In the west of Ireland there is a vast landscape that looks like a patchwork of smooth flat stones, each one the size of a body. It is called the Burren. The cracks between the slabs run so deep that as children we were told if we fell down between them, we would be lost forever. I think of my great-great grandparents standing on those stones. Salty winds in wirey black hair. I wonder what their houses were like. Damp, probably, with the smell of peat fires and charred animal fat.
Tacky paintings of this landscape furnish rental properties, retirement homes and golf courses ubiquitously. Tourists take them back. Little stone walls and white thatched cottages. Those images are made and circulate for the same reason we take digital photos of the sunset, store them in our mobile phones; attempts to grasp a thing defiantly irreverent to us.
The Burren started as just one surface of rock that rolled up in a curve out of the Atlantic, into the hills of Clare and Galway, like a sheet over someone sleeping. The dark shadowy fissures that characterise it now, like lines in a face, are imprints from an eon of constant soft rain.
Sometimes I want to empty my head of everything I’ve learned; codes of conduct, semiotics of my form and my place. Over time patterns of assimilation calcify. But, in the centre of me there is a kernel of memory. It holds the trace of a time before I learned words of distance, habits of assembly. This is my home, held at the crosshair of my compass like a sacred jewel.
The first libraries contained rows of isolated cells where visitors would sit to read out loud. It took some time before humans internalised the voice. Even now, when our thoughts grow in volume, tiny bones in our ears vibrate as if the sound we hear comes from outside our bodies.
I am afraid that eventually there will be so much rain that the Burren itself will dissolve. Stones withdrawing into themselves, seeking dryness, huddling into grains of sand.
My friend Anna left her hometown of Orebro at 16. In a photo of her family she is 10 years old with burning red cheeks. Standing in a Swedish parking lot outside a restaurant. A blizzard of snow. She is holding her little sister, Lina. Anna’s mother, Anna’s father, Anna and Lina, all in vibrant traditional dress of Hang-Su province, China. Reds and yellows and greens. The sky is a dull white. The ground is white too. A Swedish woman with blonde hair in a grey jacket gives them a backwards glance. For the past 17 years, Anna has been moving from town to town, country to country. In all of her artwork she makes tiny fragile houses.
Lines we draw about us, emblems, governments and flags. Things to cross and not cross. The fallacy of fencing the tide. Take shelter. Take big sifting clods and stack them up against the billowing rain.