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.
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.
Half way through my Camino and the “ordeals” I’d mentioned in an earlier post were coming to bear. Despite waking to a glorious sunny day, my mood was cloudy. Again, a couple of FACEBOOK finds, written in my journal with the title, “thoughts for my day that re-ignited my love and joy”:
“I worried alot.
…Was I right, was I wrong, will I be forgiven, can I do better?
…Finally I saw that worrying had come to nothing. And gave it up. And took my old body and went out into the morning and sang.”
Mary Oliver, I Worried
And this one:
“I was in darkness, but I took three steps and found myself in paradise. The first step was a good thought; the second, a good word; and the third, a good deed.”
Breakfast with time taken to unpack matters weighing heavy meant for a later start, something we’d need to contend with as the temperatures rose and blistered feet swelled. (Though as I write this now, nothing like the record breaking heat both Portugal and Spain are experiencing – so intense that many are walking at night, or canceling their Caminos altogether.) And our decision to ignore the GPS route to continue walking along the coast would prove less successful getting to our endpoint, though a cooler and beautiful alternative.
Crossing over the River Minor via the jagged 13th C Ponte da Ramallosa bridge with St. Telmo watching over :
Walking on the boardwalk by one of Galacia’s golden beaches, Praia America, with its steeple and domed mosque in the distance:
To finally eating our packed lunch at Praia Patos, further north along the coast on the other side of the peninsula, where, in the hot and hazy distance, we saw the next day’s destination, the Cies Islands:
Maybe it was the blisters, or the bee stings, or the blazing sun, but when my companion acknowledged her need to call short this stage, letting us make use of the nearby hotel to call a cab, she gave us both the gift of an early return to Baiona to enjoy a leisurely lunch over a bottle of “rosado,” some sight seeing, and to organize the cab to Vigo to catch the morning ferry to the Cies Islands the next day. From my journal: “The chapel of Santa Liberata (1695) commemorating Baiona’s martyred daughter and 1st woman in the world crucified, and the Collegiate Church of Santa Maria-Virgen de la Rosa – I felt very much the feminine spirit of this place…how today we had dipped into the wounds of the feminine – as mother, daughter, women…and how in the surrendering to need, giving us a most beautiful day.”
“Once we believe in ourselves, we can risk curiosity, wonder, spontaneous delight, or any experience that reveals the human spirit.”
e.e. cummings – written on my journal page, Friday, May 20, 2022: STAGE 10- Baiona to Patos
The following day brought a cycling back around to cool, overcast weather. Maybe a blessing as we’d be hiking in the elements with limited shelter on the fixed ferry schedule I’d reserved months earlier. The Cies Islands are an archipelago of three islands in the Atlantic at the mouth of the Vigo River. A designated natural reserve with pristine white beaches, cliffs, and fragile flora and fauna, access is restricted with ferry crossings pre-booked online. From my journal Saturday, May 21, 2022 – “Free Day” Cies Islands: “Like clockwork! Front desk reserved a taxi and Carlos picked us up promptly in his immaculate CRV, drove us to Vigo and was there again at 6:00 pm to return us to Baiona. Perfect weather for walking on the ‘Ruta del Alto do Principe,’ to the cliffs on the north island – Monteagudo – facing west onto the Atlantic and the lighthouse – Faro de Cies – in the distance. Ate lunch and then relaxed at the harbor, people watching and waiting for the ferry. Taking a ‘rest day’ I realize my fatigue. But once I clarified with lovely Paola from PGW, who I met tonight, on how we proceed tomorrow, I’m ready for the long walk to Vigo. ‘Stay on the blue GPS route,’ she instructed. “
Back in Baiona, those laden skies opened up, pouring as we crossed the street for dinner, and for most of the night, with thunder rumbling and lightning flashing across the sky. By the time morning came, it lifted enough to set out with Carlos, who having returned, would drive us to the next stage’s starting point, Corujo.
Reflecting that day on the Cies Islands, I recalled my solo travels in Italy, to the time when sitting sipping icy limoncello on the boardwalk at Monterosso al Mare – the first of the five villages of the Cinque Terre – I watched two silver haired women disembark from the train, obvious trekkers with their boots, backpacks, and poles. Inspired by their presence, I made a mental note that I wanted to be like them at their age, which I’d imagined to be in their seventies. As fate would have it, these words appeared on my FACEBOOK feed later that evening:
“Aging is no accident. It is necessary to the human condition, intended by the soul. We become more characteristic of who we are simply by lasting into later years; the older we become, the more our true natures emerge. Thus the final years have a very important purpose: the fulfilment and confirmation of one’s character.”
While I have a few years before my hair becomes as silver, I am more becoming myself with every step, and mis-step, taken in this Camino that is my life.
Portuguese Coastal Camino Stage 8: A Guarda to Oia-Viladesuso Stage 9: Oia to Baiona (In lieu of Friday’s photo and poem feature.)
sunset shots from Oia-Viladesuso
“I sometimes forget that I was created for joy. My mind is too busy. My heart is too heavy for me to remember that I have been called to dance the sacred dance of life. I was created to smile, to Love, to be lifted up and to lift others up. O Sacred One, untangle my feet from all that ensnares. Free my soul that we might Dance and that our dancing might be contagious.”
Like following one’s daily horoscope, I discovered when away that a quick scroll on Facebook always reaped a pearl of wisdom for my day. I know its about algorithms and such, that what I post, like, and follow brings up more of the same. But still, it was uncanny how many times a post was especially relevant for the day, or at least oriented my thinking during the kilometers of walking with myself, in silence.
And so it was on Wednesday, May 18, the 8th stage from A Guarda to Oia, these words from my beloved Hafiz appeared, eventually weaving themselves into the chant I composed with the words from Thich Nhat Hahn, and those from my other beloved, Rumi, which I’d auspiciously written on my journal’s page of the same date: “The Soul is here for its own joy.”
From my journal: “Another beautiful coastal walk – this time along rocky shores. Overcast, cool. But again as the day passed, and now 6:00 pm sitting at the hotel at Oia – really 4 km north at Viladesuso – clear sky, high white clouds. Seeing more ‘peregrinos’ walking – and at “THE” rest stop café at Portocelo, where we shared a terrific homemade breakfast sandwich with cappuccinos, met our friends from lunch in Viana do Castelo. Too, the four American women from the hotel in A Guarda, heading to Baiona. It seems PGW might underestimate distance, as they quoted 13-14 km, when I registered over 17 when all was said and done.”
Percebes. AKA gooseneck barnacles. I’d first heard about them watching Rick Steves eating them in Spain, or was it Portugal? Then, our friends from lunch in Viana do Castelo mentioned them as being a “must try” food adventure…that their father, originally from Spain’s northern coast, would special order them for Christmas at home in Costa Rica, and that they were anticipating this taste of memory and tradition. Walking to Oia, I realized, seeing the jauntily attired woman sitting on the ground with a tarp of odd looking black things in front of her, that these were them – barnacles, fresh from being scraped off rocks by her and her intrepid team of free divers. Cleaned and sorted before being sold to local restaurants, no wonder percebes are called the world’s most expensive seafood. Curious and adventurous, my anticipation would grow until I finally tasted them a few stops up the coast.
Thursday, May 19, 2022 – STAGE 9: Oia to Baiona. Waking at dawn the next day, the weather pattern shifted again, with sun and warmer temperatures forecasted. Morning fog settling on the coastline brought a soft outlook to the day’s start. From my journal: “Now it might be having opted out of following the route up thru the woods, choosing instead to walk along the coastal highway to Baiona, that our day was wonderfully shorter than anticipated. Just as we’d crossed the highway and passed thru the ‘questionable gate’ to begin the climb, I turned around and there was Tircia, the young woman, who with her parents, had braved the elements with us crossing the river in the outboard at Caminho, walking alone. Deliberating back and forth, and hearing her say ‘it’s the last day the route is along the coast,’ I finally made the decision for us, inviting her along the coastal walk. Such a good choice!!! As after several days of low cloud, mist and rain, it was still cool with fog but beautiful ocean vistas soon shone bright and blue. I realized yesterday this walk has been an ‘Introvert’s Paradise.’ I feel no inclination for conversation or small talk. I feel very good, very light, very pleased that a mis-step led me to the empty chapel yesterday morning in A Guarda, where I could get my bearings and guidance, as hundreds have done for hundreds of years before me…to know my next step.”
That stretch of coastal walk was one of the most beautiful, where hitting my stride, I felt myself smile and dance with joy. Having abandoned the map, heeding input from a younger woman’s knowing, and trusting intuition – and the simple logic that by keeping the ocean to our left we wouldn’t get too far off course – we made our way, I walking ahead, singing to myself, the sea and sky. Pausing now and then to take in the magnificence and make a photo, I found myself thinking about what it means to make a commitment, particularly to one’s self – often the most difficult one to make, particularly for women. Remembering the commitment I had made to the Camino the moment I had said “yes” last December, I realized it and my commitment to my life were steps in the same dance. That when I followed its sacred choreography, the more my joy. And that this joy was palpable…it flowed, attracted, and was contagious to those open to catching it. Like the young waiter at the café in Baiona where we stopped for lunch before checking into our hotel.
Sitting al fresco across from Baiona’s marina, I scanned the menu and saw rice with seafood and squid ink. My traveling companion game, and having ascertained it would take at least 30 minutes’ preparation, thus guaranteeing its freshness – I ordered, much to the waiter’s skepticism. “Was I sure?” he wondered aloud with gesture. I assured him I knew what I was doing, thanks to those cooking classes back home. Forty-five minutes later, the younger waiter – who had several minutes earlier assured us it was coming and would be fantastic!!!! – again with unabashed delight, now presented us the spectacle – a very hot terracotta pot steaming and bubbling like molten lava, rice blackened with squid ink, filled with shrimps, clams and squids, a creamy mound of aioli in the center.
A celebration of joy, that memory-making meal. The pinnacle of joy in that memory-making walk.
“With every step I kiss the Earth. With every step I make a prayer. The Soul comes for its own joy. Dance on, dance on, dance on.”
You start dying slowly if you do not travel, if you do not read, if you do not listen to the sounds of life, if you do not appreciate yourself.
You start dying slowly When you kill your self-esteem; When you do not let others help you. You start dying slowly If you become a slave of your habits, Walking everyday on the same paths… If you do not change your routine, If you do not wear different colors Or you do not speak to those you don’t know.
You start dying slowly If you avoid to feel passion And their turbulent emotions; Those which make your eyes glisten And your heart beat fast.
You start dying slowly If you do not change your life when you are not satisfied with your job, or with your love, If you do not risk what is safe for the uncertain, If you do not go after a dream, If you do not allow yourself, At least once in your lifetime, To run away from sensible advice.
– Martha Medeiros –
This says it all. Why I took five weeks to walk everyday on different paths. To travel, and be enthralled with the sounds of life. To remember, to embody, that life is short, energy is precious, and that it is up to me to go after my dream, and appreciate myself. To feel turbulent emotions which make my eyes glisten and break my heart. To ask for help and let others help me.
Not to delude myself that I won’t die, but to live my life well. And in this way, to prepare for a good death.
There are things you can’t reach. But you can reach out to them, and all day long.
The wind, the bird flying away. The idea of God.
And it can keep you as busy as anything else, and happier.
The snake slides away; the fish jumps, like a little lily, out of the water and back in; the goldfinches sing from the unreachable top of the tree.
I look; morning to night I am never done with looking.
Looking I mean not just standing around, but standing around as though with your arms open.
And thinking: maybe something will come, some shining coil of wind, or a few leaves from any old tree– they are all in this too.
And now I will tell you the truth. Everything in the world comes.
At least, closer.
Like the nibbling, tinsel-eyed fish; the unlooping snake. Like goldfinches, little dolls of goldfluttering around the corner of the sky
of God, the blue air.
– Mary Oliver –
Today, within a few days of reaching my destination, Santiago de Compostela, I am reminded by Mary Oliver’s words that there are things I cannot reach. During an earlier waxing iteration of my dream to walk a Camino, within a few months I suddenly, inexplicably knew the timing, a year hence, would not work. Not until the beginning of that year, when I discovered that the cathedral would be closed for extensive renovations, and that all pilgrims’ services would be shunted off to other local parishes, did I have my explanation. While the journey would be significant so, too, for me, would be the destination, standing inside the cathedral, where thousands of pilgrims have gathered for hundreds of years, marking their arrival in ceremony and ritual.
Where does the temple begin? Where does it end? How is the ancient cathedral in that ancient square the metaphor for the one residing inside me?
The answers to these questions and more -yet unknown, unspoken – will come…closer…cordially. Or perhaps they are never to be reached.