Sheep were first domesticated by early Mesopotamian humans around 10 thousand years ago, the practice spread quickly throughout Europe and into Ireland. The sheep provide wool and meat and milk for their human counterparts. The humans provide protection and ensure that the sheep in their care have sufficient plant life to graze on. This symbiosis is often forgotten when we think of the term domestication. Unless we have a more personal experience of the process we imagine domestication as a system of humans dominating animals. There is a family run Spanish farm; “La Pateria de Sousa” which produces award winning foie gras by practicing domestication as symbiosis. They carefully cultivate their lands with intentionally selected plants that the geese love to eat and which in turn after filtering through their happy bodies provide a complex and beautiful flavor in the goose liver. This is a rare example in the foie gras industry where the standard and relatively brutal forced feeding techniques typically engage domestication as a method of fulfilling the one-sided goal of the farmer. Travel is much like making a fantastic tasting foie gras from delighted geese or enjoying the benefit generated when caring for domesticated sheep- it is symbiotic.
As I had set out that morning for a day of hiking in the surrounding hillside which crowned the Dingle peninsula the friendly couple running my hotel offered local insight on the surrounding area. I had no map and the area where I had chosen to get off the bus was not in my guide book, so their information was very useful as I followed a one lane road into the wilderness. About two hours down the road I approached a small cottage and an elderly man stopped what he was doing in the front garden as I drew near. As he returned my smile I saw that he was missing several of his front teeth and noticed that he must smile often as the wrinkles around his eyes were as well worn as the faded denim overalls he was wearing. I stopped when he asked me where I was headed to and explained that I had no real destination in mind, only out for a walk in the sunshine. Taking the opportunity to show off the beauty of his homeland he insisted that I take a trail running alongside his property which lead to a hillside of local renown, bearing a name which I could not understand.
The trail was lined with towering foxgloves swirling with butterflies and I was immediately happy to have been directed to such and enchanting landscape. The flowers and trees began thinning out and an emerald sea of hills stretched gently upwards, carrying the trail along with it. So I climbed, scrambling over the fences which crossed the path in order to keep herds of sheep seperated, each group distinguished from one another using brightly colored spray painted marks on their fat woolly bodies. After spending several hours following the path I found a soft patch of grass surrounding a sunny bolder against which I could lean and take in the view. Apart from the wind, the only sound was that of the sheep occasionally bleating our their salutations and of the waterfall which I now faced across the valley. I stayed late into the afternoon, eyes closed listening and enjoying the solitude.
From Dingle I headed north to a small town called Doolin. I had read that this was one of the most authentic places to hear transitional Irish music and I was very curious about taking it in. Doolin has three pubs, several bed and breakfasts, and a growing number of hostels. I chose one along the river just outside of town where I was installed in a bed below a skylight just like the one I had in my childhood. The hostel itself was converted old farm house and after a bit of exploring I discovered the back door. Several young people were congregating at the picnic table perched above the river. One of them cradled a bagpipe in their arms and another an Irish fiddle as they casually played their instruments I lifted myself up onto the stone wall nearby to listen. I love music, all kinds of music and especially live music. As a visual-centric person being able to watch the musician experience making their music enriches the way I perceive the sound they produce. Framed by the river, the old farmhouse and the sweetly melancholic landscape the afternoon turned to the deep glow of twilight and we all went in to make our dinners in the communal kitchen. After dinner there was some discussion about what pub had the group playing that evening and the table divided with everyone heading in smaller groups to their preferred establishments. Without any real knowledge of the differences, I opted for the pub that was the oldest in town figuring I would start at the beginning. There were several Bodhran Irish drummers and a couple of fiddle players along with a dreadlocked didgeridoo player and silver flute player all in full momentum when I ordered a pint at the bar. Everyone talked with everyone, and I was quickly absorbed into the communal spirit of the small pub. Suddenly the young woman drinking and clapping next to me set her glass down and launched into a fury of Irish dance which only got more passionate as the crowds encouraged her which in turn caused the musicians to play with more and more enthusiasm as she danced until performer and audience transformed completely in a kind of symbiotic alchemy.
As I was swept up with back slapping and hearty laughs and carried to the next pub an equally raucous group passed us headed to the pub behind us and I could see another leaving the one were about to enter, as if great tidal forces were moving the whole town between three moons. Many hours later as I was leaving the third pub and heading for bed, I reunited with a group walking back to the farmhouse singing their way to the front door.
Enjoying the blues change to oranges and then soft yellows in the sky above my bed, I drifted off to sleep with the sounds of fiddles and song still echoing in my mind.