Friday, August 30, 2013

Trying again

Okay, formatting problem seems to be solved. I may go back and try to fix that last post, but maybe not.

Last picture from Laugharne - Thomas refers to the heron priested shore, but I didn't see any herons here, but this photo is egrets and gulls.

Egrets and gulls

After leaving Laugharne, we split up and one car went to the coast and the other took a more direct way home (less coastline).

The coast north of St. David's

We found that you can't actually see that much coastline. Even when you're right near it, there are usually tall hedges or walls. Though we, obviously, did see some.

Pentr Ifan dolmen (burial chamber)

But we were so glad that we (Jerry, Phyllis, Rebecca and I) went that way. We came upon this sign for the tallest dolmen in Wales. We couldn't resist even if it took us off our route.

Some dramatic sky helped!

 It's neolithic and made of the same bluestone as Stonehenge. And the setting was magnificent - green hills looking out over the Irish Sea and the usual lambs on the hillsides. We had to tear ourselves away.

More dolmen

And we joke about presenting an all-sheep slide show - top 10 photos for each person - 80 photos of sheep! Here's just one who lives by the dolmen.


More sheep

We stopped in Aberystwyth for dinner.


It's a classic Victorian holiday town with hotels and rooming houses lined up along the beach. There were surfers - though the surf was minimal.

Amusement pier

It even has a classic amusement pier (we didn't go in). Rebecca spent a few days here after the workshop ended because she is writing a novel which takes place in Aberystwyth and she needed to do some research.

The Old College

The National Library and one of the campuses of the University of Wales are here. We ate at a Greek restaurant and there were Athena's owls out front.


The next day we stayed "home." One of our prompts that morning was Gerard Manley Hopkins' "Pied Beauty." Love it! If you don't know it, look it up. Hopkins appeared many times during our prompts - a Welsh Jesuit who didn't think he could reconcile his religious vocation and his poetry - even burned all his writing. But he couldn't resist and he finally went back to it.

On the way to the county fair

There was a county fair just down the road from our house, so some of us checked it out. 

County fair sign

To keep trespassers out at night or from sneaking in without paying, they use a metal fence with grease along the top so you'll just slide off. But they warn you!

Hunting hound puppies for sale

There were lots of dog contests, animals for sale, farm equipment, kiddie rides, lots of food, the usual booths selling stuff.

Ducks and geese for sale

I need to get a goose photo from Else. She took some great ones.


Ferrets are so cute and I got to hold one.

Dog and ferret becoming friends?

There were also lots of demonstrations of skill.

Some kind of wood chopping contest

They even had camels "for the fun of it." But there were more dogs than anything else besides people - not just the ones being shown. Everyone brought a dog, I think!

Border collie

They had falconry demonstrations - I missed them, but did get to see the birds.

Don't expect an identification


This guy was explaining things in Welsh when I walked by. Bala has one of the highest percentages of Welsh speakers in Wales - 70%.

Welsh explanation

I spent some time talking with a young man with a group that works with homeless vets - it's just like here.

We agree - don't create any new veterans.

It was a Sonoma County Fair in miniature.

Here are some random photos I took downtown that day.

Buildings in downtown Bala

A Bala window

Little Black Sambo?

Walking back, there was Cadar Idris - one of the mountains visible near the house.

Cader Idris

The legend goes that if you sleep on Cader Idris, you will either go mad or blind or wake up a poet! I don't know since I didn't try.

Phyliis and Jerry's socks drying

Thursday, August 29, 2013

More Dylan Thomas and a 4.500-year-old dolmen

Just going back to Scotland for a second!

A dram of whiskey

I just finished The Emperor's Children by Claire Messud. At the end, one of the characters begins to commit suicide (spoiler alert - she backs out) and she does it by taking pills with some Lagavullin whiskey - one of the ones I listed as a favorite in a past blog entry. Once upon a time that reference wouldn't have meant a thing to me. Anyway, she wasn't a character I much cared for, but I thought suicide would be a huge waste, so I'm glad she didn't do it (yeah, I now, it's fiction).

House cat at Castlekirk B&B

I forgot to mention that the owner of the Castlekirk B&B on the Isle of Arran (one of my favorite places) and I had a lot in common. Her father is 90, like mine, and her mother died this spring, like mine, and her parents were married the same length of time as mine. We're both artists and social justice/peace people. Looking at her book shelves was like stepping into Sonoma County. We had a great talk as I was waiting for the bus to take me to the ferry - we didn't discover how much we shared until the last minute. I'd go back if I could and chat longer!

Beginning the Dylan Thomas Birthday Walk

Dylan Thomas always wrote a poem on his birthday. On his 30th birthday, October 27, 1944, he wrote "Poem in October" and it was about walking a path along the shore in Laugharne. So we hiked the path and, of course, recited the poem along the way. It's an official landmark and parts of the poem appear on signs along the way. Get ready for a whole bunch of estuary photos.

Taf Estuary #1

It was my thirtieth year to heaven
Woke to my hearing from harbour and neighbour wood   
      And the mussel pooled and the heron
                  Priested shore
            The morning beckon
With water praying and call of seagull and rook
And the knock of sailing boats on the net webbed wall   
            Myself to set foot
                  That second
      In the still sleeping town and set forth.

Taf Estuary #2

My birthday began with the water-
Birds and the birds of the winged trees flying my name   
      Above the farms and the white horses
                  And I rose   
            In rainy autumn
And walked abroad in a shower of all my days.
High tide and the heron dived when I took the road
            Over the border
                  And the gates
      Of the town closed as the town awoke.

Taf Estuary #3

A springful of larks in a rolling
Cloud and the roadside bushes brimming with whistling   
      Blackbirds and the sun of October
            On the hill’s shoulder,
Here were fond climates and sweet singers suddenly   
Come in the morning where I wandered and listened   
            To the rain wringing
                  Wind blow cold
      In the wood faraway under me.

Taf Estuary #4

Pale rain over the dwindling harbour
And over the sea wet church the size of a snail   
      With its horns through mist and the castle   
                  Brown as owls
            But all the gardens
Of spring and summer were blooming in the tall tales   
Beyond the border and under the lark full cloud.   
            There could I marvel
                  My birthday
      Away but the weather turned around.

Taf estuary #5

It turned away from the blithe country
And down the other air and the blue altered sky   
      Streamed again a wonder of summer
                  With apples
            Pears and red currants
And I saw in the turning so clearly a child’s
Forgotten mornings when he walked with his mother   
            Through the parables
                  Of sun light
      And the legends of the green chapels

Taf Estuary #6

And the twice told fields of infancy
That his tears burned my cheeks and his heart moved in mine.   
      These were the woods the river and sea
                  Where a boy
            In the listening
Summertime of the dead whispered the truth of his joy   
To the trees and the stones and the fish in the tide.
            And the mystery
                  Sang alive
      Still in the water and singingbirds.

Sign on the trail

And there could I marvel my birthday
Away but the weather turned around. And the true   
      Joy of the long dead child sang burning
                  In the sun.
            It was my thirtieth
Year to heaven stood there then in the summer noon   
Though the town below lay leaved with October blood.   
            O may my heart’s truth
                  Still be sung
      On this high hill in a year’s turning.

Looking down on the Boathouse
and the writing shed from the October Walk

As you can tell, I was rather enamored with the estuary and this doesn't even represent all
the aspects of it.

Laugharne window

Dylan Thomas and the castle

And I didn't even make it to the castle. Just one more reasons to return some day.

Church where Dylan and Caitlin Thomas are buried

Before leaving town, we stopped on the churchyard where Thomas and his wife are
buried.  We read some more of his poetry - no, I'm not going to give you any more.

 Reading Dylan Thomas graveside

We also met a man who drives from Swansea every year to visit the grave (only an hour away). His wife isn't interested and she waits impatiently in the car. She had to come haul him away from a pleasant and informed discussion with the group.
The grave - Caitlin's name on the back
The blog has suddenly started to format very strangely and I can't figure out how to fix it, so I'm going to end this post and continue with a new one and see if it makes any difference.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Dylan Thomas, Swansea, and Laugharne

It would be difficult to say that there was one highlight on our group's stay in Wales, but visiting the haunts of Dylan Thomas certainly ranked right up there.

Breakfast at The Boat House B&B

The first morning we drove to Swansea, where Thomas spent his childhood. We saw his house, the park where he played, and went downtown to the Dylan Thomas Center. Thomas wrote many wonderful short prose pieces inspired by the environs and people of Swansea. In modern Swansea I found it difficult to get any sense of what he experienced.

Here are some photographs from Swansea interspersed with exerpts from his story "Quite Early One Morning."

Downtown statue

Quite early one morning in the winter in Wales, by the sea that was lying down still and green as grass after a night of tar-black howling and rolling, I went out of the house, where I had come to stay for a cold unseasonable holiday, to see if it was raining still, if the outhouse had been blown away, potatoes, shears, rat-killer, shrimp-nets, and tins of rusty nails aloft on the wind, and if all the cliffs were left. It had been such a ferocious night that someone in a smoky ship-pictured bar had said he could feel his tombstone shaking even though he was not dead, or at least was moving; but the morning shone as clear and calm as one always imagines tomorrow will shine.

The park down the street from his house

The sun lit the sea-town, not as a whole, from topmost downreproving zinc-roofed chapel to empty-but-for-rats-and-whispers grey warehouse on the harbour, but In separate bright pieces. There, the quay shouldering out, nobody on it now but the gulls and the capstans like small men in tubular trousers. Here, the roof of the police-station, black as a helmet, dry as a summons, sober as Sunday. There, the splashed church, with a cloud in the shape of a bell poised above it, ready to drift and ring. Here the chimneys of the pink-washed pub, the pub that was waiting for Saturday night as an over-jolly girl waits for sailors.

Swansea building decoration

The town was not yet awake. Birds sang in eaves, bushes, trees, on telegraph wires, rails, fences, spars, and wet masts, not for love or joy, but to keep other birds away. The landlords in feathers disputed the right of even the dying light to descend and perch.

Ashtray outside the Dylan Thomas Center

The town was not yet awake, and I walked through the streets like a stranger come out of the sea, shrugging off weed and wave and darkness with each step, or like an inquisitive shadow, determined to miss nothing - not the preliminary tremor in the throat of the dawnsaying cock or the first whirring nudge of arranged time in the belly of the alarm clock on the trinketed chest of drawers under the knitted text and the done-by-hand watercolours of Porthcawl or Trinidad.

The Carters are very involved in the Dylan Thomas Center -
who knew he loved Dylan Thomas?

The chapel stood grim and grey, telling the day there was to be no nonsense. The chapel was not asleep, it never cat-napped nor nodded nor closed its long cold eye. I left it telling the morning off and the seagull hung rebuked above it.

Thomas' boyhood home

Thus some of the voices of a cliff-perched town at the far end of Wales moved out of sleep and darkness into the new-born, ancient and ageless morning, moved and were lost.

Swansea was a bit of a nightmare - traffic, construction, nothing to recommend it (at least downtown). We then had a change of plans. We decided to go to Fern Hill, which ended up seriously cutting into our writing time, but we were all so glad we went. Fern Hill was the farm owned by Thomas' relatives, which he visited and loved. It is not in the family now and someone has bought it with the intention of renovating, but nothing seems to be happening. After a drive down those classically Welsh narrow roads, we found the place was closed up, so we looked through the gate and recited "Fern Hill" - one of his most famous poems. Here it is:

Fern Hill

Now as I was young and easy under the apple boughs
About the lilting house and happy as the grass was green,
    The night above the dingle-starry,
        Time let me hail and climb
    Golden in the heydays of his eyes,
And honored among wagons I was prince of the apple towns
And once below a time I lordly had the trees and leaves
        Trail with daisies and barley
    Down the rivers of windfall light.

Mailbox at Fern Hill

And as I was green and carefree, famous among the barns
About the happy yard and singing as the farm was home,
    In the sun that is young once only,
        Time let me play and be
    Golden in the mercy of his means,
And green and golden I was huntsman and herdsman, the calves
Sang to my horn, the foxes on the hill barked clear and cold,
        And the sabbath rang slowly
    In the pebbles of the holy streams.

Courtyard at Fern Hill

All the sun long it was running, it was lovely, the hay
Fields high as a house, the tunes from the chimneys, it was air
    And playing, lovely and watery
        And fire green as grass.
    And nightly under the simple stars
As I rode to sleep the owls were bearing the farm away,
All the moon long I heard, blessed among stables, the nightjars
    Flying with the ricks, and the horses
        Flashing into the dark.

Reading "Fern Hill"

And then to awake, and the farm, like a wanderer white
With the dew, come back, the cock on his shoulder: it was all
    Shining, it was Adam and maiden.
        The sky gathered again
    And the sun grew round that very day.
So it must have been after the birth of the simple light
In the first, spinning place, the spellbound horses walking warm
    Out of the whinnying green stable
        On to the fields of praise.

In the courtyard of Fern Hill

And honored among foxes and pheasants by the gay house
Under the new made clouds and happy as the heart was long,
    In the sun born over and over,
        I ran my heedless ways,
    My wishes raced through the house high hay
And nothing I cared, at my sky blue trades, that time allows
In all his tuneful turning so few and such morning songs
    Before the children green and golden
        Follow him out of grace,

Fern Hill

Nothing I cared, in the lamb white days, that time would take me
Up to the swallow thronged loft by the shadow of my hand,
    In the moon that is always rising,
        Nor that riding to sleep
    I should hear him fly with the high fields
And wake to the farm forever fled from the childless land.
Oh as I was young and easy in the mercy of his means,
        Time held me green and dying
    Though I sang in my chains like the sea.

Those last two lines are some of my favorite in poetry.

The shed where Thomas did much of his writing

Back in the small town of Laugharne (pronounced Larn) where Thomas spent a number of years with his wife and children, we went to see his house and the shed where he wrote. It's really a place of pilgrimage for writers and readers. He lived in the Boat House, wrote in the shed, drank in Brown's Hotel, and is buried in St. Martin's churchyard.

Looking into the writing shed

When you see where he lived and setting of his house and writing shed above the Taf estuary - the birds, the water, the sheep in the green fields across the way, the changing light and weather - you really come to understand his inspirations. 

Looking across the estuary

Not that I mean to imply that, with all that was in front of him, I could be a poet like Thomas. But it beats sitting on my bed in Santa Rosa!

Looking own on his house

And we did get to spend some time writing in his house - yes, I was looking out over the estuary - and I produced nothing that immediately stands out for me. I will reread it and see what I can find, but.....maybe I needed beer or to be damp and cold!

Looking at the Taf estuary

Just a short walk back to the B&B

We got kicked out (not literally) at closing time - as I said, the Welsh are prompt about that. Terry wanted to continue her writing and I got these photos of her sitting below the writing shed - absorbing the spot and writing.

Terry soaking it up!

Terry is the white spot bottom left
and that is Thomas' house

And is there a castle in Laugharne? Of course there is and I'm standing right under it while taking this photo of Terry.

13th century Norman castle

There is a public parking lot below the castle along with a sign warning people that the estuary floods in high tides. We parked on higher ground!

Keeping an eye on the castle

That night we planned a "gourmet" dinner at the Cors Restaurant - they change the menu to some degree every day and they use local products.

The Cors Restaurant - also an inn

It has a very beautiful garden filled with sculpture and ponds. And it has enormous Gunnera - here it is dwarfing me.


When we got there, Rebecca surprised us with the news that her employer wanted to treat us to dinner! I'm feeling terrible that I can't remember his name. Scott? We really enjoyed it and such an improvement over the crazy people the night before.

Shrimp, papaya, and avocado

Very local lamb

And the day wouldn't be complete if we didn't end up on our computers at brown's Hotel.

Wifi always goes better with a beer

And we got to listen in on conversations - about local stuff like sheep!

Across the estuary -
who wants to help me buy this house - I'll let you visit