Fire on the Mountain

Gorse fireSpring or something like it, a respite, a surprise break in the windy winter greyness, opens up randomly in February, giving us still, sunny, maybe even warmish days.  Unexpected days. Suddenly you're aware of the birds (perhaps because you can actually hear them when the gales die down), and mud, and if there's not a tinge of green yet, there's a feeling of green.  You can relax, stretch, walk outside, breathe deeply. And immediately choke on a lungful of acrid smoke.  Because the mountain is on fire.  

Yes, it's that annual Kerry tradition, lighting the gorse every time the day is fine and the air is still, blanketing townlands (and last week the entire town of Dingle) under hazy smoke for hours, forcing closed windows and doors on the very days you want to fling them open, and threatening buildings and people as the fires inevitably go out of control.  Last year a friend had to leave her house with her family as a fire lit by one of her neighbors crept ever closer.  This year (and every year) a farmer was killed when the fire he lit went out of his control.

These fires are legal.  That is, they are legal until the 1st of March, and if they are under control.  It's hard to see how any of them are under control. And here in Kerry, they're lit well after the 1st of March.  They're lit anytime, really, if the wind is down and the day is fine.  

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Silent Men, Minimal Heat and Spooky Cows (Part II)

(To begin at the beginning, see Silent Men, Minimal Heat and Spooky Cows)

Storage heaters turned out to be a minimally effective heat source for a large, stone farmhouse on the side of a hill at the western edge of Ireland in winter.  That meant I needed a fire in my sitting room, every day.  Passing through the mysteriously slug-less kitchen and clicking on the kettle first thing in the morning, I'd open the back door and breathe in West Kerry.  It smells like the sea, and mud, and mist, a clean, complex smell flavored by sileage or slurry or cut hay, depending on the time of year.  

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