Please recognize in advance that everything in this post is my opinion, and any “wisdom” is based solely on my lived experience. No experts were consulted, no “facts” are involved, and your mileage will definitely vary.
Well, now that the lawyers and detail freaks have been placated….
I’ve written before about the benefits of living in a small country, and of not living in a superpower, but, over the last month, as I’ve taken two trips to the West of Ireland, those benefits have been reinforced quietly, subtly, and with great resonance.
To live in Ireland is to live surrounded by everyday beauty. Period (full stop). It’s simply lovely here. But, as you get out into the countryside (which often takes only minutes) the quiet beauty of the country, covered in laboriously worked and carefully tended fields, it hits you that for centuries man has found value and worth in this land, and has been content to eek out a life right here. And Ireland is not “easy” land. Living here is not without cost.
Whether we count that cost in the number of stones pulled from a field to make it tillable, or the high cost of living in a small island country with little or no market leverage, there are certainly challenges faced by those who stay here and call it home. But the number of moments of sheer bliss, and quite contentment I’ve had in just three short years far outweigh any challenges. And I do think that has something to do with the size of the country.
Standing on a hillside in Kerry late last month, the view before me was little different from the view a mile back, but it was special nonetheless, and I was there, in that place, then. The wind was up, but the sun was out. It was cool, but the grass was emerald green. A few miles offshore, The Skelligs, swaddled in mist, teased and taunted my sense of adventure. No, it wasn’t the Grand Canyon, or even The Smokies. It was a relatively small, common sight in western Ireland. But I was there at that moment. And there weren’t a lot of tourists. We weren’t alone, but it was a moment that we all shared quietly. If life is measured in moments (and I believe it is), then, in that place, at that moment, we were on the leading edge of something, of living. For five minutes we wanted for nothing. In a world that prizes constancy and repetition, we were surprised, and enticed to stop and simply marvel. It may not have been “the best” (a quantifier that frankly eludes me, but is much prized in the superpower), but it was ours, right there, just then.
Now, don’t get me wrong, moments like that happen in the U.S., China, Canada, France, Germany, and all around the world every day. But for me the difference is that in the United States, a place so big and populated, you often have to travel days to get somewhere like The Smokies, or Bryce Canyon. And when you do arrive in a “quiet” cove, chances are good that there will be three or four caravans (RVs) and a dozen people. In Ireland, I can traverse the entire island in 6-7 hours, and go hours without seeing anyone.
This past weekend, in County Mayo, tucked into a corner of Clew Bay, we walked the undeveloped acreage of friends who had recently become Irish landowners. Standing neck deep in gorse that desperately needed cutting, with a monstrous house not 50 feet away, I marveled at the sense of quiet isolation with a view of Croagh Patrick and the bay’s drumlin islands exposed by the falling tide.
Maybe it’s getting older, but I find that travel (and now living abroad) is less and less about doing “things”, and more often about just being in places that have this effect on me. For whatever reason, Ireland does this repeatedly and consistently. I’m sure much of that is just the “magic of Ireland”.
But the stark contrast between Ireland, and other places I’ve lived and visited leads me to believe that low permanent population and ready access to natural wonders may make it easier to access these “leading edge” moments in a small country.
Things to look forward to in upcoming posts:
Finding the “Right” City for you