The Burren in Western Ireland is covered by an expansive, eroding limestone carpet. The limestone, formed by compressed sediment 350 million years old, was once the bottom of a tropical sea. A fact that is very difficult to easily comprehend when one looks out across the empty horizon filled only by wind. Incredibly scientists have found fossilized samples of corals, sea urchin and ammonite- an extinct spiral shelled organism. Ammonoidea, as they are scientifically titled, get their name from a man in Pompeii around 79 A.D who proclaimed them the “Horn of Ammon” for the Egyptian god typically painted wearing rams horns. Fossils of all kinds, and especially this last type incited the medieval European imagination which saw petrified snakes and their sale quickly developed into an industry. The beloved Hindu text the Mahabharata decrees they are the materialized appearance of the god Vishnu and believers fortunate enough to collect specimens from the Gandaki river in Nepal, worship them experiencing what they describe as a reciprocal sense of love. Fossils are the talisman of another world existing on a concurrent plane, a world with a very different sense of time. They belong to the world of Bristlecone Pine and Giant Sequoia; twisting and bending over thousands of years, to the millennial battles of rain and stone slowly blending into each other, to a world for which we must ourselves be only a blink of their eye.
On my fifth or sixth morning in Doolin I sat sipping black tea with the Englishman who lived in a small trailer behind the farm-house. Thinking about the night before, I asked if there was a trail connecting the town with the Cliffs of Moher. He knew the area very well as he had been living in that trailer behind the farm-house for several years and mostly spent his time exploring the Burren and building fiddles. After confirming that there was indeed a path he next asked how I had heard about it an I explained. Long after the music had ended, a group of us had remained sipping on pints at the old picnic table late into the night. Rumors of a Local’s Path were passed around and two members of a German heavy metal band traveling strictly in their Lederhosen swore that they had seen where the trail began.
I was born in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains and grew up hiking and camping – traveling across the rough but relatively flat Burren did not seem like much of a challenge. Late the following morning I began down a trail the Englishman had identified as the Local’s Path with a light pack and my camera. The burren is an extremely beautiful place to walk through. Graphite colored stone covers the ground in panels split by violent tectonic forces and soaked for thousands of years by a deeply melancholic fog. It is at once lonely and commanding. After a time the green began to take over with moss and grasses and a universe of miniature wild flowers. The grasses grew thicker and the planst less miniature when the trail began in earnest. Just wide enough for a single traveler, the path began creeping towards the ocean and the steadily rising cliffs and I followed. So close to the edge of the cliff was the path that at times it gave way completely, releasing solid chunks of earth to crash 700 feet into the sea below. Several times I was faced with a gap and after taking a moment to appreciate the total calm of a cow or horse safely on the other side of the fence before leaping across, my heart racing. The Cliffs of Moher is a favorite nesting site for many bird species and I stopped a number of times to crawl onto my belly enabling me a secure view over the edge where I could watch the busy traffic below. When I finally reached the Hags Head and jumped over a small fence to join the other tourists shuttled to the tower by the bus load, I had already seen everything I wanted to see along the way, so I turned around and walked back to Doolin.
Leaving Doolin was somewhat difficult, I had settled in, grown attached to the nightly music and days filled by nature. I understood how one could simply buy a trailer and move in. Ensuring I would maintain momentum before setting out and still in Italy, I had sworn myself and oath – never to stay more than one week in any one location. It was approaching fast on my week in Doolin and so I pressed on, reluctantly. Just up the coastline are the Aran islands. Interested in viewing the remains of an ancient fortress I boarded a ferry which motored me out to Inishmore. Built on a cliff over 100 meters high and named after a Celtic King, Aengus has been worn down to the remains of four concentric semicircular walls. At the entrance to the sloping hills of the fortress sat a grinning old man. He sang and rocked to the music he played on his accordion all the while perched atop a stool in the grass. His song diffused through the wind and seemed to carry me right to the edge of the ruin. Along the way I had serendipitously fallen into step with a middle-aged woman crowned with a blaze of vermillion hair. She and I started talking as we walked through the ruins and she explained the importance of the area for her. She was a photographer but more importantly she emphasized, she burned with Celtic soul. She identified herself as a pagan and she believed that the fortress was once used for ceremony and ritual. Side by side we stretched out on the ancient ground to face down the cliff face and watch in silence as the swelling waves shattered against the rocks growing out of the deep below. Across the ocean from where I now sit, they are still doing so and will do so long after I die. I cannot help but feel a hue of envy as I imagine that other world, the one that blinks.