A few years ago we were touring the Green Isle of Ireland. The places we saw were lovely and quaint, historic and monumental. The people were friendly and warm from the Dingle Peninsula to Waterford, Dublin to County Cork, I loved it all. But that is a different story. This is a tale of the decision to go to the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland, which actually isn’t Ireland but a part of the United Kingdom. You can tell it is the United Kingdom because as you are driving along the tree lined paved road, you reach a check point made up of basically a parked car and a couple of security guards who look at your passports and let you continue along the way across an invisible boundary you may not have noticed otherwise. What is obvious however is that every pub sign has changed from Guiness to Harps, the kilometer speed limit signs are now in measurements of miles per hour and catholic churches have become protestant.
We had decided to see the Giant’s Causeway based on some tour research I had done before the trip. We had basically seen everything else on the list and on this particular two day/one night allotment we could travel to Belfast or see this amazing natural phenomenon; which proved too intriguing for me to pass up. Upon arrival to the tourist center we received some maps of optional trails and brochures of historical facts and legends of folklore about the site. The mythological tale has something to do with a giant building the causeway to Scotland, only to find another giant on the other side. There is some sort of fight challenge and one of them flees, destroying the causeway behind him. In actuality it has to do with a volcanic eruption many moons ago and the reaction to the cooling of lava. The result is about 40,000 pillars of rock or “interlocking basalt columns” in mostly hexagonal shapes (some with 5,7, and 8 sides) that at their tallest are about 39 feet and look like something straight out of some outer space B movie.
The walk from the visitor’s center to the natural wonder was a hike in itself. We noticed a bus transporting visitors directly to the site from the center and we made a mental note to ourselves that we would definitely take the bus back. I can’t remember how long it took us to reach the Giant’s Causeway, only that it was a trek. Owen was carrying Isaiah in a Kelty pack on his back and I had a travel/diaper-bag backpack and it seemed worth not having to walk the distance on our return.
The site was extraordinary. The gray geometric pillars make stepping stones and 3D hills that seem more like pixels or a Q*bert game than the landscapes we’re used to seeing. They lead to walls of more basalt columns on one side and fade away into the ocean on the other. I was amazed. They are confounding in a way, almost unbelievable, contradicting what you know to be true and totally astounding. Definitely worth seeing and the right decision. After some exploration, it was starting to reach dusk and it was time to head back to the visitor center (and our rental car).
As we were heading toward the pick up point for the bus transport we noticed a short trail to a staircase on the side of a cliff. We obviously couldn’t see over the cliff, but since we had walked the route around and down the rock wall on the other side it seemed to be a short cut back to the visitors center. Besides, the shortest distance from point A to point B is a straight line, so this direct path up was certain to save us some steps!
The events that transpired next are almost as difficult to comprehend as the Giant’s Causeway. From the bottom of the cliff the amount of steps seemed easily doable. Somewhere along the way they became insurmountable. There didn’t seem to be any sense in going down to catch the bus, we figured we were about halfway up the cliff by this point anyway. Besides the fickle stormy weather of Northern Ireland and the Atlantic Ocean had begun to turn and the winds were picking up and dark clouds were rolling in. Our only option was to persevere. We continued the endless journey as it began to rain. The winds were blowing so hard that it made it difficult to see in front of us. We secured a rain jacket around the baby and kept going. It was all I could do to put one foot ahead of the other. My muscles were fatigued from all of our earlier exploration and climbing the stairs seemed impossible. Around this time, the rain had turned into snow and the winds were full of gust. The strangest thing I had ever seen was the snow was literally coming up from the ground. The force of air hitting the rock face was blowing the snow upward- defying all laws of gravity! I remember being in awe of the crazy weather, and the sting of windburn on my face. At this point I was concerned for the baby. The top of the cliff was slowly coming in sight and I told Owen just to go on ahead, take Isaiah and get him into the safety of the building. He sped to the top and looked down to check on me, a few flights behind. I waved him on and he left.
Seeing Owen reach the top was incentive for me, and I knew I could do it. I was almost to the home stretch and would be warm and dry soon. However, when I reached the top I was surprised not to see the visitor center but a trail cut through some tall grasses. It was almost like a maze, but without the multiple choice. The only way was to keep going forward, weaving back and forth through the rugged path. Eventually I could see some farm houses in the distance. I honestly questioned if I could even make it to them if I had to, and I wondered if they could see me. I thought if I dropped right here they wouldn’t even know, I would be hidden by these tall grasses. By now my face was numb and my legs were jelly. I was thinking about Owen carrying Isaiah and how disappointed he must have been that the visitor’s center was so far away. I thought that he must be worrying about me and feeling helpless since he couldn’t bring the baby out in this weather to help me and couldn’t leave him with a stranger.
So I kept going with no end in sight. I pondered how long it would be for someone to find me if something happened. I was certain no one was coming up behind me. There were no other people on the stairs and it was doubtful anyone would be heading out in these conditions with night approaching. Trying not to think about exhaustion, I thought about other people who had been in these circumstances before. And I began to have an understanding of how people “throw in the towel.” I remembered stories I had heard about how some person was found frozen in the woods sitting under a tree. I began to have these empathetic feelings of how someone in such a situation might give up. I understood that they just didn’t care anymore enough to keep going. (Not that I was going to actually going to call it quits Owen!) But I could see how the desire to stop could be greater than the will to go on.
Needless to say I pressed on and after I don’t know how many miles after the stairs (maybe just one, maybe several) I saw the building. And I expected them to have their faces pressed to the glass anticipating my arrival. As the glass doors became more visible I looked for them to start waving, so I could wave back and let them know I made it! But I didn’t see them and that didn’t make sense. I went in through the first set of doors, and no one was there. I went through the second set of doors and still not one familiar face. I began to survey the building and there they were… in the souvenir shop, playing with toys! Here I was, returning from the brink…, and they didn’t even notice I was gone!
After I relayed my disappointment and listened to the nonsense about keeping the baby happy, we patronized the tea room and let my face thaw. I guess you could say all’s well that ends well; I’m here to tell the story! And in retrospect I left with seeing one of the most amazing natural occurrences in the world; and a new perspective on humanity.