“Every creator’s creations are their coping mechanism for life — for the loneliness of being, for the longing for connection, for the dazzling incomprehension of what it all means. What we call art is simply a gesture toward some authentic answer to these open questions, at once universal and intimately felt — questions aimed at the elemental truths of being alive, animated by a craving for beauty, haunted by the need to find a way of bearing our mortality.”
Maria Popova, The Marginalian, November 26, 2022
It was an early start to the day. Waking at 3, rising at 4, I took seat on the sofa. Candle lit, wrapped in a blanket, I closed my eyes and counted my breaths. Thinking. About packing for our upcoming trip to Niagara. Return to counting. Thinking. About finding time to catch up and listen to the past week’s Rewilding conversations. Focus on my breath. Thinking. Now a barrage of thoughts about yesterday’s poetry intensive with Edmonton’s past Poet Laureate Alice Major. Thinking. Thinking. Five quiet beeps. So soon?
Hmmmm…I just spent a couple of hours writing today’s post. Ready to add photos and schedule publishing time, I just lost everything except for the above bits.
It’s been one of those days. We’d planned to go to the theatre this afternoon. Left in plenty of time. Made a stop along the way and suddenly we’d lost a needed half hour. We hit every red light making arrival on time impossible. So surrendering to something inexplicable at play, I called the box office, explained our situation, cancelled our tickets and we returned home.
Coming down to the studio tonight to write, I didn’t have anything in mind but tapping I managed to cobble together a piece on preparing myself to prepare my poetry manuscript for the next round of submissions come the new year. Not meant to be published, I guess.
That rewilding course… every week emphasizes paying attention to the nature’s messages and patterns that might appear irrational but have an innate wisdom. I might be getting the message.
The world begins at a kitchen table. No matter what, we must eat to live.
The gifts of earth are brought and prepared, set on the table. So it has been since creation, and it will go on.
We chase chickens or dogs away from it. Babies teethe at the corners. They scrape their knees under it.
It is here that children are given instructions on what it means to be human. We make men at it, we make women.
At this table we gossip, recall enemies and the ghosts of lovers.
Our dreams drink coffee with us as they put their arms around our children. They laugh with us at our poor falling-down selves and as we put ourselves back together once again at the table.
This table has been a house in the rain, an umbrella in the sun.
Wars have begun and ended at this table. It is a place to hide in the shadow of terror. A place to celebrate the terrible victory.
We have given birth on this table, and have prepared our parents for burial here.
At this table we sing with joy, with sorrow. We pray of suffering and remorse. We give thanks.
Perhaps the world will end at the kitchen table, while we are laughing and crying, eating of the last sweet bite.
– Joy Harjo –
One of several, this poem by past Poet Laureate of the United States, was a gift to its subscribers from the Poetry Foundation in celebration of American Thanksgiving. Today is the day after, the formal kick-off to the holiday season, and Black Friday, another American invention, where for the lastmany weeks social media has run rampant with ads boasting big savings on just about everything imaginable. Curious that what comes to my mind as I type is remembering within days of 9-11, then President Bush telling Americans to go shopping to deal with their unspeakable shock and yet to be processed, still processing, grief.
A couple of days ago I made an “artist’s date” with a friend before going out to lunch together. We visited the Alberta Council for the Ukrainian Arts, recently relocated on the edges of our downtown core – desperate for post-pandemic revitalization – due to the demolition of its previous home in a sweet, enlivening neighborhood strip mall. Home, too, for a cozy family friendly café; a corner store “famous” city-wide for its fried chicken; a chic furniture and home décor shop; the place to go for small appliance repairs and replacement parts; a Buddhist bookstore…the lifeblood of a community soon to be bled and bulldozed for urban “development.” Yes, I feel grief about this.
I wanted to go to the centre to see Ruslan Kurt‘s “DOORS“, an art installation of doors taken from Ukrainian homes bombed, torched, and shot at by invading Russian soldiers.
February 24, 2022. Nine months to the day of this American Thanksgiving. Then the day the world, as the people of Ukraine and beyond knew it, ended perhaps at their kitchen tables. Most certainly at their front doors.
Eating lunch at a café table with my friend, she of Ukrainian descent on her mother’s side, I remarked on the juxtaposition of these battered doors within the art centre’s maker space – women chatting as they embroidered, and stitched quilts, sewed at machines set for creating, surrounded by walls hung with colourful Ukrainian art. How symbolic of life: on one hand, its cycles of creation and destruction, on the other, how in the space of these nine unimaginable months, so much has filled in and taken over and away my attention from this invasion and its deepening catastrophic impacts now come winter. Taken over and away by a continuous barrage of catastrophe, terror, trauma, and grief.
Too, remembering the ethical conundrum of Thanksgiving in North America with itshistory of colonization, enslavement and displacement. A history of catastrophe, terror, trauma, and grief that persists.
So this post – post Thanksgiving and pre the advent of the holyday season with its cross cultural celebrations of light returning – is an invitation to pause…to remember…to return my attention…to imagine the tables where “we sing with joy, with sorrow. We pray of suffering and remorse. We give thanks.”
Today I enter the third week of “Rewilding Mythology,” hosted and curated by contemporary writer, Sophie Strand, who focuses on the intersection of spirituality, storytelling, and ecology. Compelled by several inspirations including a night time dream; Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation actions; the writings of Robin Wall Kimmerer and Richard Wagamese; and the valuing of the dark, decayed and dead in essays by Perdita Finn and Matt Licata, I enrolled in this 8 week online course, and only afterwards read its description:
“For most of human history, myth was a durable mode of knowledge transmission, kept alive and resilient by the breath-laced web of communal storytelling. Just as we plant a seed in soil, so were vital pieces of agricultural and ecological lore planted into stories that were built to survive environmental and social collapse.
Myth-telling, as primarily oral and embodied, was revitalized by the same ecological cycles that depend on a balance of decay and regrowth: breaking down dead wood to generate new soil. Our culture-creating cosmogonies rarely grew stale because they were refreshed and adapted to new conditions each time they were retold. Myths were the maps of communities intimately dialoguing with their environment. Most importantly, they were contextual.
But the rise of empire depended on the deracination of mythologies. Just as landscapes were stolen and terraformed so were whole pantheons uprooted from their social and ecological contexts, coopted by the very cultures that ensured the demise of their originating cultures. Galilean magicians were turned into militaristic figureheads. Serpentine divinities were transformed into gorgon-headed monsters. Uprooted from their context and from the renewing respiration of communal storytelling, these stories ossified into abstraction and reinforced the anthropocentric hyper-individuality and colonial capitalism of today.”
Following intuition. Knowing little. Not knowing a lot. Catching wisps – from last week’s poet story-teller, and the depth psychologist featured in Friday’s bonus session – that are coalescing into some kind of vague, embodied comprehension. Yet already it’s been informing what I’m hearing and seeing and talking about. Already, it’s re-shaping my context.
Quoting the host from her invitation: “I can’t wait to see how I’ll be changed by it.” And I wonder, too, “How can we reroot, rewild, and retell?“
I’m far from integration, synthesis, or even a coherent articulation about any of it, but from my notes, right now this excites me and grabs my curiosity:
“When you uproot a myth, dogma is the result.”
“Reading our alphabetic language makes it available for capture rather than response, while speaking we feel the energy vibrations in our body.”
“Is there a mode of writing that allows for space, breath and context?”
“Consider anthropomorphism as courtship to learn how to be in conversation and communion with the land and interior world, so that we can cultivate subjectivities that are less commodifying.”
“What if magic wasn’t supernatural but the most natural experience?”
“Magic is the logic of the world when the world is experienced from its own depths.”
“We’re used to listening in an habitual, usual way in the body. Let’s awaken the ancestral faculties of listening through the body to then become hollowed out for lightening to pass through…to be seized by a flow…”
“What stories are living us?”
Last week a friend invited me to his podcast conversation centering on wisdom, creativity, and living with uncertainty. As prompt, he referenced a meme he’d seen posted on my Facebook timeline:
“The ghosts of all the women you used to be are proud of the woman you’ve become.”
@the global sisterhood
He asked what wisdom I’d have for those ghosts.
As is often the case with such a thoughtful question, in such beautifully contained conversation where we listen and are seen beyond habit, a conversation that is generative and holds the possibility for emergence, I found myself saying out loud things I’d never quite thought about before, let alone spoken. The stories living me. Asking to be spoken and shared.
After a lengthy pause, for his question deserved consideration, I responded that I’d ask about what excites them, grabs their curiosity, incites their wonder.
Theirs and mine. Then and now. To help us “reroot, rewild and retell.”
THE PILGRIM When you return from a long journey air sweet with lilac and unfurled green then you fall to your knees and become gratitude’s pilgrim. You were given the way at birth. Given blue fields and loam. Given an open throat, wild orchids, a path lit by milky stars. You were given desire, sweet darkness of the body, white hum in the bone.
It’s not the departure you long for, nor the finish, with its thick incense, tired feet and weeping. It is the quiet loneliness in between. When memory marries the wind and you are pure light. Walking. One foot in front of the other. You cannot speak of this place. The way you cannot speak of grace or what holds you to this world. How at this moment you can only stand up and move toward the light of home.
– Rosemary Griebel –
In Monday’s post I mentioned meeting in person Calgary poet, Rosemary Griebel. All week, during my morning ritual of sitting with Annie sipping my americano (now laced with a half pump of eggnog syrup, tis the season and all), I’ve been re-reading her poetry collection YES. Last night I texted to her:
“Rosemary, it truly is a beautiful collection…so grounded in your intimate, lived experience of the prairies, one I came to know only a bit when my husband, Sig, and I moved here from ON in 1981 and when I learned to appreciate them accompanying him many weekends in the spring and late summer on field trials – horses with bird dogs like Annie, our English setter. The Pilgrim…yes, what an evocative and deeply resonant beauty…and the several I heard you recite on The Road Home, how I first learned of it, you. And some “hard” ones…all so beautifully, deftly composed. Hard but light filled…”
And so to share here one of hers with you, together with my photo walking one rainy day from Viana do Castelo to Vila Praia de Ancora along the Portuguese Coastal Camino. “A day of quiet loneliness in between. A day when memory marrie[d] the wind and [I felt like] pure light. Walking. One foot in front of the other.”
I’ve written several times of the lesson shared with me in 2011, when walking along the path, high on the cliffs of Italy’s Ligurian coast, from the Cinque Terre town of Vernazza to its Corniglia, with a couple who had walked the Camino Frances a year earlier: the Camino is what happens once home. After preparing for last week’s presentation on my walk; talking this week with a friend about curiosity, creativity, and wisdom for his podcast; and lunching with a friend who, having walked the Camino Frances several years ago, wanted to hear some of my story; once again I feel Camino making its presence known deep within as I prepare for my next writing project.
I feel myself hesitate. Find myself distracted. Yet I know it’s simply a matter of placing my stake in the ground, and saying YES. Then Camino begins once again to work with me.
While a week late, and a post missed, I’ve kept my promise to myself to “stick to the knitting” and my writing practice here. During the interim, two rejections from the group where last year I’d been invited to read my submission to their ekphrastic poetry contest (beginner’s luck?) – I was sure I had a good one – and another written in the wee hours of Wednesday’s dawn to meet another contest deadline. Fingers crossed and regardless, I’ll get feedback from the judges. Always a boon.
Too, after a record-breaking long and warm and sunny August, September and October, wherein I was playing pickleball outside until Hallowe’en, winter – apparently fed up with waiting – suddenly, unequivocally barged in with November. Blowing and blustering throughout Alberta, it dropped nearly a foot of snow in a matter of days, wreaked highway havoc, and gave us the dubious distinction of being among the coldest spots on earth this week. Add Tuesday’s full moon lunar eclipse; peculiar and powerful planetary alignments wreaking their own astrological chaos; news from home that a high school chum has been seriously afflicted by dementia; another friend coping with pneumonia and two small children; a frozen vehicle; Annie down with a GI tract infection (she’s better now)…
Neither complaining nor making excuses, I’m simply noticing what now has the capacity to knock me sideways, crawl deeper into the covers, and, despite the sun and blue sky, colorfully renounce my gratitude for the seasons, especially this one. I refuse to call it a symptom of age…more the wisdom that comes with…a finer attunement to the nuanced…the paying with attention in my body, and not over-riding it with my thinking. Saturday’s Camino walk in the river valley with a reprieve in temperature, and later with Annie, restored my appreciation.
Last weekend I took the bus to Calgary to attend a Friday poetry evening and Saturday workshop with Pádraig Ó Tuama. Such a treat to physically sit in his presence and hear him do so brilliantly what I’d only ever heard him do through Zoom and podcast space…recite remarkable poetry and invite us into how to listen to its structure for its meanings. Thank God, I knew to book the bus when I’d made the arrangements during early September’s golden glory. (I have a kind of prescience when it comes to weather…that finer attunement thing.) Both of us walking alone as we approached the venue, I introduced myself, said a few words as we climbed the stairs to the entrance, and then made our separate ways. Pretty neat for this enthusiastic fan. Too, I was standing in line to purchase his “hot off the press” Poetry Unbound collection, only to recognize immediately behind me award-winning Calgary poet Rosemary Griebel. We have a virtual friendship initiated when she wrote me a lovely compliment on my blog. Knowing she’d be there, I’d brought my copy of YES, her most recent collection, for her signature. Again, pretty neat for this appreciative fan. And then at the Saturday workshop, of all the coincidences, by way of her friend, Peg, we discovered we share a birthday. How neat is that!?! A bit of kismet perhaps…especially as we talked about Camino walking and her interest in Portugal.
I had several takeaways from the weekend inspired by both Pádraig and Rosemary. With my own rejections fresh, I felt restored hearing Pádraig say how difficult it continues to be for him to find places and publishers for his poetry, still how many and often the rejections. Its antidote, he said, was finding a small, intimate group of writers with whom to share the work, so as to uplift each other in the efforts made, support each other through the process of editing, submitting, and receiving rejections and acceptances. In the acknowledgement of her book, Rosemary mentioned the friendship and support received from her regular local poetry writers’ group. Into my new vocation now for a couple of years, I know its solitary, often lonely nature. I returned home committed to putting a call out, both to the Universe (trusting my efforts are adding), and to some writers to ask if they’d meet me in the sandbox – virtual is fine – to support each other as we make our way with words.
And speaking of Camino, mid week I was invited to present “A Creative’s Way of Walking Her Camino” to the first, post covid, in person gathering of our local chapter of the Canadian Company of Pilgrims. Using a story I’d written for Portugal Green Walks and the upcoming issue of Sage-ing: The Journal of Creative Aging – a synthesis of my blogs – I shared my way of traveling in general, and in particular how I had walked the Portuguese Coastal Camino – using journal, painting, photography and poetry to grok within the experience’s impressions and memories. I was delighted not only with the feedback from attendees and planning committee, but more so to have been “seen” in this way of my vocation, to be, as one of the members said, the chapter’s “resident artist-poet.” Now this is very neat!
I am now inside the season’s cocoon, wintering. Despite the initial shock, I am surrendered to the inevitable, ready to savor having designed time for writing, studying Italian and “rewilding,” walking, cooking, hand work, seeing friends, sharing time with my “pack,” playing pickleball. Feeling life full in the midst of its fallow.
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.
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.
“I’m glad you are writing in this form. And, woo, there is a book in this also, given the insights you share.”
A friend emailed me this note after reading these photo stories on my walk. Kindred in our love of a good poem to now penning and publishing our own, and in looking at life in a way I describe as “before, beneath, and beyond words,” I appreciated and felt encouraged by Tenneson’s words. He recognized that “this form” is my way to access, coalesce, and give words to sensory impressions gathered along the Way…to all that is before, beneath, and beyond words…necessary to the further distillation that is poetry.
“Since time immemorial, there has been a belief that language is one power that can tap, even trigger, ‘divine events,’ and that pilgrimage, what was called in old Gaelic turas, ritual circuits, was a way to participate in the flow of energy between the two worlds.”
Phil Cousineau, The Art of Pilgrimage, 1998
Another gift of “this form” has been the invitation to remain in this flow of energy between two worlds. I’ve long noted how when traveling by plane, it takes several days for all of me to arrive home. I’ve learned to give myself transition time, realizing a threshold is crossed too, when returning to my everyday life, with its signature rhythms and patterns. Particularly mindful this time, given both the nature and length of time away, I kept my calendar clear for June. Coming home sick with a chest cold and cough that became Covid-19, has meant for an even longer, slower reengagement. Writing here, I re-read my journals, and skim through books that inspired my preparation. Editing photos – this time going beyond cropping and straightening to applying creative filters (a shoutout to “camiga” Elizabeth Cheung whose Camino Facebook posts and photos attract hundreds of followers) – I re-immerse body, mind and soul-sole, and relive my walk.
From my journal, Thursday, May 12, 2022, STAGE 3: Apulia to Esposende:“Leisurely start after a deep, physically tired sleep. Walked to see the beach at Apulia: fishermen coming ashore, surfers, and to the north, in the morning haze, windmills. Retraced our steps though the still quiet main street to find The Way. Corrected by the older woman who had just stepped out of her home, we walked, as the guide book described, past garden plots and through forests to the school yard with children playing at recess, and the football stadium in Fao. Sat by the river a bit, then through the urban to the beach front hotel in Esposende where its azure pool beckoned, and I made my first pen and ink water colour sketch.”
“The beginning of wisdom is the same as its attainment: wonder… In the presence of that wonder, the head has no answers and the heart has no questions…”
Quote written on the page of my journal, Thursday, May 12, 2022, STAGE 3: Apulia to Esposende
Friday, May 13th, the fourth stage to Castelo do Neiva, was sunny and hot as we walked inland, with only brief glimpses of the ocean. That dark chocolate bar I’d purchased at the grocery store en route to satisfy a hankering, and wisely put in a ziploc bag, became a melted mess within minutes. Cafes along the way made for cool respites where café con leche chased with icy fruit juice refreshed. (For some it was a beer mixed with coke – an international iteration of the shanty, I suppose.) More evident along the route were various styles of markers, including statuary and the ubiquitous scallop shell, pointing the way.
Crossing an old stone bridge on the River Neiva, we began climbing in earnest.
Arriving at this stage’s lodging took some doing. The guidebook, customized for our stages and accommodations, gave clear directions, but obviously not for us. Maybe it was the heat, or misinterpreting distance given in meters, but we found ourselves going in circles, despite asking for help at the local garden centre, consulting my GPS and notes. Walking further, now into what more closely resembled a village, I was just about to enter the local school to once again ask for directions, when a woman walked by and pointed out, off in the distance, the church steeple beside our destination, Quinta do Monteverde. Approaching, where was the entrance????? The old locked gate by the vacant church? Walking around the corner, which by this point felt a long distance, we finally arrived at a more formal entrance with a buzzer. Pressed, the heavy door silently opened to reveal the magnificent grounds and mansion.
From my journal: “Heaven on Earth. Quinta do Monteverde. Country manor home to Fatima and her family since the late 1400s. So as da Gama and Colombus were off “discovering” North America and the Caribbean, this elegant Portuguese home was already standing and lived in…Splendidly, we have rooms in the manor house vs the more modern apartment suites alongside the pool. I selected the twin room, beautifully furnished with a full, spacious bath, the window seat. Could anything be more elegant??? Surrounded by exquisite antiques, sumptuous linens and scents, plush towels and robes, tea, cookies, port. Another azure pool, quiet except for birdsong…”
As dinner wasn’t offered, our host Fatima suggested we either walk the kilometer or so into town (no way as it was still hot!), or down the road to the local tapas bar most of her guests opt for, O Tasco Regional. WOW! The best meal to date, with the first of what would be several samplings of pimientos de padron and, too, razor clams simply prepared with garlic, EVOO and lemon to enhance their sweet, fresh sea brininess; tomato salad; perfectly grilled octopus; coquille with salsa; bread, and that Portuguese signature tinto verde, the best wine with fresh seafood. So enjoying our dinner and the owner’s hospitality, we reserved for the next night once we learned a cab drive would be only 15 minutes from our next destination.
The seventeenth century Japanese poet Basho, renowned master of haiku, devoted his adult life to writing poetry and walking pilgrimages. Contained within the form’s seventeen syllables, he synthesized the art of pilgrimage’s “skill of observation, soul of attention, and heart of intention.” (Cousineau, The Art of Pilgrimage, 1998)
While certainly not haiku, “this form” here attempts to echo that of Basho. By making the ineffable conscious and evident through my words and photos, making what another poet, James Wright calls “the language of the present moment.”
And that melted chocolate bar…soon enough hardened in the cool of my room at the quinta, it became the perfect after dinner complement to the port! A perfect present moment!
“Make the universe your companion, always bearing in mind the true nature of all creation – mountains and rivers, trees and grasses, and humankind…”
Basho in Phi Cousineau, The Art of Pilgrimage, 1998