Picnic by the Sea
From my window, the only road visible looks like a distant S that’s been stamped onto the hillside. To the left rises the great rocky Mweelrea, the highest mountain in my home province of Connacht in County Mayo, Ireland. The neighbors, all sheep farmers, refer to it as “the hill.” Rare is the day when the hill’s summit, 2,688 feet up, appears below the clouds. On the horizon, I can see the choppy, glittering blue water of the Atlantic reflecting the clouds that race toward land.
On this early afternoon in May, Charissa, my daughter, and I decide to take a walk along the headland, knowing from experience that we’ll see something sublime. We’ve brought along a picnic of sorts, a frittata I made yesterday. It retains a memory of warmth, dense with potato, spinach, red peppers, onion, and parmesan.
The sky at this time of day is like a watercolor paint box. So it will be no surprise if either a solitary shaft of sun picks out a spit of land, emerald green against the dull brown bog, or a black rainstorm funnels straight down from the clouds out at sea.
As we walk, we are reminded that this is an edge-of-the-world place. The islands we see from here—Cahir and Inishturk, Inishbofin and Clare—are marked by the last footprints humanity treads between us and the vast ocean. The crude physical landscape makes us feel slight. To reach the water, we cross a pasture where harebells and bog cotton grow, where in the midday dampness we find young puffball mushrooms, springy and white. We collect them in our pockets so we can take them home to slice up, dip in egg and bread crumbs, and fry in butter and garlic.
Everywhere there are sheep nibbling the grass right down to the earth. Boulders stand like petrified animals from a distant age.
Along the shore, as we follow black rocks stippled with sharp barnacles and mussels, seabirds wheel and toss like foam in the wind—gulls, cormorants, oyster-catchers, and a stray couple of herons with rapier beaks and their long Vs of wing. We see dolphins arcing in the bay, chasing mackerel. At the end of the jagged headland, we scramble up a rocky crest, and all is revealed.
The view of desolate Thallabawn, with its band of pure gold sand below stretching apparently to infinity, is the most beautiful I know. There is the beauty you see for the first time and are swept away by, and there is the known beauty that works its magic on you again and again—a beauty that takes your heart prisoner.
We strip down and jump into the breakers, then dry ourselves by running along the beach. Afterward, ravenous, we devour our lunch, holding the spongy wedges of frittata in our hands and savoring the interplay of sweet pepper and rich parmesan. We search the sand for tiny shells to stick onto shell boxes for Christmas. We ford the river that crosses the beach as it rushes out to sea. At high tide the water can come up to our shoulders, but right now we just roll our jeans to our thighs and stride across.
Three hours from now we will arrive back home. Lapsang Souchong tea and carrot cake with a shock of mascarpone icing and flecks of lime zest will fill the hungry gap. We will savor the walk and store it in our memories until it’s time to go back and nourish our souls again.
Tamasin Day-Lewis is the author of_The Art of the Tart: Savory and Sweet _(Random House 2001).