Low tide, and I walked out to Crovinish,
the island where my neighbor Pat grew up,
to his uninhabited childhood house attended now
only by sheep, gulls, a solitary blackbird.
Slipped over dillisk and bladderwrack
and carrageen, through squelching mud,
thirty minutes each way. Attentive to the change
in the water level, on a barely visible path.
When the tide is out is this all one big island?
I don’t know the answer.
When the tide is high, some islands disappear,
and then do they lose, temporarily, their island
status? Are there 365 islands (the official count)
at low tide and, say, 254 at high tide?
Who measures this, and how?
And more importantly (to me), who gets to decide?
These are things to learn.
I’ve looked west to this island for nearly four years,
during relentless wind and solstice sunsets.
I’ve watched Pat drive his sheep to Crovinish,
his dog Jack rounding up stragglers. I’ve attempted to
reach it many times, and always was turned away by
rising water. So I’ve kept track, this week, of the pattern
of ingress, of egress. And today, finally, I made it
all the way over hummock and stream,
over volcanic boulders and fossil-etched stones.
Bundled wire blocks the stairs
from beach to house, but I skirted it by scaling
a dry-stone wall and easing myself up and over
a wire mercifully free of barbs. Pat has replaced
all the old windows with new vinyl windows, and the roof
is sound, so the house sits snug and dry on this
lonely outcropping of rock and field. Though locked,
I could see inside to a worn-out plaid sofa, an armoire,
a table and the few odd chairs. A mirror above a fireplace.
A black kettle suspended on a hook in the fireplace.
(Several fireplaces.) Everything thick with the cobwebs
of unattended existence.
I tried to imagine what it would be like to live here
as a child, with perennial fuschias as dense as hazelnut
trees overflowing the banks, with periwinkles
for a front yard. With no neighbors.
A turf fire for heat. Dependant on a boat
and the cycles of the moon.
I could hear a dog barking on another island.
I could hear the hay balers on the hill up beyond
our house, about their mid-summer’s work.
The sheep, though surprised at a visitor,
kept silent, and soon disappeared over a small rise.
Newly shorn sheep, all angle and elbow.
There was sun for a minute, then a soft rain,
a mist on my glasses. Wind and then no wind,
and then sun again, illuminating the tidepools
and the heartbreakingly clear waters.
Croagh Patrick stayed out of sight under a ragged
grey cloak, an unhemmed cloak, a furred cloud cloak.
Achill Island to the northwest, flanked by sailboats
far out in Clew Bay. I could’ve sludged through nettles
and tidepools all afternoon, my feet damp and the lower
six inches of each leg of my jeans sopping,
and not a worry in the world. But I knew that
this water would soon turn against me, would wash
over my path, and so I made the single kilometer trek
back: a slippery slosh.
Back at the house now, with all the windows open,
I can hear Amy galloping her thoroughbred Joey
across the tideflats. Sparrows and green finches
crowd the feeder; and Belle, the half-cob
half-clydesdale behind the fence,
whinnies and whinnies.
And Crovinish will go on in its isolation,
day upon week upon month upon year,
each new moon casting down its sliver of light.
(Sorry, no pictures. The service at the cyber-pub
is excruciatingly slow.)