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At the Edge of Lasg'len

Chapter Text

Co. Donegal "Halfway to Muckish" by Małgorzata Karolak

County Donegal, Ireland           Photograph by Małgorzata Karolak

 

{February 21, 2016}

Earlene stepped off the plane at Donegal International Airport, feeling desperately tired after traveling so far and enduring a epically tedious layover. And perhaps, feeling so filled with inner trepidation as well. Passing through the terminal at JFK had proven to be a more emotional experience than she'd bargained for. That she was truly leaving New York, and America itself, never to return...that emotions might accompany that choice had not crossed her mind. As the aircraft devoured the miles over the Atlantic enroute to Dublin, she tried to reassure herself with her usual intellectualizing that all would be well; this journey was after all the culmination of years of careful planning.

Focus, discipline, unwavering dedication and determination characterized her life to date. A number of prestigious scholarships and undergraduate study that commenced at age sixteen had seen her through the grueling years in academia. At the end of four years’ difficult study beyond her bachelor's degree, she graduated from Columbia Law School; the youngest in her class at only twenty-two with an emphasis on corporate practice. Shortly afterward she passed the bar exam with flying colors and the rewards for her efforts followed. 

Snapped up immediately by a prestigious Madison Street firm that aggressively recruited top graduates, Earlene’s rise within the firm had been meteoric. And now, at not quite forty years of age, that same blazing determination to succeed at her career had morphed into a blazing determination to assume another kind of life. While there had been great personal satisfaction in gaining high regard, prestige, and surmounting the intellectual challenges of her career, a sense of hollowness followed as well. When she had reached thirty-five, after only about thirteen years in active practice, it became clear to her that she had further goals, however strange they may have seemed to others. 

Earlene remembered the day her feelings had coalesced vividly. After a long day in the office, she'd decided to treat herself to an early evening run in Central Park. On every occasion in which her feet indulged themselves on the winding footpaths, she found herself drawn to Cleopatra's Needle. As she stared at it admiringly for the umpteenth dozenth time, it finally sank in: She might be here, solidly established as a New Yorker, but she belonged here about as much as this obelisk did. Deep inside, she wanted something else...and now that awareness had finally arrived.

Her solitary nature, which had allowed her to devote nearly her every waking moment to her career, wanted yet more solitude – and a chance to spend her time as she chose, perhaps explore parts of life that she had been forced to eschew. Of Irish descent, she had nurtured a fantasy for years of living in the Emerald Isle, someday. It would be a huge transition from her apartment in Queens and her job in Manhattan. 

Earlene had embraced New York City all of these years with ease, because nowhere else could one be surrounded by millions of people and yet be completely alone in quite the same way. 

With wisdom passed down from her father, she had lived unassumingly given her salary and invested her earnings wisely. Her parents had insisted on helping her, when she enrolled at Columbia – helping her to purchase a small two-bedroom condo that looked over the East River toward Manhattan. While reimbursing her parents and taking on the mortgage had bitten deeply into the early years of her income, the price for which it had sold in the bloated market had made those sacrifices more than worthwhile. In addition, a surprise inheritance from her parents when they passed (of a magnitude that she could not have guessed at) left her free to make nearly any choice within reason. 

It had still not been an easy decision. Over three years ago, after extensive research and vetting through a variety of business contacts, she had hired an agent to begin the process of helping her find a place in which to live overseas, as well as all that would be involved in a permanent relocation. In what free time she allowed herself, she pursued her dream, and prepared. Her requirements had been simple: to have land (preferably five to ten hectares) with a functional dwelling, access to water and approved for agricultural use, and as much solitude as possible. If it had serviceable outbuildings, so much the better.

The agent had warned her about the assorted fees, and the stamp duty, and every other possible cost stemming from Irish law...but she could not have anticipated it when over a year ago, it came back to her that a solid possibility had been located. An odd parcel of almost eleven hectares that butted up against Lasg'len Forest was available. Part of the acreage was wooded, and all of it was considered to be devalued agricultural land on account of the need to remove far too many trees for farming purposes.  She was certain, that she could manage the parcel for her needs. One local family had held it in trust for the past century, and it had come up for private sale. The more documentation and photos she was shown, the more she was convinced that the property was a dream come true. 

The best part of all was, it hadn't cost remotely what it seemed like it ought to...as if she were once again in the right place at the right time. Many things in her life had gone thus; she had worked hard, but still Earlene felt somewhat charmed, as though she had a bit of luck with her – though she didn't believe in luck. Education, learning, and logical thinking had brought her through life, and she had little use for ideas that ran outside those parameters.

Passing through customs with her laptop and a very small array of personal necessities, she was to meet her agent's contact. This woman would drive her out to her new home. After far too much research, she had decided to forego even trying to obtain the right to drive in Ireland anytime soon; the requirements, fees, and red tape involved were truly a nightmare for anyone coming out of the United States. 

Plus, she was arriving with an investment portfolio that, short of the collapse of society, would allow for her financial freedom. A bicycle with a detachable trailer would be her sophisticated transport to a nearby village for groceries and small purchases; this move was with the intention to live in solitude, not go hobnobbing all the time. If she really needed a ride somewhere, she could afford to hire it until she worked out the public systems. As for the rest of it, there was the fabulous world of online shopping.

The agent met her, dressed in a suitably professional manner for Earlene's tastes.  While she was not overly vain about her own appearance, her career had taught her the value of impeccable grooming. She dressed conservatively, wore just enough makeup to enhance her expressive eyes, and maintained physical fitness as part of the regimen of her law practice. Her glossy, dark brown hair was kept shoulder length, allowing her to transform it into a style appropriate for the office at a moment's notice. If there was one detraction, it would be that her demeanor held great reservation. Effusive smiles and cheer were not something that brought a woman far, in the competitive and serious world she had just departed. 

About an hour's time would be required to reach their destination, and she was  debriefed on the remainder of the arrangements that had been prepared. Keys to the home, an envelope of cash that had been exchanged on her behalf, documentation on the shipment of her personal effects and their expected time of arrival, reference materials, on and on were placed in her keeping. 

It pleased her to see that all of this information had been laid out in an organized format, neatly assembled in a binder. This was the manner in which she herself worked, and no less was expected from those she had hired. Earlene remained professionally polite, but inside of herself felt practically giddy at the thought of reaching her destination and sleeping off the incredible fatigue tugging at her body. No matter how great the level of her organization, the last days of preparation for this transition had taken their toll.

At last, they pulled in, and she stepped out of the vehicle. Onto her land. Her home. The sense of this finally having happened flooded into her, though she was too disciplined to show any emotion. It was impossible to avoid noticing the largest beech tree she had ever seen, right at the edge of the driveway, and that many smaller specimens graced the rear of the property, along with birch and others. 

She was led inside,  courteously shown the basic features of the home, and provided reference materials for these as well. The documentation had been prepared by someone who had also lived in the States...and understood the differences in managing the affairs of daily life in Ireland versusAmerica. The pantry and small refrigerator had been generously stocked with food. A fire blazed in the wood stove; telecommunication service and other utilities had already been connected. Some bottles of wine for welcome even waited on the countertop, and a local handyman/caretaker would be by every two days to check on necessities and solve any further issues as she accustomed herself to her new life. 

Thanking the woman profusely, she was at long last left in her home with an immeasurable sigh of relief. Now that she was alone, however, a little more energy welled up amidst the exhaustion. She had to at least look around, after waiting so long. But first things first. Another piece of  wood to the stove later, she filled the kettle with a view to some tea and sliced some of the fruit in the charming little basket.

After eating a few pieces and with a steaming mug in her hands, winding paths guided her around the acreage. Some old and sadly neglected (but redeemable) fruit trees met her eyes, as well as potential garden sites. Her summers growing up and even into her first years of college had been spent with grandparents who had tenaciously kept a small farm until they passed on. 

Earlene owed her good start in life to the fact that her own father had rejected the idea of farming from a young age. Not wanting the life of hard work and heartaches he saw his parents endure, he had applied himself diligently and eventually became a highly regarded surgeon. That same ethic of extreme self-discipline had been instilled into his daughter and son. 

And yet, with that time on gran's farm Earlene had become thoroughly acquainted with the work. She might not be able to operate an entire farm alone, but everything about growing, machinery, canning and cooking – that, she knew. Her brother Aidan had had very different interests; after they had finally flown the nest they rarely saw each other except on the sporadic family holidays when everyone had travelled back home. With any luck a few dairy goats would be hers before long, and the process of keeping busy in her little world could begin.

Walking to the wooded environs, her eyes scanned the barren canopy. The trees were just beginning to bud; winter kept its grip here late much as it did in New York. It was fortuitous that she arrived when she did, to take advantage of what would pass for the growing season in Ireland. The white bark of beeches had always held a place in Earlene’s heart; as she walked past them, she trailed her hand along the trunks. 

"All mine," she said, and hardly believed her luck. Faintly, she heard an echo, but in what seemed like a masculine voice. Far away it seemed, yet determined. 

Mine.

She laughed, deliriously silly in her weariness. "Mine, mine, mine!" she pushed back, giggling. 

Once again, she heard it. Stronger. Mine. 

"Clearly, I’m past my bedtime," she mumbled, with a slight degree of concern, and sipped her tea. Returning to the house, she closed up. Her grandparents had never locked anything on their farm, but this wasn't there, and better safe than sorry. 

The fruit eaten, Earlene regarded the rooms. This was basically a large cottage, but the single bedroom did contain a rather ample bed for one person; basically a queen sized mattress. Once she’d had her tea, she made ready for sleep, damping down the stove before she filled it for the night. Pulling the covers over herself, she took a moment to shut down her cell phone, tossing it on the unused half of the bed coverlet. There would be no waking, until she'd taken all the rest she wanted.