“Magic Hour” – in film, refers to the most beautiful hours of the day,( just before sunset or just after sunrise), when the sun is low in the sky and the light falls perfectly on everything.
“Zero-Dark-Thirty”- the military term for the exact opposite of that. It refers to the foreboding hours between midnight and dawn.
I remember a Shel Silverstein poem I learned as a child called “What If”. It started like this:
“Last night, while I lay thinking here, some Whatifs crawled inside my ear,
And pranced and partied all night long, and sang their same old Whatif song…”
And on this particular bone dampening, rainy night in Doolin on the western coast of Ireland, in the zero-dark-thirty of the night, my Whatifs were screaming at the top of their lungs:
“What if you aren’t going to be able to do this?”
“What if you have to cancel at least part of the trip?”
“What if you have nothing to film because you’re lying on the floor and you can’t catch your breath and you’ve hired people for a limited period of time and the only thing they’re going to be filming is you trying to make the broadloom in this B&B look interesting?”
“What if….you have to quit?”
I cried, (which, by the way, is harder to do than I thought when you can’t get a deep breath), texted my allies back home to talk me off the ledge, took some muscle relaxants, some naturopathic Arnica, some Rub A535 and laid there until sleep gave my worried brain some respite around 5:30 am. We were to catch a ferry at 10 am to the Aran Islands, so when the alarm sounded at just after 7, I seriously considered cancelling the Islands and just staying on that hard yet embracing floor for at least 2 more days.
When my dad was going through his third year with cancer and seemingly 499th type of chemotherapy, he sometimes found it difficult to summon the energy necessary to knowingly and willingly submit himself to the inevitable discomfort of treatment. He once said, “I always thought that if I were in battle I would be the kind of soldier who would throw myself onto a grenade in a foxhole to save my fellow soldiers. That kind of bravery is instinctual. The difficulty is choosing to throw yourself into that foxhole day after day after day”. He was tired, in every possible way.
When my mom was in the hospital in Kingston and we finally had the proper diagnosis after her original biopsy had been lost, the doctors told her that she had 2 options; #1: Go home, say your goodbyes, have your pain medically managed for a few short weeks until you die. Or #2: Try a very aggressive, very painful, very dangerous course of chemotherapy that may or may not work.
“How will we know if it’s working”, asks Ma.
“It’s working, if you don’t die from it”, they respond.
“Well, damn the torpedoes! Hook me up and gimme a fightin’ chance”, says Ma.
And now here I am, lying on the floor in Ireland, in serious pain, but feeling embarrassed that it’s overwhelming me like this. I’m frustrated that it’s happening, but equally frustrated at myself that I can’t seem to shake the accompanying despair. How can I be the kind of brave that my parents were? My struggles are nothing compared to theirs, so suck it up princess! Damn those torpedoes and jump into that foxhole….but bring Robaxacet and your health insurance card with you just in case…!
Because of my proverbial ‘setback’, we missed the first of only 2 ferries to the Aran Islands. So we caught the second option, the 11 am departure. The tide was uncharacteristically low, so the boats couldn’t come in to dock. We loaded ourselves and our belongings onto little fishing dinghy’s which commuted us out to the larger fishing boat which would then ferry us to the largest of the three Aran Islands, Inishmore. It was, as they say, yet another ‘soft’ day! A ‘soft day’ with heavy rain that seemed to be falling sideways and winds that were creating great huge swells that caused our boat to lurch and pitch with each new wave…much like my innards were doing! “Great!”, I thought, “won’t it be a grand scene in the film when I’m caught upchucking into the Atlantic?!” Joe, the son of the ship owner, advised me to focus on the horizon and breathe in through my nose, out through my mouth. Sure…no problem…except the horizon keeps disappearing! I’m convinced that my ancestors were all potato farmers rather than fishermen, because dear sweet t’underin’ Jaysus, sea legs I have not!!
We had an unexpected 3 hour stopover on the smallest of the three islands, Inishear, where the only respite from the rain was a pub. We made the sacrifice and took refuge under her roof, and warmed ourselves with some soup and a Guinness; such are the burdens we must bear! Then it was back to load all of our belongings onto the boat again and strike out once more, bound for Inishmore. Did I mention dear sweet t’underin’ Jaysus?!?!
The Aran Islands are rugged, windswept, beautiful places. It was only in the last 10 years or so that any of the islands had power. When my dad had visited, there were gas lamps and candles. My how things have changed. In 1973 there were very few tourists on the Islands, now this 9 mile by 3 mile chunk of rock is heaving with folk. We decided to get up at the crack of dawn, and make the ascent to Dun Aengus, the old ruins of a fort high on the largest cliff on the island, before the next ferry pulled into harbour and released 400 new snapping shutters and non-stop conversations. It is hard to find a place to be alone in the world anymore.
From the top of Dun Aengus the cliffs drop some 300 feet to the thundering surf below. It is breathtaking, in every way imaginable. It is frightening and awe-inspiring and for the first time since we arrived in Ireland, the sky has cleared! It is difficult when up here, in this great vast beauty, to know whether you should feel omnipotent or insignificant.
I brought Dad’s journal with me and he had written a passage while leaning against a rock, some 6 inches from this cliff. He wrote, “I took several pictures, most because the scene simply demanded it, but some were planned for their sensational value with a view to sharing them when I get home. I am looking forward to reliving some of these moments among family and friends and I hope some of the magic of this place can be passed along.”
It has been Da. I’m here! And I feel you with me. I am sure of it.
Then, because he is a bugger, he wrote; “I took another straight down shot from a slab of rock that jutted out from the edge like a diving board. I lay on my stomach and crawled out to its edge, stuck my head over the end, snapped a picture, caught my breath and made my retreat. Danger is a heady brew!”
Not to be outdone by my own father, I crawled out to the edge on my stomach, stuck my head over the cliff, caught my breath, and then made my own retreat. He was right, danger is indeed a heady brew!
On my way down from the fort, I met a fella named Joe Gill. A fine Aran man of very few words. We got to chatting about this and that, the weather and the reason I was here and before I knew it I was letting him ride the Red Divil! He’s a kindred soul and is now taking me to his potato farm to see if I have the gene in my blood. You know the nickname for a potato is a Murphy….let’s see if I can live up to my name!
More to come….