Real Moments: From Gardening to Glasgow to Graduation!

I’m well aware that there has been a lull in posts for the last few weeks – but that’s not for lack of things to say, trust me! An explanation by means of a life update felt in order.

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The most perfect of white camellias – which I cannot take the credit for finding. Tony, the head gardener at Inish Beg, discovered this beautiful botanical gem buried back behind the hydrangeas.

Apparently the letter ‘G’ has been the flavor of the past few weeks for me. What felt like immediately after my return from a month and a half of gardening in Ireland, but in actuality was only a week or so later, I set off on a trip to the homeland with my grandmother. My maternal grandparents hail from Glasgow, Scotland so we went over to visit a few relatives for two weeks.

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The view of Princess Street and beyond from Edinburgh Castle.

As I’ve been to Scotland a fair few times throughout my life prior to this trip, the travel bug wasn’t that strong and we didn’t venture off too far… with the exception of a day trip to the capital city. I must admit that I’m very proud of my 72 year old grandmother for trekking all over Edinburgh with me and not complaining once! We had a bonnie wee time to ourselves, we did.

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Took some time to go see The Elephant House – otherwise known as the birthplace of Harry Potter – while in Edinburgh. My nana was abhorred by the “graffiti” on the wall of the bathrooms but it’s common practice to sign a message when visiting.

I kid you not, the very next morning after flying back to the States from Scotland I drove off for a weekend of glowraging with my favorite girlfriends down in Maryland. The five of us met back in Cambridge, England last summer and this was a reunion mixed with a last hurrah. I’m so thankful to have made such lasting friendships with these ladies. They’re some of the most impressive, inspirational young women I have ever met and I just… well, I’m really grateful to know them. It was incredible to be down on their turf for a little while. Our weekend was over much too soon.

 

Upon returning it was straight on to preparing for the final tassel on the cap – my graduation! Technically I finished school back in December… and received my diploma in January… but the formal ceremony was in May and I did it!

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Took my family to one of my favorite spots after the ceremony – Punter’s Pub. A blurry cheers to 5 years was certainly in order!

I’m officially officially really definitely done with my undergraduate experience now. Please excuse me while I take a few seconds to mime the word “WHAT????” to this empty room I’m sitting in. It truly went by too quickly, but I’m thankful for the people I got to experience it with… most notably getting to go through it all with my very best friend in the whole wide world. It’s thanks to our alma mater that we were even brought together in the first place so leaving for the last time was a little bittersweet.

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This photo is the most tear inducing thing I’ve ever been a part of! 5 years later and still my absolute soul sister, twin moon, best friend. Cannot wait to see what the heck we end up making of our lives.

Now, it should come as a shock to no one that I’m pretty big on reflection and introspection so I’ll wrap this up with a few things I have to say about this here life I’ve been living lately. Over the past 3 months I’ve been unsettled in the best of ways. Most of my time was spent outside of my comfort zone, pushing personal boundaries, and learning new things. From the correct way to plant a tree to why patience is the ultimate virtue, from how to enjoy those precious few moments crossing the stage (instead of panicking about tripping over yourself in front of your entire class) to the significance of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, and way, way more. But most of all I’ve been questioning whether, at the ripe old age of 23, I’m on the life/existence/etc. path/journey/etc. that I want to be on. My answer?

For SURE, I am. In the past year alone I’ve spent 1/3 of my months abroad. I attempted to list out all of the different things I’ve studied (in some way, shape, or form) over the course of said year but let’s not double up our word count, shall we? Instead let’s just say that it has been quite the experience, the last 3 months I’ve recounted to you in this post especially.

As always, thank you kindly for following along on all of these adventures with me! We’ve got a many more ahead of us, so stay tuned for the tales.

Inch by Inch, Row by Row: Life Lessons from the Garden

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Almost 2 months ago when I told my family I would be leaving to go work outside on an estate in Ireland for a little while, they were incredulous. To them, and friends, and many others, it didn’t fit their image of me. They couldn’t see why I felt a need to do this. But to me, a lot of my childhood was spent outside and a lot of my lifehood is spent searching for something, anything, new to learn.

So that’s why I did it.

I want to once again say thank you to Tony, the head gardener I had the privilege of working with at Inish Beg. We had many conversations over my 6 weeks in West Cork and while some days those conversations were more oriented towards my obsessions with potatoes and Ice Road Truckers, most days they were of a more reflective and thought provoking nature. Whether or not Tony was aware of all the cogs turning and perspectives shifting in my head is another story, but turn and shift they did and this post is only a handful of the ones I took away from it all.

A few weeks ago I watched a movie called “A Little Chaos” which is about the construction of the gardens at Versailles. Not only is the original score almost unbearably beautiful (highly recommend giving the title track a listen), but the story and design of the movie itself were really moving for me. There was a particular quote in the beginning of the film that struck me:

“God put us first into a garden, and when we lost Eden we were fated to search and reinvent it again.”

Maybe without the context of the film this isn’t so moving for you, but it’s definitely a notion that has stayed with me since I heard it. I love being outside, I’ve always loved being outside, and as a relatively young person a lot of my life now feels like a search for the places I feel most comfortable in.

In a way, this trip was a piece of my search for Eden – and here is what I found.


Give back what’s taken | bare root planting

I’m gonna kick this paragraph off by saying bare root planting is hard but it was probably the thing I enjoyed the most. Before this trip I had planted one single tree in my lifetime, on a study abroad trip, and it was quite a different lesson. People aren’t the only things that destroy nature (though I will definitely agree they’re the largest cause). The elements, disease, plain old coincidence and circumstance – they all have a hand to play. It became a sort of fundamental importance to put back into the earth whatever was taken, regardless of the cause. In the case of self-seeding plants, Mother Nature might just do it herself. But in the case of trees and hedge and fruits and veg a little human help is probably greatly appreciated.

Give and take has always been around, I’ve heard people saying it all my life. But now I see that it applies to all facets: to the things we consume and create as well as the friendships and kinships and small ships and big ships and what? Where was I going with that? Oh yeah, kindness finds its roots in giving – so that it can grow better branches to take from.

Keep it simple | small garden beds

Massive scale is hardly something I’ll be able to balance in my own future gardening endeavors, but that doesn’t mean I don’t still want to enjoy fresh foods, herbs, and flowers. Keeping it simple doesn’t always have to translate to keeping it small, that just happens to be how my own personal garden will manifest itself. In order to avoid feeling overwhelmed or discouraged it’s important to remember that a little can go a long way. So I’ll be starting with the basics: potatoes and maybe a flower or two.

Aside from gardens, there are a lot of aspects of my life that I want to simplify. I feel that there is so much overcomplication these days and that’s a huge stress trigger for me. I hate wasted space, I hate lugging around a huge closet of things I don’t even wear, I hate trying to make convoluted plans just to spend quality time with friends… so it’s all getting nixed! Simple eating, simple living, simple wearing, simple being – I’m here on out making the conscious effort.

Have vision | the winter season

Now, arriving to work on a garden in the winter season is not exactly the best idea if you want to see luscious, blooming flowers and fresh, green shrubbery. Most of what I worked with was brown and dampened, but I was conditioned into a sense of remembering that life was still in full swing all around us. Just because a plant was brown or wasn’t visible didn’t mean that it was dead. Winter is not a deadly season, it’s a resting season. Whenever I learned new plants or got assigned new tasks, we’d talk through what those plants would become or why those tasks were instrumental to promoting their growth. Creating those visions made me excited for the things I was doing because I had a better grasp on what was to come.

I consider myself a person with a healthy amount of creativity and a big imagination, but I also know that I struggle with preconception. If I’m working on something new, it’s fairly easy for me to open my mind but when it’s something I think I know and understand already, breaking down the walls to create that vision becomes more difficult. There are a million different adjectives you can use to describe this quality of myself (hey now, I heard that one!), but let’s just stick with visionistically impaired.

Work the lens both ways | the brassica bed & pruning the Rosa Rugosas

What I mean by that is step back just as much as you zoom in. The Rosa Rugosas were probably my favorite plants of the entire trip, and it’s a shame that I won’t get to see them in bloom. When I did a little research I discovered that they are not in fact a spell from Harry Potter but are actually noted in the US for being a tough dune plant, highly concentrated along the Northeast coastline. Pruning them, however, is relatively challenging considering the entirety of their branches are covered in small thorns. In gardening, there is a fine balance between the aesthetic and the practical. You have to be empirical in pruning back the roses because you want them to be healthy, however you also have to be conscious of the look and shape they will produce after said pruning. AKA you’ve got to step away every few cuts to make sure you haven’t lost sight of the bigger picture.

The brassica bed was a place I put a lot of work into my last few weeks. The bed itself was pretty much the only outdoor space we had providing fresh vegetables for the winter months, before the new seeds were sown and the new plants grown. Each week we’d pick through broccoli and cauliflower, parsley and wild chives, kale and assorted rainbow chards. In no way was the general health of any of these plants attributable to me, but I happily took on preparing and maintaining them for a bit. Pulling a few weeds, cutting off the dead or slug-eaten leaves, and giving the soil a good turn were all relatively minor tasks yet they made such a huge difference in the appearance of the bed. When stepping back suddenly the greens looked greener and the since-staked slumped over broccolis looked taller. I contented myself with knowing that for such small modifications, they seemed to make a world of difference in the grand scheme.

Be gentle… | encountering bugs & new growth

Honestly, I’m terrified of bugs. When I was little my tolerance had a hard stop at snails and worms. Hopefully it isn’t news to you that gardens have all manners of bugs but I had to learn to suck it up and accept that a lot of them were on our side (although the slugs had to go). Apparently bumblebees hibernate! They bury themselves in the soil over the winter and I came across several while working through the strawberry beds. The Cassie of yesteryears would have likely screamed and run away but knowing the importance, especially in the general population decline, of those bees I tried my best to leave them as undisturbed as possible… or at least move them to a safer spot of soil. I found myself feeling a lot more compassion towards bugs than I ever have before, so we’ll see how long that lasts.

Bumblebees weren’t the only things I had to be careful of though. New growth was everywhere, and I just had to learn how to look for it. What little gardening skill I brought with me on this trip culminated in the brute force method of weeding – tug that sucker out as hard as you can and rip at whatever is left. Wrong! I had to kick that habit upon arrival because in this garden, there was a necessity to be gentle. That new growth was usually hidden deep under all of the weeds I was clearing away, or even looked like a weed itself, so it became important to take my time and use whatever gentleness I could muster. There was a satisfaction that came from slowly working the entirety, roots and all, of a weed out of the ground and leaving the beautiful new plants safely undisturbed beside it. There is a gentleness and compassion that is warranted with even the most imperceptible of things – including the weeds. Make of that what you will.

… but not delicate pretty much everything!

Again, Ireland in the winter is not a forgiving climate and I wasn’t even there for the worst of it. That’s not to say that I was out battering the elements for the sake of tidying up a few dead stalks of parsley, but I still had to learn to embrace a little rain and mud. I was excited about getting my hands dirty for once. This whole experience was meant to push the comfort zones of my physical, mental, and emotional states – and I’m happy to report that it did. I worked hard at removing hesitation from anything I was asked to do because that’s how you learn and grow as a person (or something). I got comfortable with the dirt and the mud, the shoveling and the wheelbarrowing. Not being super strong didn’t stop me from trying as best I could and I like to think that I made my coworkers proud… because I can definitely say that I made me proud of me.

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A panorama from inside the Walled Garden. That big bed in the left-center is the brassica bed I worked on!

Voyages: Welcome to Inish Beg! – Part II [@WestCorkIRL]

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Inish Beg House

The local West Corkonians joke about how everyone is always ready to talk about the weather here, but I love it and I feel like I fit right in with it so – allow me to tell you (mostly via showing you) about the beautiful Sunday afternoon I had wandering around the estate a few weeks ago.

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The first thing I saw when I set off on my adventure was that the sheep had been moved from one of the back fields to the front field! I munched on an apple as I walked alongside them, so it almost felt like we were having lunch together. I assume all of them are named Shaun. They’ve since been moved around again to prepare for lambing.

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Vitamin D was in full force and I couldn’t get enough of it. I tried to keep the sun on my person at all times, but it gets a little difficult in the dense woodland areas so a reflection had to suffice.

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I really love adding anecdotes with pictures for my voyages, don’t I? Well… Anecdote: As I approached this area of the island I couldn’t help but remember studying Robert Frost with a much beloved English teacher during my freshman year of high school – Miss A. I pursued this particular path at Inish Beg “because it was grassy and wanted wear.” But no matter where I am in my journeys at home and abroad, if I am ever to stumble across a peculiar looking area I always think of Miss A and choose to take the road less travelled by… “and that has made all the difference.”

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Another lesson I’ve learned over the years is to always turn around. Oftentimes when we set off in a direction, we pursue that specific direction until we reach where we’re going. If I’m out for a leisurely stroll I like to look all around me – upwards, sideways, backwards, etc. I probably appear to others as a crazy person but it’s worth it. Looking backwards in my less travelled haven gave me this blue-skied beautiful contrast of wild grasses.

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As I reached the edge of said wild grasses, I found a little beach-like area leading towards the water. At first I thought “cool! I’ll make my way down there as carefully as I can so as to leave whatever habitats might be around undisturbed!” Wrong. Just like on the opposite side of the island I immediately started to sink into the muddy banks and left quite the trail behind me. As the water was still a ways off, I turned back rather than risk being sunk up to my elbows.

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Isn’t this place just swell? Beautiful beautiful, and moments before taking this picture I spied a fox run off into the sanctuary of the bushes in front of me. Never had I ever seen fur that bright red, in fact never had I ever seen a fox in person before and I’m still kicking myself for not catching it on camera. Than again, can I really complain about getting to soak in this view with my very own eyeballs for a few seconds longer?

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This bridge to get onto the island is an actual architectural marvel. Believe you me, I’ve had my moments of shaking my head and saying “they just don’t make them like that anymore” on several occasions and each time I get laughed at for being an absolute baby child who has no concept of what being old even is. But it’s respected that I respect it, and that’s all that I can ask for. Rad to the highest degree, that’s what I dub this bridge.

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The Cassie of 4 weeks ago: look at this GIANT tree! The Cassie of now: look at this Monterey Cypress! Another member of the wicked-old-tree-family collection here on Inish Beg, situated just at the end of Rad Bridge. This big guy is actually my tried and true favorite tree on the estate because I spent my first day planting hedge alongside him.

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I’ve actually started calling the Monterey Cypress trees “Armadillo trees” because they have fascinating nuts that look like a cross between a Poke Ball and an Armadillo. These things find their way all over the island and they’re surprisingly hard to pull into bits. I swear I’m an adult and not a 4 year old. I swear.

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Couldn’t help myself with a little behind-the-scenes selfie in the front garden fountain. Also, my mom made this beanie for me, so can I call myself a hipster yet? Bonus content: that good old Irish weather hair frizz I’ve got going on.

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Yet another reason to look in every direction possible, no? Inish Beg is home to a very beautiful bamboo forest affectionately named “Bamboozle.”

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And finally right back to where I started: the marvelously marvelous (ace use of adjectives there, Cass) – Inish Beg House.

Unfortunately, my time here is drawing to a close and soon it’s back home to the States for me. But never fear, darling reader. Catch up on why I’m here at Inish Beg in the first place and skim through all my @WestCorkIRL adventures while you patiently wait to see what I’ve got in store for my next voyage…