The story goes that many years ago Johnny Cash was in a plane flying over Ireland. Gazing down he exclaimed, “There must be forty shades of green down there!” From those words he penned the following lyrics:
“I close my eyes and picture the emerald of the sea.
From the fishing boats at Dingle to the shores of Dunardee
I miss the river Shannon and the folks at Skibbereen
The moorlands and the midlands with their forty shades of green.”
Ireland is green because it rains here, a lot. If there were once forests they are mostly gone. In their place are endless seas of grass, broken only by ancient stone walls erected by the long dead but not forgotten. Grass in forty shades of green.
It stays green for but a season and then bends to its permanent sleep upon the fields, hillsides, and valleys of this enchanted land. Generations of verdant blades climb one upon the other, blackening in the acidified and oxygen deprived bogs. Carbon is captured, compressed, and becomes the precursor of bituminous coal at the rate of one millimeter each year, one inch every quarter century, a yard in a millennium.
Four thousand years ago the Hibernians learned of necessity that the common turf upon which they tread and under which they buried their dead could be dried to burn and warm hearth and home. They knew the pleasant glow, the spicey fragrance, and the cinder free and nearly ashless firebox of the morning. The “wizards” of a distant future would render the poetry of this warming stuff into cold calculations:
• It covers nearly 2% of Earth’s land.
• It has twice the energy potential of unseasoned firewood.
• It has captured and holds over 500 billion tons of greenhouse carbon from the atmosphere… an unimaginable mass of over 4 trillion cubic meters of the dark stuff.
This is peat. It has preserved the victims of ritual sacrifice, until their discovery and “resurrection” allowed these mute dead to speak their story in the language of archeologists, pathologists, and geneticists.
This is peat. It’s vapors roast malts that color and flavor select whiskeys of Ireland and the whisky of Islay Scotland.
This is the dark brown peat that was once forty shades of green.
Peace Everyone. “Peat”
We leave the Republic of Ireland tomorrow and head into Belfast, Northern Ireland. Some images from today follow.