Your first big trip.

Tomorrow is Saint Patrick's Day, and we have a dear friend coming over from Dublin for a couple of weeks. She's the same friend that hosted us when my grandmother took me across the sea for the first time at fourteen years old.

It's funny what sticks in your heart and mind on your first big trip, even when it's been a decade and a half (or longer!). Writerly note: Sometimes, when you're writing about memories, or you want to write about a particular person, place, experience, or situation, the best way to start is to make a bulleted list. It doesn't really matter how you say what you want to say; first, it just needs to get out on paper. Then you can go back and see what stands out, what needs filling in, what else the memories stir in you.

A bulleted list! Here we go - Ireland, 2002...

- How the eight hour plane ride felt like nothing and the airplane dinner tasted delicious

- Looking down upon squares upon squares upon squares of green from the sky

- The swooping sensation of being on the "wrong" side of the road in the car, as if I were leaning too far to the left and couldn't regain equilibrium...

- Walking into the house and looking around and going out to the garden and again, this feeling of unbalance, disbelief almost, that this was a house and a garden but on a piece of land completely different from everything and anyone else I knew.

- The shifting sky over Greystones Harbour - color and cold wind intermingled, and how the sun showed up at all different angles on the green hilltop straight ahead of us. The smooth stones I picked up from the beach, now in a box in my childhood bedroom.

- Irish butter, a thing of beauty, breakfast had no equal. And how they said "half eight," not "eight thirty."

- The bright colors of Powerscourt Gardens.

- Meeting friends and family of our hosts, who all came over for dinner one night, and feeling so special as the visitors from faraway.

- Going through at least four rolls of film in the first two days; we wouldn't get a digital camera until the next summer.

- Driving up into the hills of Wicklow to Glendalough, and the rushing water, the dark green of the eternal forest, standing small gazing up at ancient stone. I had only just seen The Fellowship of the Ring, and I hadn't read the books yet or paid much attention to the movie the first time around (ha!), but it reminded me of my surroundings; at the very heart of earth, something about the sacredness of creation that I could not truly understand. This land held secrets I couldn't find if I searched for years. How the winds on the lower lake seemed calm until a storm, complete with hail, rushed us to our car.

- Getting Chinese takeout, which felt so normal.

- Waterford and Wexford, we only went to Wexford, but for some reason the two are crystallized together in my mind. The hotel we stopped at on the way back from Wexford to eat lunch.

- After lunch, we stopped in Ferns - I don't know where it is, I just know that's its name - pulled over in the car because one of us spotted the ruins of a church in the midst of a green field, and a cemetery full of stones stained with age. It was cold and whipping wind, and I ran back towards the car from the far end of the stones, "Nana, Nana! I found the grave of a king!"

- A day out in Dublin: The peppermint foot scrub I bought because it seemed luxurious and smelled stingingly fresh, and I kept the empty tin in my bathroom drawer in Atlanta for at least two years afterward, and sometimes I would sniff it just to remember that I had actually been in Ireland. The name of the department store and restaurant, Kilkenny's, and how lemonade wasn't sweet, but strong. Cigarette smell floating. Buying Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, the British version; it still has the Euro barcode on the back. Snapping photos of the colorful Georgian style front doors and - were we walking or driving? - standing in between two doors, a big beef of a man wearing a tight t-shirt shouted cheerily, "Eh, take me picture then!" The swans on the lake in the park where we stopped before dinner. Roly's Bistro, and the white clothed round table where we sat.

- That night, seeing Beauty and the Beast the musical at the Point Theatre on the River Liffey, and it was as if the movie had never even existed. The songs hit me all afresh, the musical interludes swept me up, the added numbers glorious in their depth and heat (example A). In those two hours, my eyes were starry, and I felt truly on the brink of something new - starting high school in the fall, thinking of all the boys I had ever liked, wondering what stories I could tell with pen and ink... What was next? What would happen?

- The last day: We saw the Book of Kells and the Long Room and I wrote postcards in smeary gel pens, half of which I never sent. Took a photo in front of the Molly Malone statue on Grafton Street. Went to the airport, and hugged our friends farewell. The plane wheels lifted off from ground of my ancestors and I thought, Ireland, my feet will touch your ground again.

On a late night six and a half years later, I remembered that moment, when rubber hit runway, carrying me to Erin once again, and I knew the green was there, even in the darkness.