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Tuesday, August 24, 2010


It is a cool, damp overcast day in Albany.
Mick and Paddy are out in the backyard
sniffing the air and looking at the sky.

They know another summer of their lives
is on the wane. Soon the leaves will turn
brilliant colors as the nights get cooler.

They are cool weather dogs having been
born in the Fall. Nine years ago they were
pups frolicking in the frosty Autumn air
beneath the White Pine and chasing one
another around the spruces and cedars.

They love the snow and winter. I know
they are looking forward to our winter
walks in the woods on the nearby mountain.

They tolerate living in the city, but they
are happiest running loose in the fields
and meadows.

The backyard is quiet this day. No bees at
work around the flowers. No birds chirping
in the trees. No squirrels trying to raid the
bird feeder.

Paddy and Mick sense that change is in
the air. In their behavior and eyes I know
that they are thinking about the mystery
of life and how they seasons of our lives
quickly pass by.

102 years ago this day, Grandfather Mike
drew his last breaths, at age 34, in the hot
dry desert air of the Nevada gold mining
camp of Rhyolite, near Death Valley.
Grandmother Julia was near death with
typhoid. My father, Rob, George and Lizzie
all had scarlet fever.

Many miles to the North in the bustling
mining town of Butte, Montana, 
Grand Uncle Black Jim was tending bar
in his saloon on the Anaconda Road in
Dublin Gulch. Bridie Soonish and her
husband were doing the same at the
Five Mile House, near St Patrick's
Many others were going down in the
mine shafts to dig copper.

Great grandfather Sean Harrington
A Buaile (Sean of the Field) breathed
his last, at age 67, his lungs ravaged
by the quartz dust of the mines. The
fate of all miners.

Pats Cohou lived to his  late eighties.
Pats  told me, he was wise enough to get
out the mines as quickly as he could.
Pats worked in the Butte brewery

Miners con they called it.

Sean  lived many years longer than
most of the relations who went mining
in Butte. Most died in their twenties
and thirties. Sean did not emigrate from
Beara until he was in his fifties. So, his
lungs were clear from breathing the sea
air that blows in from the Atlantic over
the mountains and glens of the Beara

Sean lived longer than two of his sons
who emigrated with him. Both died
in their early twenties.

Around late August 1968, I was in Butte
and met Nellie O Sullivan A Buig, who
was in her late 8o's. Nellie was a relation
from the next farm in Inchinteskin. Her
mind was clear as the mountain air.

Nellie knew my grandfather Mike and
all that family well.

In 1904, Nellie went first to relations in
the copper mining area of   Upper Michigan.
Black Jim, paid her way to Butte, where
she lived out her days.

Nellie and my father's sister Liz could
have been twins. Same stature, looks
lilting speech, eyes and demeanor.

Nellie told me of life in Butte. The
thick smog from the mines and smelters.
Mines being worked around the clock.
Three 12 hour shifts. Mine and train 
whistles, noise, dust, moments of joy
and more of sadness.

Yet, Nellie loved Butte, and said she
wouldn't live anywhere else. Hundreds
and hundreds of relations were there
over the years to keep her company,
if only for a while.

Nellie lived on with her memories. She
was kind enough to allow me to record
a few.

Hard rock mining was a hard life, indeed.

                                            Joe Sullivan

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