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Water and Stones of Glendalough

There were little man-walking-with-a-cane icons printed around the Wicklow Mountains on an old Michelin Map of Ireland, prompting my search for a quiet place to stay on my way down the east coast of Ireland. There was a daily bus from Dublin to the Medieval site of Glendalough, and both a hotel and a hostel nearby. Well aware of the uncertainties of late winter travel, I chose it as my “pillow” destination: I would not make reservations, and I would skip it, should I be significantly delayed. Little did I know it would become my favorite place to visit in this trip.

Serendipity started with on-time arrival and, only carrying a small backpack, easy passage through Customs. It continued with a coffee shop serving espresso only a step away from the St Kevin’s Bus Stop to Glendalough, and the comfortable bus showing up on time. Soon we were traveling a narrow road with the sight of lamb grazing in green fields. The rain greeting me upon arrival at the visitor center was not a deterrent, equipped as I was against it, and the receptionist at the hotel didn’t bat an eye at the sight of another wet tourist looking at them through droplet-covered glasses. Mid-week and off season, they readily offered me a rate including breakfast and dinner, which made sense to me as a solo traveler who doesn’t enjoy looking for restaurants on a rainy night.

The mystic mist, as I saw the combination of stone, greenery and light rain outside my window, called me out again, protecting my precious Nikon Digital SLR and its lens under my rain jacket. It was not too long a walk until I found a trail in the woods and what might be a classic, photogenic mountain stream, complete with moss-covered rocks, tree roots grasping the edges, clear water rapidly flowing down, swirling and gurgling as it bounced over colorful pebbles. Climbing up the trail, I saw more chances at capturing images of nature that one could call mundane, yet they will continue to charm me, unlike photos intended to mark the history of where I have been or with whom I was at the moment.

From years of taking photos of cities, landscapes, and monuments, I have become fearful of adding new ones to my collection. Was I not about to take photos of nature that would be of no interest to me and others in the future? Glendalough turned out to be photogenic, as I started to understand how the site had been selected, nearly a thousand years ago, to be a place of solitary contemplation. It may also lie in the simplicity of the sounds made by water and air spraying against trees, grass, and rocks, so I can focus on what I see as a most precious moment to take back with me.

The river flows closer to the Glendalough monastery and cemetery, offering another set of dramatic scenes, water flowing on rocks, grass, trees, and ruins. These stones have also gathered moss, and the man-made structures have slowly eroded. Untamed stones emerging from the foreground of a rushing river make for another kind of photo that will evoke my state of mind: I am here to sit in contemplation of this image. That is what I tried to capture. That is why the photo wasn’t taken in passing, standing on the bridge, but slowly and closer to the water level. One of the hundreds of images I took will end up printed and framed, to offer new meditative moments. Some also will become my computer desktop background, providing a pause between an e-mail and a spreadsheet.

Time had slowed so much that I took a hot bath before going down for a sleep-inducing, jet-lag fighting dinner. Glendalough is so quiet, it is conducive to slumber. In the morning, as I walked away eastwards, a passing mist drew a rainbow over the monastery, and I vowed to return to this magical place, some day. I was so charmed that I rushed back to it only three weeks later, changing other plans, to find another river filled with colorful and shining rocks of zinc, silver, and copper, treasures to capture in images that evoke the peace and quiet I took with me to decorate my daily life.

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