“Dying way of life, Teagan,” Papa said, hard
Words for Irish girl to accept, shepherding
On remote isle, misty isolation, ocean-riding
Boat, dark waves cresting, cold spray, why
We knitted wool sweaters, kept to ourselves,
Rock meeting windy water, hundred islanders,
weekly ferry, reflections of past days, brink
Of going under, no longer self-sustaining,
Young people island-abandoned, elder-folk
Sought shelter of mainland, weathered faces,
Gnarled hands, requiring easier days.
Yes, desperate times brought us back, call
Of clan blood, memories on black-and-white
Photos restored. Can we return two worlds as
One? Boat-boarding at dawn, sheep dog, Ritsa,
At my side. “Button up,” Papa said, “Gale she
Will be.” To him, sea was ancient matriarch,
Ruling outlying islands since Bronze Ages.
Alas! We were not venturing to home island
By steel-hull ferry but far beyond, isolated isle
Cloud-lost, unmanned bird observatory, 20-
Foot open dory, outboard engine revved.
“Stand child, learn to drive facing into grey,”
He advised. Seaward we pushed, three-foot
Swells, glancing backward, lighthouse mist-
Obscured, compass steering, fighting back
tears, nose-burning tears, not from fear, self-
Realization, who or what I would become,
Lone shepherdess, button-size island on
Nautical charts, stone cottage, coal stove,
Provisions, Ritsa, wooden crook. Sniffing,
She knew the course, narrow beaches, puffin
Burrows, grassy hills, rock-strewen heights.
“Painted rock,” Papa pointed out, “Learn to
Mark your turn: time, speed, distance.” Hard
Scramble from boat to rocky shore, upward
Winding paths, we climbed into cloud, first
Ringing of brass bells, Ritsa barking, herding,
Few wool-heavy sheep, then dozen more,
Wrestling into pens, shearing, quick squeeze
Of blades, dose of medicine. “These are island
Sheep, Teagan, wild and head-strong.” Papa
Puffed on his pipe. “As of today, they are
Yours.” Yes, island shepherdess I became.
Modern-day account of shepherding on remote islands off Ireland and
other UK northern isles. Yes, it is an isolated way of life: islands at edge
of the world, some with less than 50 permanent residents. For more, see
gallery of “Guardian” images: https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/gallery/2016/oct/06/britains-most-remote-inhabited-island-foula-in-pictures
Thanks for reading.