Ireland’s Ancient Castles and Spirits

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Ireland is a dream, a glowing green celebration, a place of shifting light where shadows of knights can be seen roaming through the fog.

The Guinness is foamy and dark and suspiciously looks like the River Liffey. Poems float through the air and music is everywhere.

castleMist hovers through the countryside, contributing to the dream. When the mist clears, ancient castles appear. Some castles have been restored, but I love the ones that haven’t been touched. Doors and walls may be missing or crumbling. Birds fly through open windows and nest in the corners. It’s easier to imagine the past in a place like this, a place that has surrendered itself to time.

castleFrom the ancient castles, the countryside still looks as it did when kings and queens ruled the lands. Green fields stretch toward the darker trees of a forest’s edge. The rumble of galloping horses can be felt. Fog and magic swirl through the air, bringing shadows of the past back home. They stoop over a stone fireplace, tending a fire so that a whiff of wood smoke is inhaled hundreds of years later. They harvest the fields that have grown into a tangle. Their laughter still sings through cracks in castle walls.

Ireland green fields

Ireland countryside

Ireland

Ireland castle

Ireland castle

On St. Patrick’s Day, I’ll be dreaming of Ireland.

How will you celebrate St. Patrick’s Day this year?

Thoughts on The Book Thief and Colors

the book thiefI kept hearing about The Book Thief. It stayed on my to-read list for a long time, probably because I’d hear it described like this:

It’s about a little girl living in Nazi Germany. Her family hides a Jewish man in their basement and they become friends. The story is narrated by Death.

I thought it sounded too depressing. Strangely though, it’s not.

That’s the basic story, but it’s also about the survival and growth of love in the harshest environments. It’s about the effects of books on our lives, the power of words, and the importance of friendship and hope. More than that even, it’s about colors.

Markus Zusak paints with words and he doesn’t just paint pictures. He paints feelings into those pictures. His father painted houses and that must have influenced his descriptions because the colors come through in such a vibrant and unique way. A sense of wonder and amazement for life can be felt along with the colors and words.

When I read a book, I want to feel and experience everything. Reading The Book Thief feels like this:

sunset

Yes, there’s darkness and sadness in it. But there’s also light and so many glowing colors. And the light does have a way of shining through.

Ocean Victories

ocean

The ocean rejuvenates, inspires, and restores us. It gives us so much, but any ocean-related news is too often depressing. One of the reasons I love the nonprofit group Oceana is that it does something about the depressing news. Members receive notifications of petitions to sign and the group works with lawyers and politicians to create real environmental change. So for some good news, here are a few ocean victories that came about this year:

1. Nearly 40,000 people signed an Oceana petition asking Alibaba.com to stop selling leather products made from manta rays. The company listened and the products were removed from the website.

2. The first permanent safe haven in continental U.S. waters for the endangered Pacific leatherback turtle was established when the government designated about 42,000 square miles off the West Coast as critical habitat.

3. The European Parliament approved a ban on shark finning. The EU is the world’s largest exporter of shark fins to Hong Kong and China. This new rule is a step toward the protection and conservation of sharks around the world.

4. New laws passed by the Chilean senate will close all of Chile’s 118 seamounts to bottom trawling, impose science-based fishing quotas, and improve monitoring on Chilean fishing vessels to drastically reduce untargeted catch or bycatch.

5. Responding to petitions filed by Oceana, the government announced that it will consider the West Coast population of great white sharks for listing under the federal Endangered Species Act by June 2013. This unique population of sharks may only have a few hundred adults remaining.

Secret Places

My mom is always finding these secret places, the kind of places that people walk or drive by without realizing there’s a door to another world right there.

When my brother and I were little, she would bring us to a circle of dunes behind a public beach. No one was ever there. It was her secret place. Then there was a garden with seven-foot hedges surrounding it. The door could barely be seen, but if anyone walked through it, the reward would be blooming flowers and whispering trees.

She found this place tucked away behind an art gallery off Route 6A in Sandwich. The walk starts off with a maze of paths through the woods. Every once in a while, a sign appears with a quotation or saying as if the scenery itself is telling us secrets. Metal sculptures twist out of the greenery, letting our imaginations wander along with our feet.

The path leads to a narrow rope bridge that bounces crazily with each step.

At first the bridge looks as if it ends in the marsh, but a hidden path off to the side brings us through towering marsh grass, making us feel as tiny as insects wandering through a lawn.

Once through the grass, the path continues along the side of the marsh, where a bench sits and waits for visitors to admire the view.

On our way back through the maze of woods, we see uprooted trees. A sign there states, “Thank you Hurricane Irene.”

Another great thing about this walk full of secret places is that donations are collected toward the Association for the Preservation of Cape Cod. If you happen to live in the area or plan a visit, it’s worth a wander behind The Giving Tree Gallery on Route 6A in Sandwich.

Do you have a secret place? How did you find it?

Roller Coaster Biking Through Provincetown Sand Dunes

A few ups and downs are usually expected in the path ahead, but this path throws in surprise twists and curves, all while traveling through shifting sands.

It’s been called the Cape Cod Spiral. It brings unsuspecting bikers up to unimaginable heights before forcing them to plummet down the other side. When the path drops, it feels as if you’ve been shot out of a cannon as you try to navigate all the angles at warp speed. Narrow tunnels appear right after a few drops. At times the path seems suspiciously like a toy train track designed by a madman. But madmen do know how to have fun.

Provincetown is at the very tip of Cape Cod. It’s mostly sand. Even while driving into town, sand dunes rise up on either side of the highway.

The sand that collects on the bike path is just another obstacle. If you try biking too fast through it, you just might end up flat on your back appreciating the sky more than the dunes.

The Cape Cod National Seashore built this 8-mile loop in the 1960s. Maybe that explains it. After struggling to bike up the hills, it’s tempting to reward yourself right away with a downhill catapult supplied by gravity but the hilltops are the best places for water breaks with 360-degree views of the dunes and ocean.

After feeling the heat of the sun and sand, another leg thankfully travels through shady tunnels of green. Sun-baked pine and oak mingle with glimpses of the ocean beyond the trees. This path leads to Bennett Pond, which looks a lot like a swamp but it does offer some pretty lily pad and tree root views.

Most Cape Cod bike paths were built on straight, flat railroad lines. They’re a little too easy. Not this one. It will make you work for your views.

The reward for so much up and downhill biking is a walk through the streets of Provincetown and lunch in a shady spot. If you’re lucky, the pet bird at the Governor Bradford Restaurant might decide to peek out of her house and entertain you with a song.


Sheila Hurst is the author of Ocean Echoes, an award-winning novel about a marine biologist who gives up on love to study jellyfish. A percentage from the sale of this book will go toward nonprofit organizations working to protect the world’s oceans for future generations.

Top Ten Craziest Things to Love About San Francisco

While growing up, San Francisco always seemed like some sort of a dream to me. My brother and I used to climb up into a cabinet that was on top of my bedroom closet. We hid candy in there, played games, and called it San Francisco. Every once in a while, we would look at each other and say, “Want to go to San Francisco?” and then we’d climb up into that secret place and play. I didn’t get the chance to find out what the real San Francisco was like until just a few weeks ago. Since photo opportunities are everywhere there, I thought it would be fun to share some of the crazier photos as a top ten list. 10. Signs with a sense of humor 9. Trees grow as abstract art 8. Everything is art (and art is everywhere) 7. Graffiti 6. Architecture with character 5. Chinatown 4. Sea lions that knock on houseboat doors 3. Crooked, slanted, steep streets 2. The Golden Gate Bridge and how it seems to hover everywhere And the #1 thing to love about San Francisco…the people and dogs (and dog people) you meet on the pier What do you love about San Francisco?

Secret Garden

a secret garden hidden
buds hold tight within themselves
through winter days and nights
explodes with sudden laughter
in puffs of white delight
and with a lingering chuckle
petaled memories fly
free of clinging branches
into the brightening sky

“And the day came when the risk it took to remain tight inside the bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” Anais Nin

“Earth laughs in flowers.” Ralph Waldo Emerson