-aged woman celebrating her 40th birthday. And the incredible thing is, no matter what happens the night before, the evidence is swept away before daybreak. Trash packed. Streets cleaned. Friends found. Swish, sweep, done. In the morning, you get a second chance to fall in love with the city and how everything from its food to its music is designed to be a celebration.
Spend some time wandering around on foot, and you’ll find the right street for you. Live jazz saunters out of Frenchman in the evenings, if that’s your thing. On the weekends, newlyweds may parade around Royal under parasols, followed by a trumpeting brass band. Decatur offers beignets, and they’re easy to find-just follow the trail of powered sugar down the sidewalk to Cafe Du Monde. A friendly ghost may join you on Chartres if you stop by Muriel’s for a cocktail. One of my favorite things was sitting outside at Muriel’s, leaning over the wrought-iron balcony with a Honey Child, watching the crowds at Jackson Square (the ghost never made an appearance).
By the time you leave New Orleans, the city will feel less like gumbo and more like a warm piece of bread pudding, dripping with whiskey sugar glaze, sweet and satisfying. You’ll be ten pounds heavier. You’ll develop a certain fondness for bartenders who call you “baby” and the Uber drivers who share their life stories during lazy trips in and out of the French Quarter. It’s hard not to fall in love with a place like that.
This is my Iceland Writers Retreat writing competition submission. While I didn’t win this year, I was one of the finalists. I’m including the photos I took during the 2014 layover that inspired this piece.
The rules: Iceland – Regard the Moon! Many authors have drawn parallels between Iceland and the moon. Write a max 500-word essay, story or poem on this theme.
I’m completely alone. While evidence of human life surrounds me in the form of a lighthouse, a shipwreck, and a church of carved stone, I haven’t actually seen anyone in miles. The wind sandblasts my face raw as I step away from my rental car, and I wish for a scarf or a thicker jacket than what I’ve chosen to wear during my layover in Iceland. But this is okay. I’m on an exploratory mission, and thoughts of what I might find eclipse the desire for warmer outerwear.
Pictures are what I’m after. As a travel photographer, sitting in Keflavik International Airport and waiting six long hours for the next flight to Seattle isn’t an option. I never reject an opportunity to experience new places, and this layover affords me just enough time to circle the Reykjanes Peninsula with my camera. So I challenge the April winds, pushing ahead for the sake of art. A few clicks of the shutter later and I’m off again with a piece of Iceland safe in my memory card.
A strip of faded asphalt cuts through a lunar plain. Down that road, the Eurasian and North American plates diverge in a tectonic rift. On a footbridge that crosses between the two sides, tourists have fastened padlocks to the chain links of the handrails. The love locks are red, purple, and gold—inscribed with names like Katja and Eros, couples who hope to stay together, even as the continents slowly drift apart. I raise my camera. Click.
Beneath my feet, subterranean sea waters encounter cooling magma, and steam curls skyward from the earth’s crust—a thousand souls rising from sulfurous graves. A part of me thinks I should be afraid. This mysterious land could open up and cast me into its molten core. But, the explorer in me sees the beauty in it, recognizes her own insignificance and feels nothing but awe. Click.
I follow a sign that points to the Blue Lagoon. It’s a rapturous blue heart in the middle of a lava field in which—ah-ha!—every Reykjanes visitor has congregated! I want to stay, commune with fellow travelers. Dozens of heads bob up and down in the geothermal spa, and I envy them their cotton bathrobes and more time than myself. But, the layover hours have ticked away, and I must return to Keflavik. I aim my lens at the lagoon before departing. Click.
Reluctantly, I surrender my keys to the rental car company and pack up my camera. As I do, a thought strikes me—I have captured nothing. Iceland, in all of her tumultuous splendor, has captured me instead! How can I leave when there’s still so much left to see, things that don’t fit on a square inch of digital memory? As I head towards my gate, face thawing and hair a tangled mane, I’m already planning a solo mission to explore the rest.
Okay, I’m not actually in Venice, Italy right now (physically, anyway). But, with falling temperatures and snow in the Pacific Northwest forecast, it’s tempting to look back on warmer days.
I snapped these pictures last year from the balcony of a cruise ship. My friend Julia and I had just returned from a week on the Mediterranean, exploring places like Croatia, Greece, and Montenegro. Places where the sun always seems to shine. They are more forgotten treasures I’m finding as I sit inside on these cold, dark nights, searching for things to do that don’t involve Netflix.
Near the village of Glenbeigh on the Ring of Kerry, Ireland
I have never counted all the pictures I took while living in Ireland. There are probably thousands. I keep them in folders labeled by County and by month, and whenever I need to visit Ireland, I just open Kerry or Clare or Galway and rediscover what made my summer there so special. This shot of Rossbeigh Beach caught my eye the other day. With all of my thousands of photos of Ireland, I’d missed it and never edited it. I hope that keeps happening – that some previously undiscovered image will randomly capture my attention on a day when I need it the most.
Last summer I read an article about a tiny Irish island that would welcome American refugees if Donald Trump is elected President of the United States. It was a joke, of course, probably meant to drum up some tourism.
During every election season stretching as far back as I can remember, Americans threaten to leave the country if their candidate loses. And on the Wednesday morning following every election night, those same people get ready for work and carry on as usual. However, this being an especially contentious election, I thought some voters might finally make good on those threats. Would that tiny Irish island be a good place for American “refugees”? I thought it might be prudent to check it out and report back. (Or, more truthfully, I was just looking for another excuse to return to Ireland…)
Anyway, two weeks after reading the article I was standing on Roonagh Pier, waiting to catch a passenger-only ferry to Inishturk, an island 14 km off the coast of County Mayo. The wind whipped my hair as I listened to stories about a storm that had blown through two days earlier. The ferry operators warned that the waters were still a little choppy, so we should all be careful and hold on. I have never been seasick but worried about the hour-long journey nonetheless.
A dozen passengers and a few crew members boarded the ferry. Some stayed inside the cabin. I chose to stand on deck and keep my eyes on the horizon. The waves were a little rough at first, but by the time we arrived on Inishturk, the waters were much smoother.
And you know what? I’m glad (kind of, not really) Donald Trump ran for President because if not, I’d have never heard of Inishturk! I don’t know that I’d ever live there (it’s very remote), but I’d definitely go back for a week just to disconnect from all the daily noise that can make life so exhausting sometimes.
If you’re planning a trip to Ireland, whether to escape politics or just for fun, there are several great reasons to choose Inishturk island.
Reason 1: Peace and Quiet
Approximately 58 residents live on Inishturk. You could probably meet each one in an afternoon on your 5 km walk around the island. And forget theaters, fancy eateries, and shopping centers. There is a beautiful community center that functions as a restaurant, pub, and library and there are only a few B&B’s from which to choose. It’s the simple life at its best. Writers, photographers, and artists will love a visit.
Reason 2: The People I stayed at Tranaun Beach House, strategically located next to the community center/restaurant/pub. It’s a bit of a hike from the pier, so my host, Phylomena Heaney, drove down to pick me up.
The aroma of freshly baked bread greeted me at the front door of the B&B. Phylomena ushered me into the dining room, serving me tea and scones as I enjoyed a view of the Ireland’s west coast. She was so hospitable and kind – like everyone else I met during my stay. Islanders and other tourists simply wanted to stop and chat, and even though I’d traveled there alone, I never once felt lonely.
Reason 3: Sheep! I met Farmer Heaney (Phylomena’s brother-in-law, I believe) on my walk around the island. He’d herded his sheep into a pen because some of them needed a fresh coat of paint. Farmers spray paint sheep with their mark as a means of identification. I’d never seen this done before, so he let me observe and take some pictures.
Reason 4: The Scenery Fresh air and a decent view. I couldn’t ask for much more…
Reason 5: Hiking As I’ve mentioned, it’s a 5 km walk around the island. The first part is all uphill from the pier, and it’s a great workout after spending so much time in airplanes, rental cars, and ferries to get there.
During my hike, I witnessed the islanders setting up for a festival that would expand their population from 58 to 150 over the weekend. I was tempted to stay on for that, but, as you can imagine, all of the B&B’s were booked and tents filled.
BONUS Reason: On my way back to the mainland the next morning, several dolphins swam towards the ferry! They stayed alongside us for a few moments before diving below the surface and disappearing. Even the seasoned ferry captain was excited to see them!
Some tips before you go:
Ask your hosts if they need anything from the mainland. It’s expensive and time-consuming to go off-island. They’ll appreciate the offer.
Bring your Wellies! This goes for Ireland in general, but it’s especially helpful here. Your hike around the island will take you off road and through some soggy hillsides. Totally worth it for the view, though!