The first time we met she was winter-cold and grey. A chill wind furrowed her face. Her bones showed through broken skin and blunt teeth appeared amid a lather of foam. Even the sky was weeping, as if mourning her aged state. I passed by.
Spring brought me back on another dark day with low cloud driven inland from the open Atlantic. It poured over far-off hills, a river of cloud leaving inches of rain in its wake. At midday the sky rent apart to reveal impossible blue and admit widening beams from above. The light fell on sodden gorse and set aflame a blaze of glorious colour and when we walked among it we found the orange cream of cowslip and sulphured primrose; we found the edge of the stream lined with kingcup gold and on the fen a dazzling, crowding horde of miniature suns craning to drink full measure, a new constellation of dandelion, daisy, water avens and more.
Afraid to miss a moment we hurried to the lake and stood amid shards of broken blue, as if the sky had shattered and fallen to decorate the wild ground. Spring gentians, here, in Mayo! And there again was Carra, boisterous and blue, her white-topped waves leaping at the flowered shore, each one holding shades of every colour seen.
‘You thought you knew me did you?’ She splashed and sang. ‘Come! Come! There’s more within!’
We spent the year at her side, or what of it we could, and came to know her moods. She looked best with the wind from the south and especially so through the long days of midsummer, when islands and islets became orchid droves and the eager breeze a balm of cinnamon and clove.
Wild rose and woodbine clambered about those wooded isles. As we sat in the dappling shade of Scots pine and ash, whitethorn and whitebeam, blackthorn and buckthorn, and saw drifts of Painted lady scouring low bramble for ripened fruit or watched feisty Speckled wood vie for the sunniest seat in the glade, or had Holly blue skip past on her way to nowhere, or studied the Grayling as she angled her wings to the sun we became as children, utterly absorbed in Carra’s green tresses and the treasures wrapped within.
There came one day the water sparkled uncommonly blue, beckoning us offshore of Annies where we were greeted by a hovering carpet composed of incalculable thousands of damselflies. Great trout leaped and splashed to snatch them from the air in such numbers that we thought every fish in the lake must have converged on one small, emerald bay.
Entranced and enthralled by our surroundings we found books and read to learn of the hardworking herdsmen and shepherds who farmed the land which feeds Carra’s streams, of the quarryman and the woodsman who dwelt in the cottage on furrow or rise, of de Staundun and Moore, Lynch-Blosse, the Blakes and the Brownes, historical figures who fell for the allure of this most lovely of all lowland loughs.
Who, before I, had found and marvelled at the endless array of wonders spilled from Carra’s skirts? Who had dipped between the softly rounded mounds of Twin Islands, scaled the walls of a Medieval castle, caught a silver Carra trout, found otters, the nest of a rail, eaten on Pleasure Island and slept on another in one glorious day? Who had rowed home over that silvered mirror of night-lough, with moon and stars above and below, lighting and leading the way? Who’s dreams has Carra filled, as mine?