Walking the High Road

It’s a fine day for the silage, I think as I walk up the slight grade near Thomas’s farm. I watch as Thomas guides the mower around the field, saluting him with my stick as he approaches the end of a row. He returns my wave as he turns the tractor and starts back around the field. 

I walk past his farm sheds and turn left onto the high road. It’s one of my favorite walks.

The high road runs from Ballymorereagh on one end, near Thomas’s farm and the oratory on the hill above me, to Carhoonaphuca on the other end, by the big dairy farm, a distance of about one and a half miles. Between these two townlands is Caherboshina or Cathair Both Sínchein Irish. Twenty or so houses–old cottages and newer bungalows–line the road on either side, homes to small farmers. Residents refer to it as a “village” though there is no shop, no post office, and certainly no pub for miles.  An anonymous place really.

The origin of the name Caherboshina is unknown, though it can be translated as a rainbow or semi-circle. Most likely there was a stone enclosure there at one time as protection for the cattle of a woman named Síneach. The name became well known in Munster as an evasive answer to the question “Where are you from?” If a person wanted to protect their privacy from the gardai or the taxman or the land agent or a nosy fellow patron at the pub, they would answer “Caherboshina.”

Just after I make my turn, I pause at the entrance to a sheep farmer’s sheds.  Leaning on his gate, on a clear day like today, all of Dingle town and the harbor are spread before me. I watch the boats taking tourists out to see Fungie and the trawlers coming in with their catch. In the distance, beyond the harbor mouth, I can make out the Macgillycuddy’s Reeks and Carrauntoohil, Ireland’s highest mountain. To my right, high hills separate this part of the peninsula from Corca Dhuibhne, or Back West to the locals. Sheep and cattle pastures climb the hills, divided by stone walls. I count my blessings.

Just beyond the sheds, Joan leans out an upper window of her house. “Isn’t it a lovely day?” she calls to me.

“It is,” I reply. “A good day to walk without a care in the world.”

My pace slows as I walk the high road. I swing my stick at my side­–three steps and a click as it strikes the pavement, three steps and a click. There is no rush. There is time to think. Snippets of poetry­–Yeats, Dunne, Heaney, and my grandmother–flash through my mind. Three steps and a click.

It’s narrower than the other lanes I walk, with grass growing down the middle, and high ditches on either side. I’ve been walking this stretch of road two to three times a week for nearly four years and have a nodding acquaintance with most of the neighbors, but I’m much better known to the dogs. One old fellow, retired from his days as a working dog, is asleep in a sunny patch of road ahead of me. When he hears the click of my stick, he struggles to his feet and, tail wagging, hobbles toward me on his arthritic legs.

“How are you, old boy?” I ask as he nuzzles his nose into my leg. I give him a good scratch behind his ear and look into his sad cataract-clouded eyes.

“Go lay down now,” I tell him, patting his head, “you’ve earned your rest.”

I go on.

As I walk beside a ditch, I hear a man in the field above me bellowing, “C’mon! Git! C’mon, c’mon! Git, git, git! Get back to me! Git, git, git!” Lambs and ewes are bleating madly. As I reach the open gate to the field, two men and three dogs are rounding up a hundred or so newly shorn sheep to move them to another field. I lean on the gate to watch. 

“Git, git, git!” the man yells. The dogs move back and forth in a coordinated dance, crouched low to the ground. I back up to the ditch as the sheep move through the gate to the lane. They all surge past me, the men, the lambs, and the dogs, yelling, bleating, and barking. The men give me a wave and the dogs stop for an ear scratch before going back to work.

“Git, git, git! G’won now, g’won now,” the man shouts as they head down the lane in front of me. The noise fades away.

I continue my walk after they pass, stepping more carefully now.

The hedges and ditches are seldom cut back on the high road. They are lush with wildflowers. I watch a bee disappear inside of a foxglove, reappearing a few moments later covered in pollen, weaving drunkenly as it flies to the next flower. A yellow iris preens nearby. Honeysuckle twists its way through the brambles. I’m tempted to pluck some petals to make honeysuckle syrup, but I don’t have a cloth bag to carry them safely home. Lilacs scent the air. 

The pale pink blossoms on the brambles are beginning to drop and hard green nuggets push out. By the end of August, they will grow into plump blackberries that I can feast on as I walk.

Coming down the lane from the opposite direction I see an ancient Massey Ferguson tractor, it’s motor putt-putting like a two-cycle Lawn Boy. In the cab sits “The Old Man Who Suffers from the Terrible Gout.” His wife Mary rides on the metal platform behind the tractor. Their three dogs dance around them. They are going to the fields where they still raise a couple of dozen sheep each year to keep themselves busy in their retirement.

I’ve chatted with Mary a few times on my walks but I don’t know her husband’s name. She only refers to him as “The Old Man Who Suffers from the Terrible Gout,” so that is what I call him.

As they get near, I gesture, asking if they are going to the field on the left or the right. They point right.  

I walk to the gate and untie the cord and swing the gate open for the tractor to putter past so the old man on the old tractor won’t have to make a painful descent from the cab. It seems the neighborly thing to do. Mary and the old man shout their thanks. I close the gate behind them.

A few steps further on, I stop to visit with two geese who waddle to the wall, curious to see this visitor. And in the field beyond that two donkeys trot to the wall, eager to feast on the carrots they know I am carrying. Then I shout a “Good boy” to Curly, the Jack Russell, as he guards the last house in Caherboshina.

I reach the dairy farm in Carhoonaphuca and turn onto left the old Ventry road for home, happy with the world I live in.

I really should learn that old man’s name, I think as I walk home. 

Three steps and a click.