From Newfoundland to Ireland with Marconi

Winter, 1907. You live in Clifden in western Ireland, and your favorite way to spend the rare clear-skied evening (after a hard day of farming or herding or shopkeeping) is to walk up the hill to the monument.

The sunsets are gorgeous over the Atlantic ocean, and as dusk falls you can look south to see a man-made lightning show. Sparks dance over eight huge wooden masts marking a rectangle 1,000 feet long by 200 wide. The masts support 52 wires running lengthwise across the top, which fan down at one end into a single wire connected to a mysterious building. The entire apparatus is over 200 feet tall, and when the wind is right you might hear the electricity crackling.

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Mercury in the Bath

August, 2017: the sun is shining on the edge of North America, but the foghorn still cries its warning to the clouded sea. Two paired blasts per 60 seconds; a signature to identify location by sound. In the dark, you need to know which horn you’ve heard.

This is Cape Race lighthouse, which holds one of the last remaining hyper-radial Fresnel lenses ever made. Perched on the southern coast of Newfoundland, it offers the first sighting of land for ships crossing the Atlantic. Oh, and it’s got nearly 800 pounds of liquid mercury at the top.

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“Do Not Become Casual with Stressing Procedure”

February, 2021: Crouched between bushes at the top of a steep hill, listening and watching for activity.

First sighting from inside the perimeter: a huge hare, bounding between stacks of scattered concrete beams, beams left like a child’s building blocks to gradually erode and gather moss and become part of the Irish landscape.

Alone, then. Hares aren’t known for liking human activity. We scramble down, and in.

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How to decide if you’re up for hiking Slieve League (because obviously you’re thinking about it)

Yesterday I hiked Slieve League, a.k.a. Sliabh Liag, a.k.a. some of the highest sea cliffs in Europe (located in County Donegal in Northwest Ireland). They’re three times higher than the more famous Cliffs of Moher, for those keeping score, and when you reach the top, you’re standing at the edge of a nearly 2,000-foot sheer drop to the North Atlantic. To get there, you have to drive on remote, single-track, casually-sign-posted Irish roads for several hours, and then hike for several more. In other words, this is 100% my jam. Off the beaten track? Check. Spectacular? Check. Challenging? Check. Kinda hipster, as in “I skipped the tourist attraction and went to the REAL thing instead”? Check.
BUT is it something you’d like, too? Here’s a little 10-question multiple-choice questionnaire I put together to help you decide, now that I know all the things firsthand.

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