Our final stop—and the one Chambers was most eager to
show us — was a set of natural caves on the east slopes of Coreen
More (the same ridge that a few days earlier John Chambers told
me held “savage” views). Known as the Caves of Coinicear, these
caverns are not true caves formed by erosive action but a series of
mazelike underground enclosures left behind after the collapse of
a massive rock outcrop, perhaps after the retreat of the glaciers ten
thousand years ago.
We plodded up the hill’s steep slopes, zigzagging along grass
ledges overlooking the Nephin forest and its notch-like clearcuts.
We had to tread lightly, Chambers said. In places the cavern’s ceilings were covered only by a thin layer of soil. The ground could
give way at any moment, plunging us into a deep chasm. After
carefully negotiating the heights, Chambers wandered to the
cave’s opening—a vertical fissure, little more than a foot wide,
between slabs the size of airplane wings. We slithered between the
wet rocks into a darkened void.
After a few seconds, my eyes adjusted. I snapped a picture of
Deirdre and Michael but the dark conspired against the image. All
that appeared on the LCD was a ghostly smudge of two blurred
faces against the blackness. Heavy smoke stains on the walls ran
upward to a chimney-like opening above. Chambers said that
these caves were used by bootleggers and smugglers in centuries
past. But the thick layer of soot on the walls suggested a far longer
period of human use. (A few months later, on a nearby moun-
tainside, Chambers stumbled onto a similar cave where he dis-
covered ancient human remains.) The conversation turned back
to the wild. The traces on the maps and the physical marks on the
land, Chambers said, are hardly blemishes — as we in the US have
come to see them — but important reminders of the past that not
only are compatible with wilderness but that enhance it. “In the
Nephins you can hear the echoes of our history,” Chambers said.
“It is a place that reminds us of our suffering and our struggles for
freedom. It’s all worth protecting.”
Just as the Nephin Range had been pulling at me all week
so, too, were the words of the late Northern Irish poet Seamus
Heaney, in his poem “Bogland”:
Our pioneers keep striking
Inwards and downwards
Every layer they strip
Seems camped on before.
Now we had finally gone under, toward the bottomless wet center.
Here you could feel the seep and drip of time— the Irish elk and
the bodies of the bog— all sinking inexorably toward the island’s
deep core. The seeds of wilderness were there, too, germinating
in that dark sanctuary, reaching upward toward the surface. A
In the gravel parking lot
behind the blue Laundromat
I find raspberries, though here
in the rain arched canes are rare.
Haven’t been on land in weeks—
it seems everything could knock
me over: the top steam stack leaks
the smell of fish rot and bleach.
I find the exact wood screws
I need in the hardware store.
There’s fresh water, hot showers,
clothes warm out of the dryer,
a bar full of strangers, cell service,
an apple, and this berry patch
where feral plants have blossomed
and bear tiny ruby drupelets.
I want to eat each one. I
want to walk back to the boat,
cupping the whole harvest, leave
nothing for the rest of town.
In the sink, the berries glint
roe-colored. I see, somehow,
salmon thrashing in black nets.
Berry-pink pearls spawned on deck.
Each day someone does something
worse to another so what
does it matter if I eat
all the raspberries alone?
What could possibly happen
if I placed each in the palm
of another: one for her,
for him, for me, for you?
— Sierra Golden