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All is quiet today and the sky is bright above my Chicago suburb. No more sounds of plows in the streets as they try to keep up with a blizzard that dumped over a foot of snow on us. No more scraping of shovels or drone of snowblowers going up and down driveways every couple of hours.

Chicago man with snowblower, AP/Daily Herald, Bob Chwedyk

Chicago man with snowblower, AP/Daily Herald, Bob Chwedyk

The snow has stopped and the streets and driveways are as clear as they’re going to get. But with this storm’s one-two punch a brutal cold has settled in that explains the silence. As I type this it is -16 degrees Fahrenheit outside (negative 26.6 ºC)! And this does not tell the story of our windchill, which is much colder and describes how the air actually feels as these brutal temperatures, in the form of wind, hit your body. I haven’t heard a car pass by on the street for hours because those who can, are staying inside their homes. The local schools are closed and even my husband’s employer told him to stay home today, a phenomenon in itself! The birds are silent as though trying to go unnoticed by this biting cold and the squirrels that live in the two trees on my parkway are nowhere in sight. Hopefully, they’re snuggled up close together keeping as warm as possible. We only venture outside to walk our dog, who we dress in a coat with a turtleneck sweater underneath. Even wearing this get-up, he comes back inside shivering, feet frozen and  tiny snowballs clinging to his fuzzy fur. Seán is a Bichon Frise and not made for this weather.

Meanwhile, it is about 50 degrees Fahrenheit in Ireland. But, a milder temperature does not mean that Mother Nature is taking it easy on them. Lashing rain and 120 km/h winds have wreaked havoc with damaging waves and floods along the coast and across the country from storms that have come repeatedly since before Christmas.

The River Shannon floods Kilbaha Bay on the Loop Head Peninsula, photo courtesy Carsten Krieger Photography

The River Shannon floods Kilbaha Bay on the Loop Head Peninsula, photo courtesy Carsten Krieger Photography

Tides rise and huge waves explode against the shores of the Loop Head Peninsula and all along the coastline taking down sections of stone walls, washing over roads and flooding promenades. The howl of gale-force wind and the thunder of 40 – 60 foot waves would be invigorating and exciting to witness if it were not so destructive. I imagine the local people snug inside their homes having battened down the hatches, hoping for the best and afraid to venture out to see the damage each time it quiets down between storms.

Storm damage in Kilbaha, photo courtesy Carsten Krieger Photography

Storm damage in Carrigaholt on the Loop Head Peninsula, photo courtesy Carsten Krieger Photography

My house on the Loop Head Peninsula just outside Kilkee is inland enough that the waves themselves can’t reach it, but with wind like that and the lashing rain, I am preoccupied with concern for its wellbeing. A huge weight lifted  from my shoulders when we received an email from the local man who checks on the house for us. Reading the words, “You’ll be glad to know that Teach de Búrca stands proud with no damage done to it or any of the outbuildings,” was such a great relief that I felt a surge of optimism and a special warmth for my little Irish house as it continued to brave the storms.

So here I am surrounded by snow and cold so dangerous that I won’t be leaving the house today – not even for my mocha! The cabinet doors under the kitchen sink are open to allow heat to surround and protect the pipes from freezing as are the doors around water pipes in the basement. Curtains drawn and blinds closed through the night in an attempt to keep out drafts, are now open to allow the sun to magnify some heat through the windows. The furnace is on overtime doing its best to keep us warm, so far so good. I am here and I know what is happening and what I need to do. But since I’m not in my County Clare cottage, I can’t see for myself if all is well after each storm so I am haunted by phantom sounds of crashing waves, howling wind and the rattling of my red half-door.

Lahinch, Co. Clare Promenade photo taken by photographer/surfer George Karbus courtesy breakingnews.ie

Atlantic waves appear to swallow the promenade in Lahinch, Co. Clare, photo taken by photographer/surfer George Karbus courtesy breakingnews.ie

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How long would I have to live here before the surroundings became routine and not worthy of wonder, excitement – and photographs? I doubt that the dramatic beauty of this place could ever become mundane to me, in any amount of time.

A boat in the Shannon Estuary at Loop Head this foggy evening.

Tonight at dinnertime, Eoin and I decided to drive away from Kilkee and further into Loop Head for a bite to eat. During our many journeys around Loop Head we have often passed a pub that sits along the shore of the Shannon Estuary, which borders the southern part of the Loop Head Peninsula with the Atlantic on the northern shoreline. Keating’s Pub is in the townland of Kilbaha,  just a couple of miles from the very tip of the peninsula where the lighthouse stands. The beautiful setting of this pub and the remoteness of the site have beckoned me to pay a visit.

Dinner itself was a pretty basic affair, with Eoin opting for the usual Chicken Goujon and me, the vegetarian stir-fry with rice. Following our meal, and after a pleasant conversation with the pub owner about a local man whose book I am currently reading, we said goodbye and headed for the car to make our way home. Much to my surprise, in the hour or so we took to have our meal, a cloud had descended upon Loop Head and the whole area was thick with mist. Dusk quickly approaching and the fog around us, the sensible thing to do may have been to head straight home, but I couldn’t resist driving further up the road so that we might see what the lighthouse looked like in such a thick, foggy mist. Visibility made it difficult to see beyond about two or three car lengths so I drove slowly along. Somehow, Loop Head, even in these conditions, didn’t seem eerie to me. It simply presented a scene of peacefulness and a bygone era. When we arrived at the farthest tip of the peninsula the fog was so thick that the lighthouse was just a barely visible outline of light grey surrounded by white.

We didn’t stay long at the lighthouse but we didn’t rush home either. I drove slowly for safety’s sake and we were able to take in the passing scenery with the attention it deserved. The Atlantic on our left and the Shannon on our right were invisible at the narrowest part of the peninsula. It looked as though the world ended at the cliffs. As we proceeded further down the road toward Kilkee things cleared up just enough to see a bit farther into the Shannon and we were able to ponder the fishing boats anchored offshore, wondering aloud about what it was like sitting in a boat in the water on a night like this.

Keating’s Pub in Kilbaha in a cloud.

We passed Keating’s again on the way back and I decided to stop at a clearing at the side of the road to take a photo of the pub surrounded by the mist. Wandering a bit further along the road, we stopped again at a rocky shoreline where seals sometimes visit. No seals were present at the moment, but Eoin had fun looking for them! As I took photos of him on the look out for seals, we heard cows mooing in the mist behind us.

Pretending to spot seals on the rocks!

Back in the car, we drove on toward Kilkee, only to stop again as we passed a mother horse walking about with her youngster, peacefully nibbling on the grasses of the field, appearing unconcerned with the mist surrounding them. This idyllic scene called for more photos, which not only show the horses, but the beautiful field they were grazing upon. Mother and child looked back at us curiously, perhaps wondering what sort of lunatics would be out driving and taking pictures on such a night!

Mother and child observing mother and child – the fog barely showing up in the photograph! Photo by Eoin.

By the time we entered our cottage through its newly installed half-door, we were both physically satisfied from our meal and spiritually satisfied by the delightful drive home afterward. Here on the Loop Head Peninsula, non-events become events and a simple dinner can become a journey through the mists to a place out of time.

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