Sometimes things don’t go, after all, from bad to worse. Some years, muscadel faces down frost; green thrives; the crops don’t fail. Sometimes a man aims high, and all goes well.
A people sometimes will step back from war, elect an honest man; decide they care enough, that they can’t leave some stranger poor. Some men become what they were born for.
Sometimes our best efforts do not go amiss; sometimes we do as we meant to. The sun will sometimes melt a field of sorrow that seemed hard frozen; may it happen for you.
Parker Palmer, wise elder, posted this a couple of days ago – his pithy response to the USA midterm elections. I’m sharing it today because I like how it echoes my first post back after my writing hiatus wherein I uplifted Hafiz’s notion that our efforts add to the universe – a message I personally need to remember and feel needs to uplifted and amplified continuously for us all.
OUR EFFORTS ADD TO THE UNIVERSE. Mine. Yours. Ours. Simple. Elegant. Complex. Messy. The Universe does not judge. It simply needs our effort. So let’s get at it! One simple step…and let’s see where it takes us.
All women speak two languages: the language of men and the language of silent suffering. Some women speak a third, the language of queens. They are marvelous and they are my friends.
My friends give me poetry. If it were not for them I’d be a seamstress out of work. They send me their dresses and I sew together poems, enormous sails for ocean journeys.
My marvelous friends, these women who are elegant and fix engines, who teach gynecology and literacy, and work in jails and sing and sculpt and paint the ninety-nine names, who keep each other’s secrets and pass on each other’s spirits like small packets of leavening,
it is from you I fashion poetry. I scoop up, in handfuls, glittering sequins that fall from your bodies as you fall in love, marry, divorce, get custody, get cats, enter supreme courts of justice, argue with God.
You rescuers on galloping steeds of the weak and the wounded– Creatures of beauty and passion, powerful workers in love– you are the poems. I am only your stenographer. I am the hungry transcriber of the conjuring recipes you hoard in the chests of your great-grandmothers.
My marvelous friends—the women of brilliance in my life, who levitate my daughters, you are a coat of many colors in silk tie-dye so gossamer it can be crumpled in one hand. You houris, you mermaids, swimmers in dangerous waters, defiers of sharks–
My marvelous friends, thirsty Hagars and laughing Sarahs, you eloquent radio Aishas, Marys drinking the secret milkshakes of heaven, slinky Zuleikas of desire, gay Walladas, Harriets parting the sea, Esthers in the palace, Penelopes of patient scheming,
you are the last hope of the shrinking women. You are the last hand to the fallen knights You are the only epics left in the world
Come with me, come with poetry Jump on this wild chariot, hurry–
Quite simply, how could I not share this marvelous tribute to women?
Evoking myth and magic, ancestors and ancient, wild and wise ones throughout time…yes, women are the only epics left in a world still hell bent on trying to silence and destroy us.
In the past day’s reading of several favourite blogs, a few threads of thought shimmered and held my attention enough to ponder and weave together here…
In Transactions with Beauty, my friend Shawna Lemay shared as one of her “20 Things that Might Be Helpful,” the notion from Hafiz that our efforts are not insignificant…that through our humble efforts – none of which are irrelevant nor too important – finding the balance we add to the universe. I love this and gleaned the settling reassurance of being and doing “enough.” Thank you, Shawna, and our beloved Hafiz. Most definitely helpful.
This spun together with Robin Wall Kimmerer, her words imbued with beauty and the wisdom of her ancestors. Cited in another newsletter, she shared the teaching that by “paying” attention we give in return for the gifts we receive from Earth. As one who notices, a lot, this deeply resonated. I could take for granted such a simple gesture, but she reminds me it is an act profound precisely because our attention is fast becoming a limited resource, pulled in many directions and insidiously whittled away by myriad distractions. The question then is to what am I paying attention, and how or what does this attention serve and enliven?
My virtual friend Helen, over at Ageless Possibilities, shared her “October Reflections,” the year past and current. Closing with an invitation by way of questions – Do you do an annual reflection on changes in your life? Do you consider what has remained the same? And does that impact your life decisions? – I realized how in the last couple of weeks I’d been casually reflecting on my new vocation as writer-poet, and healthy pastime, my game of pickleball.
Despite a slow start to my game this summer, on the courts I saw how I’d developed in consistently serving well, handling the speed of a volley at the kitchen line, accurately placing more offensive shots, and in making more and better low and backhand shots. Yes, it’s still a fluke if I return a banger or a slam. The third shot drop still eludes me. And one day’s play can vary from the next. Despite saying at the outset of taking up the game several summers ago, that this would be the perfect practice for kindness – I falter, often, especially with myself. That’s why it’s called “practice,” I remind myself.
In the past year my writing efforts have borne fruits: poems published in two anthologies; writing the foreward and poetry for another; invitations to read at open mic events; my co-editing and featured writing “gig” at Sageing: The Journal of Creative Aging; and preparing a sixty poem manuscript for publication. It comes…word by word…line by line. And though reluctant to call myself “poet,” I know deep in my bones, poet is who and what I am, not just on the page, but in how I live my life.
“…attention generates wonder, which generates more attention … Paying attention to the more-than-human world doesn’t lead only to amazement; it leads also to acknowledgment of pain. Open and attentive, we see and feel equally the beauty and the wounds… Paying attention to suffering sharpens our ability to respond. To be responsible.”
Robin Wall Kimmerer
While travelling earlier this month, I had a dream which gently guided me to registering for an eight week dive into “rewilding mythology.” In all honesty I have no idea what this is. But host, Sophie Strand, and several of the faculty intrigue and have piqued my sense of wonder, intuiting this will deepen my attention to the “more-than-human world,” and sharpen my ability to notice and respond. Next weekend I’ll travel to Calgary to sit in the presence of and learn from of a beloved poet, Pádraig Ó Tuama, someone I’ve mentioned here for his Poetry Unbound podcast. And in December I’ll participate in a poetry intensive with Alberta poet Alice Major, to learn about aligning my poems into the arc of a collection.
If the “job of a human is to learn,” I’m at least part-time employed. Revisiting my slogan – “making prayer, poetry, and beauty is holy alchemy for social change” – I trust my efforts – neither irrelevant nor too important – are adding to the universe. I trust yours are adding, too.
A bird took flight. And a flower in a field whistled at me as I passed.
I drank from a stream of clear water. And at night the sky untied her hair and I fell asleep clutching a tress of God’s.
When I returned from Rome, all said “Tell us the great news,”
and with great excitement, I did: “A flower in a field whistled, and at night the sky untied her hair and I fell asleep clutching a sacred tress …”
Francis of Assisi as rendered by Daniel Ladinsky in Love Poems from God
The photo was taken during our last day of sauntering in Rome a couple of weeks ago. I was surprised to see in the foreground of “iconic” Rome -the Colosseum and Arch of Constantine -the bird perched in the tree. I loved our five days there, wandering with minimal places to be – me with the paper map and keen eye for detail helping us orient, my husband with Google Maps on his phone inevitably losing the way when it lost the signal – an evening food tour in Trastevere…
…a late morning at the Galleria Borghese…
...and a serendipitous meetup at Piazza Navona for aperitivi and dinner with traveling compani0ns from Morocco.
When I returned from Rome, I didn’t do as Francis did, though I did feel with great excitement the sacred tresses of earth and daytime sky as I walked with Annie in our neighbourhood.
It’s good to be home. Much love and kindest regards, dear friends.
It’s early Sunday night and I’m sitting in my usual space for writing. Hot cup of tea to the side. My radio station playing low in the background. The space heater blowing warm, taking off the foreboding chill. Last week I read that here in Edmonton we were having the longest run of October +20 C degree days since 1944, and today tied the record for the latest first frost. But this weekend, winter made its arrival in other parts of the province and I know it’s simply a matter of time. The wheel turns…
It’s been nearly three months since my last post, one wherein I’d announced the need for a pause…to settle into my breath, body and bones after my month long Camino, to prepare for traveling to Italy with my husband, to re-centre to purpose. Since returning from Spain in early June, I’ve had the felt sense of standing yet again on a cusp. It was an atypical summer, late in coming, the hottest August on record giving us warm, sultry, bug free evenings, and one of illness: my lengthy recovery from Covid; then my husband developing a viral infection – non Covid but with a similar symptom pattern leaving him fatigued and coughing for weeks; and I succumbing to the same a few weeks later. Our Annie dog sustained sprains and pulled muscles. My elderly father’s ever robust and vital presence began to dim.
“I’ve lost my edge,” is how my husband put it, and for the first time I saw glimpses of a wavering frailty that comes with aging. While we’ve both recovered, and are feeling well having enjoyed our unstructured time sauntering in Rome, and then touring the exquisite landscapes of Puglia (albeit in overcast skies and rain), there’s the indelible realization we have entered a new life stage. Grief with facing the endings of ways of living and being, we are staring – starkly, undeniably -at our mortality and that of those we love and cherish.
In readying myself to write tonight and to return to it as my vocation, I spent a couple of hours today catching up on the myriad of e-newsletters in my inbox, a cursory glance telling me they held a pearl or several. Below are some of the more salient bits holding my attention:
“I have this belief that an internal monoculture of peace and clarity and smooth sailing is what normal people experience, so it’s what I should experience. And if I don’t feel peaceful and clear and focused, then there’s something that needs fixing inside me… I want to reframe messiness as holy. I want to slide down and immerse myself in the murky waters of my messy heart.”
Barb Morris, “a messy mind is a healthy mind,” e-letter, September 29, 2022
“I’m curious to know if you have a line you repeat to yourself when you’re trying to sink into that necessary solitude that is at the heart of every human relationship: the relationship of yourself to yourself.”
Padraig O’Tuama, “the solitude at the heart of human relationship,” Poetry Unbound Newsletter, October 2, 2022
“We reach for hope as the antidote to despair, but actually hope is the cause of despair. The problem with hope is that it’s bipolar. Every time we rely on hope, we always bring in fear. Buddhist wisdom teaches that hope and fear are two sides of the same dynamic.”
Margaret Wheatley, “We Have to Talk About Hope,” October 19, 2022
“The rhythms of the seasons play a significant role in my own discernment. Honoring the flowering of spring and the fruitfulness of summer, alongside the release of autumn and the stillness of winter, cultivates a way of being in the world that feels deeply reverential of my body and soul’s own natural cycles. We live in a culture that glorifies spring and summer energies, but autumn and winter are just as essential for rhythms of release, rest, and incubation. When we allow the soul’s slow ripening, we honor that we need to come into the fullness of our own sweetness before we pluck the fruit. This takes time and patience.”
Christine Valters Paintner, Love Notes, Abbey of the Arts newsletter, October 22, 2022
My synthesis, in poem…
the necessary solitude that is my messy heart and mind that I sink into as an antidote to the bipolarity of hope and fear
seasons’ rhythms a discernment where now autumn’s release and soon winter’s stillness allow my soul’s ripening
I took time and patience the needed pause to recover and reveal life’s holy starkly beautiful truths
Much love and kindest regards, dear friends. It’s good to be back.
In circle work, as taught by my teachers and elder “heart sisters,” Christina Baldwin and Ann Linnea in The Circle Way, knowing when to call for a pause is a practice tenet. To regather one’s thoughts or focus, to recentre to purpose, taking a deep breath or several in silence supports the moving through and forward.
So it is that after a month of walking, and another two reflecting and writing about it here, I am pausing from writing my Monday posts. I may return to posting my Friday feature photo and poems, and in fact, have one lined up for Friday. But I’ll see how it rolls. Needing my attention this month are a few projects: writing the foreward and composing poetry for an anthology of women’s leadership in education, fine-tuning my poetry manuscript for the next round of submissions to publishers, and preparing the next issue of SAGE-ING for our September 21 online publication date.
In signing off for now, and “tucking in” my reflections on the Camino, here are beautiful words that affirm who I am and how I show up in the world, evident in my recent Camino photostories. Again, one of those timely Facebook finds:
“Are you happy? In all honesty? No. But I am curious – I am curious in my sadness and I am curious in my joy. I am everseeking, everfeeling. I am in awe of the beautiful moments life gives us, and I am in awe of the difficult ones. I am transfixed by grief, by growth. It is all so stunning, so rich, and I will never convince myself that I cannot be somber, cannot be hurt, cannot be overjoyed. I want to feel it all – I don’t want to over it up or numb it. So no, I am not happy. I am open, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
“There is a great moment, when you see, however distant, the goal of your wandering. The thing which has been living in your imagination suddenly becomes a part of the tangible world.”
Freya Stark in The Art of Pilgrimage, 1998
Waking at dawn to the sound of pilgrims’ footsteps passing by my open window, I’d prayed to the Fair Weather Goddess to hold off on the forecasted rain until our arrival in Santiago. I would, but knew walking in more rain, given my fatigue and cough would take more out of me. Despite heavy clouds during this three hour final stage, she had heard and thankfully granted my request.
It was a curious stage, through parkland and woods, meanderng into the thick urban commercial centre of the Santiago suburb, Milladoiro, where we stopped for coffee at the crowded cultural centre, then back into more eucalyptus groves. Climbing and descending, we finally reached the proverbial fork in the road with two Camino markers, each pointing the way to Santiago. Conferring in broken English with another walker, consulting the GPS and guidebook, we opted for the one pointing right. Described as the new “official” route via another suburb, A Conxo, it would be less congested and longer, but avoided a steep climb. We continued to walk in relative solitude. Crossing motorways, moving now into a consistent urban vibe, with markers few and far between, and only the occasional peregrino, identifiable with backpack and scallop shell, I was surprised by the lack of Camino energy and convergence of pilgrims I’d read about as the hard-earned destination drew nearer.
“Things are always different from what they might be.”
Henry James in The Art of Pilgrimage, 1998
From my journal: “Three hours of walking, not many pilgrims on the Way. At the crossroads we headed right to AConxo and saw no one. Arrived at Prazo do Obradoiro in time to hear the cathedral’s 12:00 pm bells and struck by how few people were gathered here in front of the cathedral. As we stood side by side, I wasn’t overtaken with feeling…instead I felt subdued, relieved to have arrived safely, and tired. Observing myself, I was surprised at my response…perhaps because I had realized a 20 year dream and now is the time to lay it down. I walk my Camino every day and now I have the stamp and certificate, so be it. But when I called home after settling in at the Parador, I cried deeply…”
It would take several weeks to unpack those tears.
At the outset of planning this walk, and for long before, I had been clear within myself about the importance of holding both the deep value of the journey, walking every day, and the significance of the destination, arriving at the plaza in front of that magnificent structure, as had thousands of pilgrims for the thousand years before me. A few years ago, when I had last given serious thought to walking, I suddenly cancelled, heeding one of those hardly articulated hunches. A few months later, it would be confirmed when I discovered that the cathedral would be closed and hidden by extensive scaffolding to undergo a multi-year restoration. I knew that if and when I ever walked, I would need, as Bettina Selby describes in The Art of Pilgrimage (1998), “what the newly arrived pilgrims see, exalted as they are at the end of the trek, and by all the magnificence and beauty they have already seen in the approach to their goal, the pool of warm golden light drawing them on.”
So yes, as I observed myself standing in front of the cathedral, taking in the final stage of arriving at my long held dream, I was surprised with my response. Where was the feeling of exaltation? Where the feeling of jubilation and accomplishment I had seen in the hundreds of photos posted by women on the Facebook site I’d followed for years? Was I subdued because I’d already been here, albeit virtually in several livestream tours a couple of years ago? Or was it a visitation by “the dragons of disappointment”? Citing from The Art of Pilgrimage (1998) archeology scholar Michael Guillen’s experience at the palace of Knossos on Crete: “I felt very little at the site itself because of all the crowds and the meddling that had been done with the restoration; the only real power I felt was in the surrounding land. I felt that the site had been transmogrified, and that the only spirits left were in the objects in the museum. I suppose this is the danger of mass pilgrimage, the loss of spirit at the site, especially when the gods flee to higher and higher places.”
In a recent chance reading of a blog by a fellow who, walking the Portuguese route had taken the right turn at the fork, passing by the historic building at A Conxo, providing the name for my photo above, he, too, wrote about being struck by his own “let down” anti-climatic response to arriving. Not at all what he had anticipated. Hmmm, I wasn’t alone, and imagine there are countless others who have felt similarly.
When I designed this walk with Paola at Portugal Green Walks, I determined it would be prudent to stay 72 hours in Santiago in compliance with the then known Covid-19 travel requirements, something that would become moot when we actually departed Canada. The same friend who had recommended PGW said in hindsight, she wished she’d stayed at the Parador in Santiago, the beautiful hotel bordering the plaza, beside the cathedral. “In for a penny, in for a pound, ” my companion agreed and so we partook of its sumptuous surroundings and the best breakfasts.
Rain finally came later that afternoon, and poured the next day, making for a perfect time to explore the historic centre, the Cathedral museum, and as luck would have it, attend the daily pilgrims’ mass. As it was Tuesday, and no one had paid the required 400 Euros, we didn’t have the experience of witnessing the famous swinging of the incense filled botofumeiro, so a view of it from the cathedral and its solid silver counterpart in the museum would have to suffice.
Despite my initial “flat” response – let’s mark it down to being sick and tired and relieved – I was enthralled with the cathedral, catching it from different perspectives at different times of day during my time in Santiago. As if to confirm and assure myself that yes, I had arrived.
That despite it having been a dream to walk the Camino, it was now very much part of my lived and waking reality, of who I now am, in the cells and fibre of my being.
That upon returning home, and devoting these past two months to its reliving, reflecting, re-imagining, and writing, I bring back the boon of some insight and self awareness, and much gratitude.
“The story that we bring back from our journeys is the boon. It is the gift of grace that was passed to us in the heart of our journey. Perhaps it was in the form of an insight into our spiritual life, a glimpse of the wisdom traditions of a radically different culture, a shiver of compassion, an increment of knowledge. All these must now be passed on. The boon…is a presence in the soul of the world that can be sensed and honored and carried home in your heart.”
Phil Cousineau, The Art of Pilgrimage, 1998
Dear readers, thank you for walking with me these several weeks. I’ve appreciated hearing from those of you who commented here and on social media, helping me to remember that while we are often walking alone together, ultimately we are all, as Ram Dass famously said, walking each other home.
Much love and kindest regards, dear friends. And to read about my walk in sequence, I’ve created a new page with all the posts titled and stages named. Buen Camino!
I am tired. I feel a heaviness in my chest, a bit of a sore throat, and some sinus congestion. I’m coughing. Today we’re having our hottest day of summer here in Edmonton. I feel much as I did that day in May walking to Padron, where the temperature there had reached 32 C, just as here today (Thursday, July 28). Here and there, now and then, the same cloudless blue sky and dry hot breeze blowing. Coincidently that was exactly two months ago to the day.
I am weary. Remembering, reliving, reflecting on nearly twenty consecutive days and over 240 kilometers walked, with its insights and lessons, joys and griefs, blessings and ordeals… through the elements, immersed in beauty. I am in as much need of completing this written journey, as I was then of finishing the physical one. Careful though, both then and now, to not “snatch defeat from the jaws of victory” – a wise instruction received many years ago from a wise woman – describing our human propensity for distraction and derailment from realizing our intentions. I did then and will here continue, complete, and arrive.
From my journal: “Our decision to leave at 7 am without breakfast was a wise one given how hot it became by noon. Many did the same as the Way was crowded. Again a lovely route thru hamlets, forests, with several cafes along the way. An early stop for coffee and juice as I didn’t have enough energy to eat breakfast before departing. Later at 11 am, another café stop where I finally satisfied my hankering for a fresh salad…few and far to come by.
…Opted for going directly to the hotel – Pazo de Lestrove described as ‘an emblematic 16th c recreational mansion that belonged to the Compostela’s archbishops’ – now a luxury “parador” where weddings and large receptions are held. Waiting for luggage and our rooms, I sipped another icy vermut in the shaded corner of the stone terrace – again that Italian Martinibrand, but learned I’d be able to get the famous Petroni – made from Albarino grapes harvested here in the Padron valley – in Santiago…Laundry dried fast in the heat and huge open window overlooking the grounds and hillside. Slept for a few hours and given the heat and fatigue, opted for dinner in the attractive dining room…”
Legend has it that Padron is the town where the boat carrying from Jerusalem the remains of Jesus’s disciple, St. James the Greater, anchored after his crucifixion. The stone to which the boat was moored, called a pedron, gave the town its name, and rests within the Santiago church in Padron. (Photo of lawn art depicting the legend of the boat and stone.)
From my journal: “I continue to be happy with my planning and knowing myself. While the heat made it difficult to take in Padron and its historic sites, staying here in this old Galatian manor house is another facet in the rich cultural experiences provided by PGW.”
Sunday, May 29, 2022 – STAGE 18: Padron to Teo-Al Farma
“Imagine the moment when you ‘hit the wall’ on your journey. You’re tired, you’ve lost track of your original purpose of taking the pilgrimage. Your feet hurt, your eyes smart, you are feeling angry with other travelers in your group or toward the local people you are encountering. What do you do?
Try taking a day to brood. Take your good old time, by yourself, and sit on it. Time and patience are the most natural therapists in the world…
Think of the darkness as potentially healing…the appearance of what Spanish poet Frederico Garcia Lorca called ‘duende’ – the dark sounds in music, dancing, poetry, the ritual of the bullfight, the roots of all arts…the dark and quivering companion to the muse and the angel…”
Phil Cousineau, The Art of Pilgrimage, 1998
And there we have it. I hit my wall on that penultimate stage. Yes, I was tired. No hurting feet, but my eyes smarted with tears. I hadn’t lost my purpose but was questioning it and myself. And yes, I had been feeling angry, and a range of other emotions off and on. From my journal: “So if a chest cold is helping me feel the weight of what I have been carrying – the need to get it off my chest – today’s head cold feels like sadness and the tears I need to shed…Walking alone I wondered about my Camino, what it had all meant. Thinking about others I knew who had had epiphanies, profound insights, almost mystical realizations. Talking softly to myself, and God, through the silent Sunday village lanes, I said knew I hadn’t come in search of a miracle. I came to say ‘thank you’ … that every step had been a kiss on Earth, every step a prayer to Earth. I began to cry and could have sobbed were it not for my fear of waking the village from its Sunday slumber…For the weight on my chest, in my heart, on my back, since the beginning…the judgement, worry, disappointment…I cried. For the near relief we are almost at Santiago, not without its challenges…I cried. For the ‘letting down’ of all I had been holding in the months prior, in preparation and planning…I cried. For the fears I’ve carried…I cried.”
And then I remembered…
The night dream I had had many months earlier of me with my elder “heart sister,” she who had guided me on my vision quest a couple of years ago. We were standing apart but facing each other, folding a large cloth item, like a sail or a sheet, something that goes better with two people folding together. Each of us holding the edges, she said, giving me guidance as elder sisters do, “You know, Katharine, every step matters.”
Every step matters. Every step I had made walking this Camino – kiss or curse, prayer or pain, joy or judgement – it mattered. None were better nor worse. Let it go. Walk it out. Every step matters.
“It’s the fourth Sunday here. I am so tired and wonder, will I remember… the roses of every color imaginable, stumbling through fences, cascading over stone walls, standing erect against ancient chapels, guarding secrets, holding scents?…Will I remember the abundance of beauty, from simple to sublime? I feel so full, yet I’m unable to discern anything. I am tired. I weep and pray I will remember. My photos will help me, and too, these words on these pages.”
And then I remembered…
I had walked with wonder as my companion. That in heeding the advice of theologian-poet John O’Donohue -to make a journey a sacred thing by ensuring to bless my going forth – I had emailed my three elder “heart sisters” to ask for their blessing. One, practiced in shamanic arts, gave me the gift of journeying for an “elemental” who would accompany me throughout. Named “Wonder,” and embodying the form of a young speckled fawn, “she” attracted that essence in the poetry I had serendipitously found and scribed in my journal before leaving, and in the myriad experiences along the Way, where each day was an unfolding of magnificent beauty: alleyways abundant with roses; stone walls covered in fragrant clover and jasmine; eucalyptus forests dappled with sunlight, their scent wafting in the rising heat; sea and surf in every shade of blue pounding on golden beaches, and rocky shores; skies heavy with sodden grey clouds rolling down mountains bringing veils of rain; fresh briny sweet seafood, simply prepared, drenched in olive oil and smoky paprika; local wines that complemented the local cuisine; and innumerable cups of ubiquitous cafe con leche.
That, as I had written in my first post about this Camino, when I left Canada in May to realize my twenty-year dream, I, like Peter Coffman wrote in Camino (2017) , would be walking “because I knew others who had gone, and the experience filled them with wonder.”
Much love and kindest regards, dear friends. One more day.
“If you ever get the chance, go alone. Walk alone, travel alone, live alone, dance alone. Just for a while. If you ever get the chance, learn who you are when the world isn’t demanding you to be one way or another. Most people only know how to stand on their own if someone else will stand beside them. Don’t let that be your story. When you get the chance, know that the opportunity to walk alone, even for a bit, is a rare gift, one that will hand you insight that can change the course of your life.”
I got that chance during the 15th stage when my companion chose to take a day off to recover from the previous day’s fall. Even though I’d been walking more or less on my own with my companion bringing up the rear, today I’d truly be walking alone. This would be a short stage where upon arrival in San Mauro, I’d need to contact the transfer service to take me back to Pontevedra. I was a bit anxious about how that would go, given some challenges the last time we called for a transfer taxi. With a forecast of sun and 30+C temperatures, I opted for an early start, giving me an early return to do laundry and more exploring in Pontevedra. From my journal: “Today’s stage, ‘alone together’ with other pilgrims was a rest… cold and fresh as I walked at dawn, through Pontevedra’s historic centre, down cobblestone streets embedded with blue twinkling lights marking the Way, crossing the wide expanse of the Ponte de Burgo.”
Past homes, parallel to train tracks, then on a busy road to more train tracks, finally in the sun dappled shade of the Reiris woods, to the stage’s destination at the Café a Posada do Peregrino, boasting one of the oldest credential stamps on the Portuguese Way. There, under the flower laden, pergola covered café, filled with pilgrims taking pause and refreshment, most of them continuing on to Caldas de Reis, I enjoyed another culinary delicacy: “sharing fresh Galatian octopus – boiled, sliced, sea salt, hot and smoky paprika and EVOO – with Denise from Ireland (first met in the hotel lobby in Baiona, then in Vigo and now here in Pontevedra) in gratitude for calling my transfer taxi.”
“I returned to the hotel around 11, just as the sun was coming around to my balcony, perfect for drying clothes and boot liners. Napped and showered, I did more exploring – the Basilica of Santa Maria, Alameda and gardens, the ruins of Santa Domingo. Ice cream and pharmacy stops…video call home…then another great Italian dinner steps away from the hotel…Buonasera bella!”
Friday, May 27, 2022 – Stage 16: San Mauro to Caldas de Reis – Another sunny, cloudless blue sky morning, that would bring even hotter temperatures sooner in the day. I woke feeling unwell. A headache, a sore throat. Dreamt of taking a rapid test so heeding its wisdom, I bit the bullet, googled what happens if I tested positive in Spain – nothing – and swabbed. Thankfully a fast and fifteen minutes later, unequivocal negative result. I’d felt my immune system wavering in Arcade after sitting there chilled for several hours following the preceding two days walking in relentless rain. Then, those few moments of feeling deep fear seeing my companion immobile proved enough to topple it. I’d walk the remaining four stages to Santiago under the weight of chest and sinus congestion, coughing, and growing fatigue.
But for now, relieved I was covid free, we met our driver who delivered us the short distance to San Mauro to begin the four hour walk to Caldas de Reis. From my journal: “Transfer back to San Mauro went without a hitch. Joined the ensemble walking at 9:15 am. We stopped early and I ordered a cappuccino, the owner gesturing for me to wait outside. Little did I know what was being prepared for me! A spectacular whipped cream concoction, now on top of those 2 perfect glazed donuts at breakfast! This stage had at least 4 cafes. At another we sat in the sought after shade drinking radlers, probably not the best idea after whipped cream and the rising heat.”
A mid-afternoon arrival at our destination, again waylaid by misunderstanding the directions to our hotel and eventually guided there by a local woman to whom I gave one of my remaining gratitude gifts, we checked in, settled, and walked across the bridge to the Taberna O Muino. Its outdoor terrace, situated in the shade over the river, was a cool respite with temperatures now in the low 30s. From my journal: “Tapas at 2:30 – the owner kindly seated us despite saying it was full and we had no reservation, then when I asked, seeing people leave, he moved us to a better table. Another ‘coup’ as the terrace was filled with locals and the occasional peregrino ready for a leisurely Friday afternoon multicourse lunch. Had my first sangria – too sweet for my liking as an accompaniment to food – razor clams (not as good as those first ones in Castelo do Neiva), manchego cheese, white chorizo (uncured and unsmoked so like Italian sausage, it needed to be cooked), fried sardines which despite being “small” were not the finger length fried-to-a-crisp variety we’d savored at the tapas bar in Triana a few years earlier. A complementary EVOO cake for dessert that unfortunately got only a sampling, being full and hot.”
Caldas de Reis has been a thermal spa-town since Roman times, with medieval travelers documenting its similarity to the famous baths in Baden, Germany. Our “relais” Hotel Balneario Acuna (1812) featured a beautiful thermal pool and throughout the town there were numerous thermal fountains.
As I’d been feeling increasingly under the weather, and with the next day’s forecast for more clear, hot weather, we chose to forgo breakfast for a 7:00 am start, to walk the 20 kilometer stage to Padron before it became scorching. Hindsight would prove us right, and too, the truth of these words scribed into my journal on Thursday, May 26, walking alone to San Mauro:
“‘I do not go into the forest to be alone.’ She said, ‘I go to be with the ONES who speak without human words.'”
This was one of the shortest stages, under two hours, less than 8 kilometers, but with a steep climb through the transmission corridor early in the walk. With the sun shine, blue sky, and cool breeze, it was an invigorating start to the day, getting heartbeats up and leg muscles warmed as we continued to have episodic glimpses of the large and long Ria de Vigo, the lifeblood of the region. Reminded of the Galicia’s Celtic roots, we met a piper in the woods, busking for coins, a preamble of what we’d encounter in Santiago.
True to the witnessed weather patterns and forecast, by the time we’d arrived in Arcade, several hours too early for checking in to our hotel, the clouds had rolled back in bringing afternoon showers. From my journal, Tuesday, May 24, 2022:“…we nursed coffees in the hotel café, and partook of the Arcade iteration of a ‘ploughman’s lunch’, each of us ordering one of the two options to share: ham and cheese pie made in puff pastry; a simple but delicious and easy to replicate chick pea soup with smoky chorizo; cod baked in EVOO and paprika with boiled potatoes; marinated shredded pork with fries; and a simple but good creamy cake. Finally checked in, with our bags having arrived…a hot shower to kill the inner chill, nap and now at 7:30 hoping the sudden cloud burst passes so we can walk the 15 minutes up the road for signature fresh oysters…Of course arriving earlier than the norm, we had our choice of tables at the lovely Marisqueria Arcade: a dozen fresh oysters, and finally tasted percebes (an homage to the women harvesting at Oia, and thank god I’d watched that YouTube video to know how to eat them!!!) with grilled scampi, and the famed Spanish albarino wine. The finishing touch sating my sweet touch, a complimentary snifter of the region’s cream liqueur.” On the walk back to the hotel, I discovered what they did with all those oyster and scallop shells.
The next day’s stage would bring me to, what in hindsight was my favorite stop along the Way, Pontevedra. Somewhat ironic because our arrival had been marked by the morning’s earlier mishap when my companion tripped and fell on the path. From my journal, Wednesday, May 25, 2022: “What started out as another cool, fresh, and sunny walk thru woods and villages, heeding the advice of 2 different men – one playing the archetypal ‘fool,’ carving and selling his wares in the woods – to take the flat ‘complementario’ route by the stream in the forest vs the exposed hot mountain climb, was well worth it…until she tripped and fell and I stood terrified for those first few moments…immediately many on the path were there to offer support and wish us well…intuitively I accepted the wise ministrations from the young Portuguese men, one with first aid training, and his friend, a padre. Bases covered, I wept with relief and gratitude.”
Not to be denied, I held its impacts and implications together with the comfort taken in asking for a room change to one with sunshine and a balcony from which to hang my sink-laundered clothing, and a solitary exploration around the city’s historic centre with camera in hand. My first icy vermut (what, Italian Martini and not those fantastic craft pours I’d fallen in love with in Andalusia!) – another generous pour – sipped al fresco at a café perfect for people watching warmed my soul in the late afternoon sun.
Discovered once home, these words became another source of solace, and a most apt description of my Camino, its purpose, and its gifts:
“In the fields, she stopped and took a deep breath of the flower-scented air. It was dearer to her than kin, better than a lover, wiser than a book. And for a moment she rediscovered the purpose of her life. She was here on earth to absorb its wild enchantment.”