Ireland: Innis and the Lake Isle of Innisfree [Part 1]

     In Ireland the busses don’t run on Sunday. It seemed obvious to both Patrick and I once we heard this piece of news, but it meant we were stuck. It was Saturday afternoon and we were stuck in the town of Sligo. This town was supposed to be just a transfer point to environs north, a half-hour weigh station, and now we were here till Monday morning.
     There was nothing to do but find a hostel, note the location of the nearest pubs, and wander over to the tourist office for ideas other than drinking all day Sunday.
     At the tourist office we glanced at the Sligo t-shirts and the Sligo tea towels, picked up the Sligo ashtrays and the Sligo shot glasses, looked at a giant wall map of the vicinity, until suddenly something amazing happened.
     I gasped at the poster on the wall behind the counter. It read; ‘Visit Yeats’ Lake Isle of Innisfree.’
     “There’s really a Lake Isle of Innisfree?” I asked the lady behind the counter.
     She smiled with a yes.
     “I thought it was just some sort of metaphor, in his mind, not a real place.”
     “It’s real, and only about five miles away as the crow flies. Although to get there you need to travel all the way round the lake.”
     “But I can get there tomorrow?”
     “Well yes, but there are no busses tomorrow.”
     “Hmmm,” I knew I had to go, this was too big a coincidence, too much of a random happenstance to ignore. Despite the years of indoctrination that hitchhiking was dangerous and stupid, I assumed that hitchhiking on a Sunday afternoon in the Irish countryside was not going to be a problem.
     “I guess I’ll have to hitchhike. Do you have a map?”
     At that moment Patrick came up showing off the Patrick cologne he had found. But I overrode his excitement with my own.
     “Look. The Lake Isle of Innisfree.”
     Patrick looked less than enthused.
     “You know, the poem by Yeats, the one I named my car after.”
     “You mean the one you smashed.” He said, with a small wicked grin.
     “I’m going there tomorrow.’ I said, ignoring his comment, “I’ll probably have to hitchhike.”
     “Are you sure you need to go?” he said, assuming he would have to go with me, and not looking forward to it.
     “I think this is something I need to do by myself.”
     Patrick smiled, and bought the cologne.

     Early the next morning, the dew on the grass beside the road wet the toes of my shoes. The cars were few and far between, but it took only 20 minutes to get a ride. It was a middle-aged gentleman wearing a pale blue work shirt, with short hair and a clean-shaven face in a work scarred pick-up truck. We chatted about the beautiful weather, and where I was from from. Until I told him that I wanted to visit Innisfree.
     “How will you get there?” he asked.
     “I don’t know.”
     “Do you mind going for a walk?”
     “Not at all.”
     “Once we get to the other side of the lake, the road loops south and then back up, but if you don’t mind walking, I could drop you at the edge of the lake and there’s a path that follows the southern shore directly to Innisfree.”
     I thought it was a good day for a walk, and told him so. He left me at the side of the road, at a path through the trees, with a smile and a wave.
     Just beyond a few trees was the river feeding the lake. It was noisy, shallow and wide. The water spit and danced over the pale grey stones easily visible through the clear water. There was a thin wooden bridge over the river and half way across I sat down, my feet dangling just over the bubbling water and looked.
     I looked down the splashing water, as it led between the green trees lining the banks. Beyond I could just see the blue of the lake, the green hills and the intermittent white clouds in the blue sky, and I thought of University and my car Innis.
     After High School in California, I went to University in Southern England. This is not as strange as it might seem, as my parents were both born in England, I have an English passport, and my cousin picked me up at the airport and dropped me off for my first day of school.
     The University was in Canterbury, and this three-week journey through England, Ireland and Scotland was in celebration of finishing my exams, and finally graduating.
     My plan upon graduating, had been to drive Europe in Innis, but that was not possible, so now we traveled by bus and train.
     I didn’t have a good time with my studies at University, I didn’t like what I was studying (Management Science) but had no idea what I wanted to do in life so I spent my time writing bad sci-fi stories in my computer class and wandering about the library.
     I found the National Geographic’s hidden away on the fourth floor, they went back to the 1920’s and I spent my time flipping the pages, looking not at just the articles, but also at the advertisements and how they reflected the changes and the similarities in society.
     Sometimes I wandered lost in the stacks, pulling out books at random, putting some back and taking some home to read.
     One day in the poetry section I pulled out a battered hard back, and it fell open to a poem. I had never read any of Yeats’ poems, and didn’t know this was his most famous, but I should have assumed it from the way the book feel open to this page.

The Lake Isle of Innisfree
By W.B. Yeats

I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made;
Nine bean rows will I have there, a hive for the honey bee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.

And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight’s, all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet’s wings.

I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements gray,
I hear it in the deep heart’s core.

     To use the cliché, it spoke to me. I understood his need to find a quiet place, a place to disappear from the world. A place to recharge. And I knew what that place was for me. That place was my car –Innis- my home away from home.
     And she was, well, beautiful. After spending too much time in the pub my first year at University, I had taken a year off, working as a waiter in California, saving my money to buy a car. I bought a 1969 MGBGT, the epitome of British sports cars of the 1960’s. With a long nose, sleek lines and a connection to the road that made her feel like an extension of my body.
     I shipped her from California to England, because at the time it was cheaper to buy an MG in California and ship it over than it was to buy one in England.
     She was just over twenty years old, just like me, but unlike me, she seemed to break down all the time. I learnt how to work on cars with Innis. But when she was running she and I wandered the south west of England.
     When University was annoying, which it was most of the time, we would go and find quiet spots to relax. There were the green forests just west of the University. There was the seashore in Whitstable or Margate. And some days we would end up sitting on top of the White Cliffs of Dover watching the white caps and sometimes -in clear weather- the coast of France.
     I was doing badly in university, I just didn’t care all that much, but I didn’t know what else to do, so I stayed with it, just doing enough to get by, and feeling ashamed of my bad grades.
     But my car made me proud, proud that I had saved the money and bought her, proud that I could keep her running, and happy that we could wander about together and she could lift my moods.

Click here to visit the second part of this story:
Innis [Part 2]

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