The most beautiful place I have ever been I went without a camera. I had my phone, and I did take pictures, but not in the way I do now. I took pictures with the goal of remembering, telling myself “don’t forget this moment”. Of course, the pictures don’t so much matter, because it wasn’t the image I was telling myself not to forget; it was the feeling.
The whole thing was spontaneous in a way that I am usually not. “You know what we should do Friday?” a classmate asked over dinner the night before. So four of us booked spots on a cheap tour bus, because hey, why not, when in Rome, and we got up early to get on that bus for a three-hour drive.
I suppose the thought at some point crossed my mind that maybe the drive wasn’t worth the place, but this wasn’t any sort of pilgrimage for me. It was not premediated, and I had no expectations. And to some extent I was just as excited about the ride— driving places gives you a respect for the earth like flying never will. You can’t see the landscape in a plane, watch plains change to foothills, and foothills to mountains. There is nothing connecting you to the ground you are traveling over.
But a 6-hour round trip drive from Dublin felt negligible from the cliff tops. Standing a few feet—okay a few yards—from a 700-foot drop, with sheets of wind racing up the rock and blowing you back, everything else in the whole world fell away.
People say that happens when you fall in love, that the whole world falls away. Nothing else matters, in a crowded room you are alone.
I was alone with the Cliffs in that way. The paths were crowded, and the air was full of laughs of strangers, but still it was just me, and the grass, the way the ground vanished and plunged down, down to a rocky coast below. It was me and the call of the puffins nesting below, and looking down rather than up at the birds flying, the way waves looked like ripples but must have been massive. Me and the thin purple line of the Aran Islands in the distance, the faint slopes of Connemara. Me and the adrenaline, and the void that was that dizzying drop to the sea, and a feeling of utter insignificance. The Cliffs did not care who I was, or where I had come from; they simplify persisted, carved out by the wind in the waves.
I remember eventually looking to my friend next to me and saying “I think this is the most beautiful places I have ever seen.”
I used to think that beautiful places are formulaic—color, light, and a striking landscape, preferably with flowers.
That’s not why the Cliffs were the most beautiful place I have ever been. The Cliffs are beautiful because they made me feel something, because they sucked the air out of my lungs, both from thrill and fear. I felt small and insignificant, but at the same time felt it mattered that I was there.
I felt like I belonged on the side of that cliff on that day. Like I was meant to have that wind tear through my hair and tug at my scarf. The birds danced, and the waves crashed and the wind chipped away at the Cliffside as it has year after year, and I was a part of that for just a second.