Navel Lake

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‘Your bellybutton is a lake on top of a mountain, Mommy,’ my four-year-old boy remarked. I had announced after dinner that I was going to have a quiet bath with myself and some candles. It turned out that there were also jet skis and submarines in the water with me. My son was spot on because I’ve been thinking about the landscape, the body and our intimate relationship with Mother Earth. I’ve been imagining correlations between my body and Her body – both life-giving and sustaining, both wise and forgiving. My body has willingly been mined for babies and bone marrow and blood. It has been pumped with chemicals, steroidally stimulated, hormonally suppressed and deforested of hair. Yet, it is strong and graceful and well. Our dear planet, for hundreds of years now, has tolerated extreme violation and she still shares her abundance with us and all her children.

But mothers need only mother for a limited time. At some point it is right that we stop being drained, that we cease to mollycoddle our children and turn again to minding ourselves. After 7 years of full-time parenting, I’m at this turning point in my life’s journey. Every day, my children become more independent and they need me less and less. It’s such a joy to observe this process of development in them and to claim back energy for myself.

It was in this frame of mind that I went AWOL yesterday. I popped in to the hospital for an injection and then, elated that I had the car to myself, I turned towards Lough Gur, just south of Limerick city. It was Reek Sunday and I heard on the radio that 20,000 pilgrims were climbing Croagh Patrick in Co. Mayo, like our ancestors have been doing for thousands of years. I felt the need for my own pilgrimage, a gentle day in which I’d find a part of my history in the ancient green hills, the rocks and the enchanted lake.

Lough Gur is one of Europe’s most important archeological sites (but don’t tell everyone!). Excavations in the 1940’s uncovered the remains of buildings that are 6,000 years old. Our Stone Age ancestors were attracted to the area because of the abundance of fresh water, fish, game and the hills, which hide the lake effectively. It’s a slice of Ireland in which one can chart the development of buildings and customs because most eras of human habitation are represented in the hinterland. I was very happy to find a crannóg there – an ancient man-made island dwelling, the access to which is submerged for safety. I had been excited by a crannóg when I was a kid on a school tour and I was glad to uncover that sweet memory yesterday.

SONY DSCOne of the things I love most about Ireland is that one can easily access unoccupied places. With no other humans to disturb me, I had a whole hour to myself exploring Carrick Áille, a 3,000 year old hill fort overlooking the lake. Our ancestors lived in such forts, which enclosed small huts, animal pens and gardens. From their summit home, the ancients had a magnificent (and safe) 360 degree view, encompassing the Mcgillycuddy Reeks and the Slieve Mish Mountains in Co. Kerry. I sat there among the flowering thistles, admiring that expanse to the south west. The sun illuminated running swathes of green dairy pastures while the wind blew the clouds on their way. I felt the fresh air and the light rain on my face and scalp. I smiled at the caterpillars diligently climbing the ragwort stems. I wondered at the hawk hanging motionless on high, despite the buffeting wind.

My sister was in a bookshop in Norwich recently and she reports that an aqua-coloured spine called out to her. Bless her and her intuition because she bought me the very book I’ve been yearning to read, yet neither of us had ever heard of it or the author. If Women Rose Rooted is Sharon Blackie’s most recent book. Psychologist, mythologist and author, Blackie has taught me a great lesson already (I’m a third in). While it’s so important to learn about and respect other cultures, we Celtic people do not need to look abroad for creation stories, legends and landscapes which might inspire and direct us. Our native stories are as rich as those of any other culture and traditional celtic practices are as applicable today as they were to our ancient ancestors. The practices firstly involve getting out of doors, into the air and the light and the seasons. Blackie encourages us to see the landscape and to allow it to hold us and give us what we need on a psychological and emotional level, rather than a purely physical level in which we over-use the resources of the Mother. Connecting to the land with heart and mind this summer, I can see that Ireland is zinging with life and vitality and stories and history and I am happy to be at home here. I’m happy to belong in this land and landscape and to discover more and more about where I live. The land has always has been here, waiting for us to listen and to see how we might nourish ourselves and Mother Earth simultaneously.

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