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Asia Suler

Writer, Teacher, Medicine Maker + Seeker 🌿

https://onewillowapothecaries.com/

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At the edge of the cliffs of Moher, the temper of ocean breaking upon stone looks almost as gentle as bathwater swaying in the tub. It’s a lovely panorama. Painted, distant, and quite removed from your own being. At least that’s what your eyes see. The animal of your body, however, tells you something completely different. . No matter how many times the loveliness of this place entered me, the danger was never far behind. Like the bitter aftertaste of chamomile steeped too long. The gentleness of the coastline dropped before you like a stomach, leaving you in shock at the sheer edge of it all. . Places like this make my bones quake in a way that reminds me just how human I am. How fragile. How dependent I am on the things I cannot see, like which way the wind blows. In a second the direction of the winds here can change and what once held you back from the edge might just push you towards it. . For me, the real exhilaration of this place is not how high I am or how close to death. But the feeling of how wonderfully and utterly dependent I find myself to be. The realization that we humans are, in truth, shallow rooted beings. Ones who need absolutely everything given to us in order to live on this earth. We need the hand of gravity to hold us, the waters to run unsalted, the wind to lean in our favor. And the wonder of it all is that they do. We live. We make our lives at the edge. We are held. And even at the precipice of the dangers we ourselves have created, still, we are cared for. . There is much to learn in these high and wild places.

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Poulnabrone Portal Tomb . Where once they lined the limestone cracks of the Burren with their ancestors bones, lovingly transporting each one to be nestled on the floor of this portal. A place to come and speak to the old ones. An entryway into some belief unseen.

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The Cliffs of Moher . A dangerously beautiful and windswept place where seagulls plummet towards the lace of far away waves. A geological oddity that makes for a stomach-dropping precipice of green. To visit is to remember how truly small you are in the great braids of things.

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Connemara heartland. Stone, moor and water. And the land that colors everything. Streams run through the bog and come out stained dark as tea. Even your bath water, filled to the brim on a cold windy night, has a tinge of earl grey. And it feels good, for the soil in you, to soak it in.

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Angels on a moody Irish day

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Connemara. Land of ocean rain and black-faced sheep, wet charcoal bogs and winds. I always love learning about how people have made their lives within a given landscape. Especially when the living there is neither easy, nor obvious. With few trees in sight people cut the bog for fuel and let it dry in heaps on the moor wind. They, like so many in Ireland, burn the peat in the hearth to heat and cook. Peat fires smell like roasted earth, drifting out into the blue evening air with a tang like dark brewed dandelion. Peat fires may not burn bright but they give off few sparks, and they are warm. To find wood for tools and cross beams, they stuck long needles into the bog, searching for the ancient bodies of trees. Pulling them up like we now pull up the bodies of old kings. . The only sheep that will live here has long wool, tacky with lanolin, and black feet and faces. Back in the day, a jumper knit from this wool was the only shield a fisherman had from the rain. And the patterns of the knit were not just patterns, but stories. Blessings. Signs of belonging. Every family and community would have their own unique patterns. Both as a way to wrap their loved one in warmth, and as a form of identification. If a fisherman drowned or was shipwrecked, they could be pulled from the sea-littered shore, known by their jumper, and brought back home. . With very little viable farm land, in hard times people survived off the debris of the shoreline. During the famine, it’s said you either left, died, or lived off the seaweed. The amazing cold water abundance here has kept people alive for centuries. I made myself a thick brew of carrageen one night after a long tired day and stirred it up with honey. It’s felt like marrow going on. Between it and the peat fire and the wool socks on my feet I understood how one could make a life here. It may not be wealthy, nor easy, but it is undefinably rich.

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No pilgrimage trip to Ireland would be complete without a visit to the first ancestor— The Ocean. She who gave birth to humpback whales and bladderwrack, salmon and plankton and barnacle. And me, with my two tender feet. Even though the surf was cold I had to walk barefoot for a time to let the salt water brine me soles.

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Spend enough time in the company of stones and time begins to get soft around the edges, like a mountain touched by mist.

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One day I’ll look back and remember this as the time I got to sit inside a burial mound with nothing but the wind and the shadows and the wet stone. The gate was locked, the two spare keys lent and gone. But when I got to the top of the hill there was an old crone with a key to the paddock, simply sitting in the misty rain. She grew up in these hills and she knew what it meant to come here, how the voices sound clearest when one was alone. So she left me there, to climb into the innermost chamber with my drum. She said “play your bodhrán, and they will hear it.” . So I sat on my knees in the comforting dark, and stared into the shadow, the place were the basin of ashes would have been. The guardian stone there was upright and carved in spirals like the sun. I let the markings be my gateway and (there is no other word for it) I went in. . I drummed myself into the stones and felt, not grandeur, but closeness. Not the epic past, but the tender present. A circle of ancestors around me, as if I were the fire by which they were warmed. And, in return, their hopes for me were like a blanket in the dark — “you do not need to be afraid of dark places. use the gifts you’ve been given. live life to its fullest and know that you are encircled by a millennia of love.” In my mind’s eye an old, old woman put her hands on my shoulders and I was safer than I’ve ever been. . For a long time, longer than memory, this particular hill has been associated with The Cailleach— the old one, the Goddess of the dark months, the divine crone. She is one of the most ancient figures in the myths of Ireland, a bringer of both sovereignty and storms. . To be here, was to be with her. That grandmother who made us, and loves us all still. To be here, was to feel the crone-like beginnings that is at the heart of it everything. To be here, was to come home. . When I left the chamber, the older woman who had held the key was gone. In her place, just the mists and stone.

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Irish roses and doorstep greetings

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Where the Ancestors Live . For those of us who are the great-grand children of settlers, we often have very little of the our physical ancestors with us. If we are lucky, we might have a ring, a knife or a letter. But usually it’s just stories, the color of our hair, what we feel in our bones. One of the things that felt important to me on coming to Ireland was to visit the old burial mounds. Built before the pyramids, some of these mounds have been standing over 4,000 years. They are sanctuaries of knowledge, displaying an almost mind-mending understanding of stone, hillscape and the rhythm of the sun. Old enough to pre-date the arrival of the Celts, they arose during one of the first rich times of agriculture in Ireland. They arose, and then they stood. For millennia. . Though guides and area experts can speak much about their construction and their different alignments with the sun very little is known about how they were used, and why they were built. . We do know that, once began, their construction likely wouldn’t have been finished in a single lifetime. That they were epicenters for cultural activity, ringed by ceremonial stone circles and wooden henges. And we know, in the great basins held within, that there were cremated ancestors and fragments of bone. Many of the mounds were actively used for thousands of years. But by the time of written history, they had simply become faery hills and forts. This, and only this, we know. Everything else must be felt. . Over the days that I dedicated to visiting these mounds, the feeling I got was the same every time. I climbed into the heart of the passage. I sat in the dark, I reached out to the carved lintels and I touched, not stone, but warm bone. Following in the footsteps of thousands of years of pilgrims, I was being given the chance to touch the ancestors. And it warmed a center of me that I hadn’t felt before. . In the small sliver of light that bends around the entrance stone to reach the inner chamber you can see them, the generous ones, as if they smiling at you by emberlight. And if you linger long enough they will give you a spark. An heirloom to take home with you that can never be lost.

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The stones tell stories

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