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!

The More I Become Myself

Portuguese Coastal Camino
Stage 10: Baiona to Coruju – adjusted to Praia Patos
Free Day: the Cies Islands

Cies Islands

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.”

Friedrich Nietzsche

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:

Cies Islands from Patos Beach, Nigran, Galacia Spain

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.”

James Hillman

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.

Much love and kindest regards, dear friends.

Language of the Present Moment

Portuguese Coastal Camino
Stage 3: Apulia to Esposende
Stage 4: Esposende to Castelo do Neiva

abandoned house, abundant flora – Fao, Portugal

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.

pilgrims crossing the River Neiva

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.

Quinta do Monteverde wall mount

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!

Esposende at sunset

“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

Much love and kindest regards, dear friends.

Crossing Camino’s Threshold

Portuguese Coastal Camino
Stage 1: Porto/Labruge to Vila do Conde

stage 1 – beach flowers along the northern Portuguese coast

“Walk as if you are kissing the Earth with your feet.”

Thich Nhat Hahn

I wrote those words at the top of my journal page dated Tuesday, May 10, 2022, The Beginning – STAGE 1: LaBruge to Vila do Conde. Over the nearly 280 km I walked, those words would become my mantra – spoken aloud to the surf and sky, whispered on the wind and in the woods, eventually woven into the song I sang to myself and the Earth to keep the rhythm of my footsteps in sync with my breath and heartbeat.

At some point along the Way, I said to myself, “This an introvert’s paradise!” as for at least 250 of those 280 km, I walked alone in silence (except for singing and chanting and talking to myself and what was around me). Despite having the gadgets to listen to music or podcasts, and a few attempts to talk with fellow walkers whose long and steady stride matched mine, I became so filled with, enamored of, and enthralled by the ambient soundscape, that I quickly found conversation tedious, tiring, and distracting. Admittedly I didn’t always make for good company, but I had at the outset clarified my need to walk my own Camino. After all, how else would one walk?

“It’s your road and yours alone.
Others may walk it with you,
but no one can walk it for you.”

Rumi

I haven’t quite sorted out how I’ll write about the stages of my Portuguese Coastal Camino. As I had posted prior to my departure, often this route is walked over 12-14 stages/days, whereas I opted for a bespoke “easy walk,” stretched over 19 stages, including some “rest” days. Granted, 19 posts might be a bit much, so for now I’ll begin with how we started, quoting from my journal, trusting the pattern and rhythm will emerge, as it did walking:
“The Fair Weather Goddess shone on us – not because it was sunny. Not at all. We woke in Porto to pea soup fog and cool. After breakfast, our bags packed waiting in the lobby to be transferred to the first stage’s lodging, our backpacks with us waiting for the taxi to drive us out of Porto, north to the beach at LaBruge. While the boardwalk was visible, and we could smell the fresh brininess of the sea and hear the surf, visibility was very poor. Though it made for a very pleasant walk – bundled in my fleece, Eddie Bauer rain jacket and hat. Flat walking, through some sand swept paths, and the wonderful flowers!”

Praia LaBruge

Past the near deserted fishing village of Vila Cha, its morning catch already sorted for market.

Then the morning sun burned off the fog and this appeared as if a mirage…

For the remainder of the stage, the sun rose higher, the sky shone bluer, bringing our destination, Vila do Conde, into view.

Vila do Conde

Dating back to 953, the town’s history revolved around building wooden ships and making bobbin lace. Once checked in and settled, a mid-afternoon of meandering and we made our way to the Bobbin Lace Museum, where the lovely receptionist-host ensured we saw its exhibits and contemporary fashion applications; popped into the weekly class to watch the townswomen learn this honoured craft; and purchased just the right souvenirs.

After a curiously named, apparently lost in translation, but delicious soupy shrimp and rice concoction – “Wake Up Shrimp” – served in a bread bowl with a fresh saffron egg yolk stirred in for thickening, we rested up to begin the next day’s 20 km stage to Apulia. The sunrise from my room and early morning photos of Vila do Conde’s ancient Roman aqueduct (one of several we’d encounter) and 15th century church made for a beautiful farewell.

In hindsight, I’ve thought many times how perfect those fog enshrouded sights, sounds and feelings during that first stage. Evoked was my memory, preparation and experience of questing. I realized I had crossed a threshold into the liminal, sacred space that would be my Camino.

My subconscious must have grokked the significance because after a few steps down the boardwalk, I returned to the beginning to make a photo of our first Camino marker.

“A threshold is not a simple boundary; it is a frontier
that divides two different territories, rhythms, and atmospheres.
Indeed, it is a lovely testimony to the fullness and integrity of an experience or a stage of life that it intensifies toward the end into a real frontier that cannot be crossed without the heart being passionately engaged and woken up…
…listen inward with complete attention until you hear the inner voice calling you forward. The time has come to cross.”

John O’Donohue, To Bless the Space Between Us, 2008

Yes, after years of dreaming and months of earnest effort and preparation, my time had come to cross.

Much love and kindest regards, dear friends.

The Layers

THE LAYERS

I have walked through many lives,
some of them my own,
and I am not who I was,
though some principle of being
abides, from which I struggle
not to stray.
When I look behind,
as I am compelled to look
before I can gather strength
to proceed on my journey,
I see the milestones dwindling
toward the horizon
and the slow fires trailing
from the abandoned camp-sites,
over which scavenger angels
wheel on heavy wings.
Oh, I have made myself a tribe
out of my true affections,
and my tribe is scattered!
How shall the heart be reconciled
to its feast of losses?
In a rising wind
the manic dust of my friends,
those who fell along the way,
bitterly stings my face.
Yet I turn, I turn,
exulting somewhat,
with my will intact to go
wherever I need to go,
and every stone on the road
precious to me.
In my darkest night,
when the moon was covered
and I roamed through wreckage,
a nimbus-clouded voice
directed me:
“Live in the layers,
not on the litter.”
Though I lack the art
to decipher it,
no doubt the next chapter
in my book of transformations
is already written.
I am not done with my changes.

– Stanley Kunitz –

Today I make my way home via a day layover in Madrid. Enough time to visit the Prado Museum and see a bit of the city centre. Last time I visited was again a layover just as Covid was beginning to take hold, soon making Madrid the Spanish epicentre.

Given I’m writing this post days before I actually depart for Portugal, I really have no idea what this journey has entailed, and will no doubt “lack the art to decipher it” for much time to come. I do, however, trust “I am not done with my changes.”

Much love and kindest regards, dear friends.

Where Does the Temple Begin, Where Does It End?

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.

And, cordially.

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.

Much love and kindest regards, dear friends.

God’s Wounds

GOD’S WOUNDS

Beyond all that pain has taught
me, the soft well at the base of
time has opened, and life
touching me there
has turned me into a flower
that prays for rain. Now
I understand: to blossom
is to pray, to wilt and shed
is to pray, to turn to mulch
is to pray, to stretch in the dark
is to pray, to break surface
after great months of ice
is to pray, and to squeeze love
up the stalky center toward the
sky with only dreams of color
is to pray, and finally to unfold
again as if never before
is to be the prayer.

– Mark Nepo –

Almost three weeks away from home – the first time in over two years – and into my eleventh day of walking, I chose Mark Nepo’s poem to uplift and amplify my commitment to knowing my life as poem and prayer, and sensing I might be in need of its kind sustenance and tender reminder.

Much love and kindest regards, dear friends.

Mindful

Mindful

Every day
I see or hear
something
that more or less

kills me
with delight,
that leaves me
like a needle

in the haystack
of light.
It was what I was born for –
to look, to listen,

to lose myself
inside this soft world –
to instruct myself
over and over

in joy,
and acclamation.
Nor am I talking
about the exceptional,

the fearful, the dreadful,
the very extravagant –
but of the ordinary,
the common, the very drab,

the daily presentations.
Oh, good scholar,
I say to myself,
how can you help

but grow wise
with such teachings
as these –
the untrimmable light

of the world,
the ocean’s shine,
the prayers that are made
out of grass?

– Mary Oliver –

After posting this past Monday’s blog, Bom Caminho, in which I gave notice – to myself, actually – that I’d not be blogging and was unsure if I’d post on social media -recognizing how easy it is for me to be seduced out of myself in so doing – I realized I could schedule each of my Friday photo and poem features for the duration of my time away.

So, I’ve chosen poems that might reflect with where I’m at along the way. I’ll be curious to read back and see if synchronicity and-or prescience was indeed at play!

Today’s selection by my guide, Mary Oliver, is very much aligned with my intention for making this journey, taking this long walk: to be present with what arrives each day…to look, to listen, to lose myself inside this beauty-filled world…to remember my life as poem and prayer.

Much love and kindest regards, dear friends.

“Bom Caminho”

When you travel, you find yourself
Alone in a different way,
More attentive now
To the self you bring along…

John O’Donohue, Blessing for The Traveler
Iceland Morning

A decade ago, I wrote a post about the Camino. Titled “Buen Camino” (the Spanish wish, above is the Portuguese), I described gathering with my friends to view “The Way,” a beautifully shot film about a bereaved father, played by Martin Sheen, trekking the Camino de Santiago, in devotion to his son who’d fallen to his death on the trail. I recalled meeting with two American hikers in Vernazza, Italy, where walking the trail high above the Ligurian coast towards Corniglia, they regaled me with their stories of having walked the Camino and shared a piece of wisdom I’ve held close and spoken forward on countless occasions. I wrote then “I know deep in my bones I’ll make that pilgrimage one day,” and so I am.

A week from today, I’ll be airborne for Lisbon, Portugal where, with a friend, I’ll settle and sightsee for a few days there and in Porto before a week later beginning my trek along the Portuguese Coastal Camino, returning home in early June. Last fall, walking my second local Camino de Edmonton, my twenty year dream of walking – one that has waxed and waned many times over many years – became re-ignited. In a more recent blog I wrote about that experience, what I had learned about myself, and how I’d need to apply it when making my dream come true:

“I learned that my way of walking is to saunter. I need to take my time to notice, to observe, to photograph, to hum a tune, sing a made-in-the-moment, soon-to-be-forgotten lyric. I enjoy conversation, and have had some delightful, edifying ones. And then what I notice – the shiny and the shimmer, the magic that suddenly catches my eye and speaks to my heart – shifts my attention.

And so, thinking more intentionally about a long distance “saunter” to Santiago, through Portugal, next year, the “easy walk” – taking several more days than the typical two week allocation – with ample time to rest and appreciate the ambiance of local villages, having my accommodations with breakfasts pre-booked, and luggage transferred, viscerally has me gasp with delight and settle my covid concerns. New impressions…the moments inside the moments…the magical stuff…the glory of life.

In response to that post, a friend told me about Portugal Green Walks, a company specializing in designing treks through Portugal, including an “easy” coastal Camino. I loved that I’d be “living local with love,” investing in Portugal and her people, post pandemic. After several weeks corresponding with Paola, their customer service rep, despite being in our 5th Covid wave, in need of bringing the Christmas promise of joy into my life, I metaphorically struck the earth with my warrior-walker’s staff by making the 25% deposit, thus signaling to the gods and fates my commitment and requesting their support in helping me pull this through.

A customized 20 day itinerary, in contrast to the typical 12 or 14, with an average 10-12 km per stage, accommodations booked, bags portered, breakfast served, giving me ample time to take in the vistas and villages along the way. Meeting with people, savoring the food and culture, time for writing, photography, painting…walking alone and together with my friend who is “simpatico” in this way of wanting a more immersive, esthetic experience. And while I had weighed going solo, I am happy for her companionship, particularly as it will be our first time travelling internationally since the pandemic.

A journey can become a sacred thing:
Make sure, before you go,
To take the time
To bless your going forth,
To free your heart of ballast
So that the compass of your soul
Might direct you toward
The territories of spirit
Where you will discover
More of your hidden life,
And the urgencies
That deserve to claim you.

John O’Donohue, Blessing for The Traveler

In the spirit of “freeing my heart of ballast,” I won’t blog and hold only lightly the possibility of posting on social media. Not from a desire or need to get away from it all, but rather to enter more deeply into what this is – admittedly not really knowing what this is – wanting instead to give myself over to “the urgencies that deserve to claim me.”

May you travel in an awakened way,
Gathered wisely into your inner ground;
That you may not waste the invitations
Which wait along the way to transform you.

John O’Donohue, Blessing for The Traveler

What I know most of all is by taking flight next week to realize my twenty year dream, I am going to walk my Camino “because I knew others who had gone, and the experience filled them with wonder.” – Peter Coffman, Camino, 2017

Much love and kindest regards, dear friends. I’ll be back here sometime in June.

olive trees and stone paths hiking in Corniglia, Italy


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