But when we returned to the cliffs on a later visit, we had a new plan.
For our second trip to Ireland in 2008, my husband and I did the research and opted to see the cliffs by way of a seldom-publicized hike that stretches from the Cliffs of Moher visitors center to a local landmark known as Hag's Head. Unlike our first visit, which started at the commercial hub of the official visitors center, this time our journey begins at the peaceful end of an unmarked country road. It is a glorious day at Hag's Head, sunny and mild with a gentle breeze.
As gulls fly overhead, we breathe in the sea air and set out on the gravel trail that leads to a well-worn path through the grass. To our right, the trail offers views of farmland and fences with cows grazing nearby. On our left is the cliff's edge -- a safe distance away -- with the waves of the Atlantic crashing on the rocks 700 feet below. The magnificent views of the sea and cliffs change with every step. There's no crowd here, but we do encounter other thrill-seekers, bound in both directions, who have elected to travel the same "forbidden" path.
Our two-hour amble in the countryside allows us to fully experience the cliffs, far beyond the token photograph that most visitors take at the official viewing area. But our walk comes to a close as we near the visitors center and approach the wall that signals the end of our "dangerous" venture. We give a knowing smile to those just embarking on the journey. We know the rewards that await them. And for being willing to assume the risk, they will experience something that most visitors here do not. Reluctantly, we climb over the rock wall. As we turn, we see the familiar sign: Extreme Danger! Unstable Cliffedge.
I'm glad I took a chance that day and chose to escape the comfort of my safety net. The experience reminds me that we become too secure in the familiarity of what we know and that sometimes we need to take a chance and get off the beaten path. A slight stretch outside of your comfort zone can bring moments that will mark your life and cause you to believe that more is possible! Long-forgotten dreams are reawakened, and you find yourself wondering why you've wasted so much time ... why you haven't made an effort to reach for the heights to which you once aspired.
Well-known wordsmith Henry David Thoreau penned these words in Walden:
"I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what I had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived."
The choices we make in life come with consequences, and sometimes there is risk involved. But you can't always play it safe. If you never pen the novel you long to write, never visit the place you most want to see, never endeavor to go after the job that you really want, you can trust that your life will indeed be safe … and familiar … and, most likely, unremarkable.
In another of his observations on life, Thoreau wrote:
"The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them."
Sitting here, my finger poised to hit the publish button, is a bit like standing on the edge of a cliff. As I cast my gaze out on a sea of prospective readers, I wonder: Will anyone take the time to read this? Will anyone find it meaningful? Will it just be wasted words? I don't know the answers to those questions, but I'm willing to take the chance. No risk, no reward.
So, in pursuit of a more remarkable life, I leap...
Photo by Michael D. Hughes
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