So you want to be a Jedi?
To preface, I was ready for a life change. Some might say Jedi is a rather ambitious option, but I say, you’ve gotta start somewhere. The five years spent up until this point, I was a buyer, at what I consider my alma mater, the luxury e-commerce site, Moda Operandi. Summer was approaching and it was time to lay the Marni and Manolo’s to rest. Beyond my fashion background, I am a naturalist at heart and was voracious to explore the natural world again. I had a plan to leave New York for two months, and with three weddings to attend in Morocco, Italy and Germany, from May to July, I had plenty of time to find adventures. It was June, on a Monday, in London that I found myself with no plan for the next ten days, and started thinking about how I wanted to feel, where did I want to be. I kept envisioning myself at the edge of a cliff, alone, looking out into the horizon, the rain whipping at my face, the wind rolling down my back and only my internal voice and the triumphant combustion of clouds overhead to answer to. Call it melancholy, call it whatever you want, but beyond all the cacophony of life one must take a time out, go wild. I was a girl gone wild.
My trip was created organically, and only took about two days to solidify. I literally googled Irish cliffs and was immediately down a rabbit hole of fisherman villages and surf towns where hand woven knits and daily caught sea urchin were the entirety of life’s pleasures. In the midst of planning, a friend of mine mentioned the Skellig Islands… I had never heard of them, “You know, where they filmed the last scene in Star Wars where the girl meets Luke Skywalker.”… As a Star Wars fan, and as a Star Wars fan who had assumed that last scene was filmed near New Zealand, I was in shock for a moment, until that moment was over and then it became pretty clear how this trip was gonna go. The journey stood to fly from London direct to Shannon, a tiny town in a crevice on the south western coast of Ireland. From Shannon, taxi to the port of Doolin, hitch a ferry to the isolated Arans Islands, from the Arans to Dingle a small surf town further south, and from Dingle to Valentia Island, one the southern most points in Ireland and from there take a boat to my final destination, the Skelligs. I found all my homes on Airbnb and would have to negotiate on the fly with local taxi services to get from town to town as I could not drive on the other side of the road. The only tricky bit was getting to the Skelligs, according to multiple 1990’s style online forums, you can only get to the islands via fisherman boats, there is no formal tourism as there is no formal dock and it entirely depends on the weather and tides. You see, the islands are two large rock formations 1.5 hours from any shoreline in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, and you pretty much need to sail through a hurricane to get there..
With only a pair of Sportiva hiking boots, Carrie Forbes rattan sandals, my Hayward hat, two pairs of pants, two sweaters and my Army vest I embarked on a solo journey to Ireland ….
So what does this have to do with being a Jedi? Apart from the obvious Star Wars set location, and being vehemently against any kind of freaky movie reenactments (yes people do that), I shall explain. Star Wars, noted in the Guinness Book of World Records for being the most successful film merchandising franchise, is probably one of the most widely known stories on earth, maybe more so than certain religions. It preaches the powers of the force, a source of energy that flows through all life, all nature, all space and bonds everything together. The force has a light side and a dark side reminiscent of the potential relationship between the higgs boson and dark matter, for instance. It is all encompassing like a universal mind, which also got me thinking about Carl Jung’s collective unconscious. In my own exploration and retreat into the natural world, and after years of fashion forecasting and seeing trends, I too, was searching for the thing which connects all things and for that one must go to the source. The Skellig Islands were originally inhabited in the 12th Century by Christian monks who moved to the rocks and the sea in order to get away from civilization, be closer to God and understand the meaning of life. Seemed like a good place to start.
Upon my arrival in Shannon, I organized a taxi to take me to the port of Doolin and bought a ticket on the aptly named, Happy Hooker ferry, to get to the The Arans Islands. The Arans, are a group of three islands with a total population of 1200 people. The attraction or lack thereof to the islands and its culture is due to the fact that it is very much an isolated community, consisting of farmers and fisherman who do not engage with tourism, nor mainstream media, nor luxuries of the outside world. It is said that even their temperament is influenced by the extreme weather conditions which surround them. After purchasing my ticket I walked down to the pier with the most intense wind pushing at my back that made my hair stand on end. I looked out at the turquoise almost tropical blue Atlantic Ocean, which was quite alarming for Ireland and honestly, took a deep breath. In the distance, I saw her, bouncing gleefully towards me, a true Happy Hooker.. if there ever was one.
I road that hooker all the way to Inishmaan, the middle and least populated of the three islands. I spent three days there, wandering, hiking and meeting myself at the edge of cliffs. I stayed in an Airbnb with my host, Martin and his family, Martin was a local fisherman. There was no wifi, and I was slightly disoriented when I arrived from the lack of, well, everything.
The entire island is a grid of karst limestone which dates back to the Visean age, approx. 400 million years ago. The limestone walls were built in the 12th century alongside a simple church which is now called Kilcananagh. You can walk for miles and traverse the entire island using these limestone paths as a guide and most likely never see another soul. The highlight was walking one afternoon for seven hours to a set of distant cliffs my waitress from the evening before had told me about. I began at an open expanse of stone plates which I hopped from one to the next as if in some intergalactic medieval tap dance. As you move from plate to plate the sound was like the clacking of a large and hollow high heel… Is that you oh eternal fashion god? Decider of trends?... Maybe not..moving on.. Passing the meadow you enter a narrow labyrinth of stonewalls that takes you a solid thirty minutes to traverse. I finally started to see the cliffs ahead of me and the ground below began to change shape. The texture of the stone became more sponge like. The cliffs ahead were black and doomed with white waves and mist that thundered up its edges. My heart pounded with excitement but I still had to cross the last 30 hundred feet which became much less stable and was literally just a pile of rocks. I carefully took each step undoubtedly losing my balance and then just said fuck it, threw caution to the wind and started a high knee child’s run up the piles, climbing higher and higher, finally reaching the cliffs. The sensation of these diabolical ends after hiking all day, not a soul in sight, and only a violent symphony of the water beneath me was quite fulfilling to say the least. I could only get about ten feet from the edge as my shoes started slipping due to an invisible algae which covered the surface. If I had fallen to my death no one would have none. The waves crashed in the distance and beneath me, mist rolled up the sides and sea foam broke off and flew upwards. It swirled past me and had a cyclical movement that reminded me of a DNA strand. With the wind chasing me, the sky changed from rain to sun to cloud within minutes of each other as if in a time lapse or some kind of psychedelic hallucination. I sat for at least an hour with myself, with the wind, with these cliffs. Without any crazy realizations, I felt closer to something. I felt a sense of trust in myself, and felt that sense extend itself past my physical body, past my finger tips and into thin air.
Next stop was Ballyferriter, an even smaller town near the surf town of Dingle, where I was to stay with Peter the German, as he called himself. I arrived by four hour taxi which I had negotiated the previous day with Aidan, the ferry agent, who called me while I was cliffside to confirm price and pick up. When we arrived at Peter’s “territory” I was astounded. I say territory, because it truly was its own state. A reverend in WWI had been given this property by Winston Churchill, Peter had purchased it in an auction in 1972 and rebuilt from scratch. Like something out of Swiss Family Robinson, stood roughly five huts and houses all sitting atop a rocky cove with a private beach at its feet. The houses were all connected via rope bridges and narrow paths. Peter gave me an tour of the entire property and then showed me his office. The walls of the office were lined with old postcards, maps and paintings as if an adventure critic had left his active days behind but not his purpose or his memories. Old fashioned tools covered his desk, protractors, rulers and the maps on the wall had pinned string connecting multiple locations around the world. Outside past the office, across a rope bridge connecting two rock points was the furthest of the four houses, Peter’s shack. The hut was practically teetering off the side of the rocks, it felt as though it could fall at any moment, and yet it didn’t, it stayed solid through the many gusts of wind which tried to knock it down. The shacks best feature was an outdoor bathroom where you would let nature call right off the cliff itself. Once Peter was finished showing me the different homes, the best was yet to come. His dogs Dora and Bruno ran passed us and through the backdoor, I followed them as they led me to a secret area of the beach like something out of Pirates of the Caribbean. Natural caves and arch openings with passages that led straight into the ocean. It was as if I had arrived in Never Neverland. Was he Peter Pan?
Whoever he was, his home, his dogs were a beautiful representation of how to live life. The people, the animals, the architecture and the nature all lent itself to one another as if connected by some unknown….force. I sat by the beach the entire afternoon with Bruno and Dora as we searched for barnacles and explored the ecosystem. They barked and ran around me as I painted watercolors of the sky and its various rainbows. I didn’t think of the past or the future, just held the present and its ways of moving from one moment to the next and felt that trust which began at the Aran cliffs alchemize with this place. I fell asleep in my little wooden suite as if in a dream or fairytale with the dogs at my door, the wind whistling and the moon above me.
Peter greeted me in the morning and dropped me at the taxi which would take me to Valentia Island and then onto the Skelligs. Crossing the bridge through the small yet colorful fishing town named Port Mcgee, we finally arrived on the single road of Valentia Island where Anthea my host was waiting for me. Up to her waist in mud, she greeted me with enthusiasm and urgency. Anthea, an ambitious hotelier was working at the construction site across the street of her up and coming vintage airstream style hotel, a novel concept to her as she had never heard of El Cosmico, but something she believed in after years of working at festivals like Glastonbury. Her genius was ahead of her time when it comes to small fishing towns but nothing stopped her and I learned this over the next three days of staying with her.
I was supposed to leave the next day to Skellig Michael and then back to London, nevertheless, when you set course for the unknown you are bound the change your plans. My initial departure was cancelled due to the weather and with all other days fully booked with the ten fisherman boats, my future to the Skelligs was looking dim.
Anthea came to my rescue, after bonding over both being Aquarius and our sense of independence, she contacted her friend John, a fisherman in Cahiersdaniel who takes people to the Skelligs with his four dogs on board for a torrential two hour journey. However, I was only allowed on the boat as a deckhand. The twelve seats on John’s boat were already taken. I had never been a deckhand before but was more than willing and ready to take this responsibility very seriously.
Two days past and I was finally going to the Skelligs! Anthea’s niece dropped me off at the port and wished me luck, I had no rain jacket and felt absurd and unprepared with only several layers and the army vest. Everyone around me seemed overprepared, and dressed as if in some neon EDM Gortex tribe, all with zippers and hoods and secret compartments, it didn’t match the scenery at all in my opinion. However, I did begin to fear for my warmth and potential to catch pneumonia. Finally, the boat arrived to pick us all up and I smiled into John’s bright blue eyes and introduced myself as Emilie, his deckhand! He smiled back. I hopped on the boat and in my best efforts at my new job, even if temporary, observed all corners of the vessel, reviewed the people and watched as John brought forth humongous fisherman raincoats and pants to go over everyone’s clothes. I jumped up and began passing them out to all the guests. John then had me untie the ropes and pull up the buoys. He nodded and pointed left and right as I scurried around and popped up on either side of the boat completing these tasks, ready to embark! Everyone on the boat assumed I was his daily, professional deckhand and it was thrilling to live this pirate of a lie.
John informed every one of the Rules of Sea-Sickness, “First ya stand up if that doesn’t work, lie down and close your eyes. The stomach begins to hurt because you are sitting down and scrunching your organs, standing up releases the pressure, oh, and if you have to use the toilet please do not slam the door.” However, no one could be prepared for the two-hour raging rainstorm ride in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. It felt like a scene from a silent film. The boat tilted from side to side as sick passengers flung from corner to corner running to the bathroom and slamming the door. After about an hour I myself had to lie down from nausea, John let me sleep on a wooden bench next to him in the captains deck. After about thirty minutes I felt the warmth of the sun on my face and a light spray of ocean on my eyelashes. I peeled open one eye and shut it quickly for a moment as a strong sun beam flooded my perspective; in front of me stood the largest, most beautiful rock I had ever seen. It had about four peaks and multiple jagged edges it was a fortress floating in the water with thousands of birds either circling or sitting on it. A true monolith. This was the first of two Skelligs, the “Small Skellig”, a bird sanctuary never to be touched by humans. I looked back at John in amazement and removed my raincoat suit. I had sweat through all my clothes but didn’t care. All of the sudden the second and even larger rock was almost directly above us and I ran to raise the buoys and tie up the ropes. I gathered all the guest’s raincoats and watched as the boat saddled up next to a rock stairwell to be used as a dock. I was the last to leave the boat, I jumped onto the slippery stairs and took my first foot forward on Skellig Michael, the second and larger of the two islands. I looked and peered up the rounded trail which lay ahead. I had made it.
The island is made up of giant peaks and one massive rock stairwell that twists as you ascend and descend, seemingly endless, a stairway to heaven. It is also rampant with puffins, who are just about the cutest little birds you ever saw, thousands of them in every corner. When you get to the top of the stairs you arrive at a small community of dome limestone huts where the monks in 1100 AD lived and where, in the film, the Jedi religion is based. I hiked around to all sides of the island, and once at the top removed all my layers and sat in my t-shirt; body content, mind clear.
What I felt while on that island, I can barely put into words. The achievement of finally reaching this peak, the characters that helped along the way, every taxi, every home, every conversation, led up to this moment. The most beautiful place I have ever been would be an understatement. I had journeyed through an unceasing savage storm, arrived on a rock in the middle of the ocean where the sky cracked open to unveil the sun and the bluest sky I have ever witnessed. I closed my eyes and realized what I saw outside is the same as what I saw inside myself. The journeys, peaks, highs, lows, storms, calm blue skies and a shining sun which reside within us all and connect us.
So, the question isn’t if you want to be a jedi, you already are, it is within you.
The question is, how far do you have to go to come back to yourself?
I left that island with these questions. And even after having been told no answers, I returned to London with a wild trust. Call it a force, call it the wind but as I continue to trust it, it moves and I move with it.