This is the first dispatch from Judy Johnson, Varuna’s current writer-in-residence at the Tyrone Guthrie Centre in Ireland. Varuna Alumni are eligible to take part in the annual Tyrone Guthrie International Exchange Lottery. For more information go to the Alumni Monthly Feature by clicking here.
Then try and resist throwing your towel in for the residency after you’ve read Judy’s first dispatch:
I’ve been here at the Tyrone Guthrie Centre for over two weeks now and I still keep thinking I’ll wake up one morning and it will have all been a dream. At the same time as pinching myself, I’m being more practical, counting down the 11 days I’ve got left and wondering how I can write well, relax well, soak up this experience so that when I come home I can carry something of the place back with me. I’ll see it in the satisfying amount of writing I’ve done towards my new novel, certainly. But more profoundly, I want to get on the plane to come home with some of the atmosphere here tucked neatly into the carry-on luggage of my heart. This is purely selfish of course. It’s so when I need to, when the stresses of the world impinge too much on my writing practice, I can pull out the memory of this time in my life. This very special place.
So where do I start? The surroundings I think.
The forests of fir trees, I think they’re firs, have trunks that are half covered from the ground up with the kind of lime green moss that only
grows in unpolluted air. It feels like the softest suede and covers the ground beneath in a blanket. In the shadows, its emerald green. To look between the tight-packed trees, to look across that forest floor, is to imagine small children from a Grimm’s fairy tale, holding hands, moving deeper and deeper into the core of all our fears. And listen, there’s a wolf in the distance, winding up its howl. I’ve tried to take a photo of the forest floor, but it resists being captured. It just glares at me with that emerald green eye than never blinks. Some dark and ancient art going on in there, I’ll wager.
There are no real wolves here, at least I don’t think so. But there are deer. I’ve yet to spot them on my walks. They are too shy.
The geese more than make up for it. It’s the most startling thing to have silence all around and then all of sudden a whomp, whomp, whomp of wings just above your head as four or five geese fly overhead. It seems like it must be the pulse of the universe. They don’t exactly honk. That’s a crude explosion that belongs to old fashioned car horns. It’s more the sound of a pump that needs oiling, pushing out little nasal bursts of air. People tell me they can be vicious birds if you get in their way. But how can I believe it, when they look so angelic, wearing their first communion dresses everyday?
And talk of geese neatly segues into everyone’s favourite place on the property. The huge lake with its pine tree necklace reflected in the water.
I can tell when a writer, or artist or musician has reached a sticking point in their day’s work. They stride down the slope wrapped in galoshes, coat and scarf, heading purposefully towards the lake. They are after its magic elixir to break their impasse. And what’s more they must get it, as afterwards, they hurry back and head to their studio or lap top or music room.
What is the wonderful ending of that Robert Frost poem ‘Directive’?
‘Here are your waters and your watering place. Drink and be whole again beyond confusion.’
I think the waters he’s referring to are here in the lake at Annaghmakerrig.