Perhaps the World Ends Here


PERHAPS THE WORLD ENDS HERE

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 last many 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 its history 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.”

Much love and kindest regards, dear friends.


The Pilgrim

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.

Much love and kindest regards, dear friends.



Inside the Season’s Cocoon

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.

Much love and kindest regards, dear friends.

Sometimes

SOMETIMES

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.

Sheenagh Pugh

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.


Much love and kindest regards, dear friends.

These Marvelous Women

THE MARVELOUS WOMEN

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–

Mohja Kahf

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.

Thank you Moha Kahf for your words, Renée I.A. Mercuri for posting it, and my friend Sharon for sharing it.

Adding to the Universe

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.

Much love and kindest regards, dear friends.

When I Returned From Rome


WHEN I RETURNED FROM ROME

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 signalan 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.



Starkly Beautiful Truths

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.

The Power in a Pause

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.

my sky at sunset

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.”

Bianca Sparacino, Seeds Planted in Concrete, 2015
Agrigento, Sicilia

Much love and kindest regards, dear friends.

Arrival

Portuguese Coastal Camino
Stage 19: Teo to Santiago

my first glimpse of the Cathedral de Santiago spire

“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 A Conxo 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.

that sky

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!

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