This Wednesday, after a long day of picking gooseberries (nasty sour green things with inch long thorns), I got to join the Tralee Walking Club on one last jaunt. This time, we headed into the southern part of Kerry to climb Torc mountain in Killarney Natl. Park. This is one of the oldest Natl. Parks in Ireland and showcases an environment that I haven't seen since I came to this country: forests.
Most of Ireland has been thoroughly deforested to make way for grazing or farming. Trees are found mostly in hedgerows, around buildings and in monocultured timber farms. The area around Killarney, however, was privately owned for a long time by a wealthy family, so the woodland has been preserved there. One of the highlights of the park is the sylvan waterfall of Torc (Eas Toirc in Irish). My facebook photos simply can't do it justice. The sound of the cold spring water on weathered rock, the smell of the mossy ground, just try to imagine them when you see the photo.
Irish forests look very different from those in the Eastern US. They are sculpted by wind and by rain. The first thing you notice is the dusting of brilliant green moss that seems to cover every hard surface. There are real old-work oaks here, gnarled and contorted into fantastic grizzled forms. Pines are the tall trees here, particularly a species with a handsome red bark that gets easily as big as the White Pines back home. Ferns, violets and laurels are abundant in the understory. There does seem to be a big problem with non-native rhododendrons, which, while beautiful, make a choking thatch of woody branches that makes the Amur Honeysuckle back home look positively tame. One of the women on the walk said that the Irish gov't has spent millions trying to control them.
The forests survive only in the sheltered dells. The tableland on the tops of the mountains is too windswept for trees. The day I climbed Torc, everything was perfect. All the elements had come together for a glimpse at the wild Ireland, the green heart of the nation. Sky, cloud, wind, rock, grass, lake, all the elements were in place. From the top of the mountain, I had an unbeatable view of Killarney town and the surrounding lake country.
Of course, in my rapture I lost my head and went to piss behind a rock, figuring no one would see me. In the middle of my piddle, I look up and this extremely attractive young Lithuanian woman who had been walking with us is at the top of the ridge. Thankfully, she didn't see anything, but the Polish guy she was with was cracking up as I took the walk of shame back up the path. I really should stop holding it until I get to the summit, there's simply never adequate cover.
Today, the O'Connors and I took a little trip out to the natural beaches at Inch. I had a delicious smoked salmon salad and a berry-rhubarb crumble. Naturally, I had to dip my feet into Dingle Bay, which was about the same temperature as an iced Bulmers. The girls kept egging me on, though, and I could hardly appear chicken.
Tomorrow, I say my farewell to gorgeous County Kerry and get back on the road. My next stop is Cork city where I'll be for two days before taking the train to Dublin on Sunday. After that, I fly to Prague on Tuesday. Amy Zhou should be getting it on Wednesday and she said she'd follow me as far as Vienna. It'll be nice to have a travelling buddy for a bit, especially someone who's a bit more seasoned at Euro-trekking. Blogging might be intermittant for the next few days, but I'll try to keep everyone up-to-date on what's going on.