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 temple 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 Portuguese 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.


Joy

Spring at Seattle’s Pike Street Market

JOY

When it comes back to teach you
or you come back to learn
how half alive you’ve been,
how your ignorance and arrogance
have kept you deprived —
when it comes back to you
or you yourself return,
joy is simple, unassuming.
Red tulips on their green stems.
Early spring vegetables, bright in the pan.
The primary colours of a child’s painting,
the first lessons, all over again.

Thomas Centolella

with Annie on the fairway this week

Though it was nearly a month ago when I posted my poem, Call Me Caprice, describing the often ambivalent arrival of an Alberta spring, given this week’s snow storm and persistent cold, I could have posted it again! Instead I opted for optimism, trusting red tulips and daffodils will eventually blossom forth from more than the flower shop’s bouquet.

It’s been nearly as long since I last posted…and I hope to muster up my own words for a blog on Monday. In the meantime, much love and kindest regards, dear friends.

Call Me Caprice

“This time of the year in the mountains is always one of dialogue, between the winter doing its best to hold on and the spring who is longing to emerge. In one moment it can seem like winter is taking the lead, only a few hours later for the spring to burst forth. Just like it is in the soul at times, there are wild swings between the various poles.”

Matt Licata, A Loving Healing Space, March 27, 2022

Caprice: a sudden usually unpredictable condition, change, or series of changes.

That would describe the weather in March here on the prairies, where on the first day of spring last week, we had a blizzard blowing during the day, dropping several new inches of snow. By mid week, temperatures blasted through the forecast to reach a balmy 17 C. Annie was panting, and my black winter insulated Blundstones were ready to be traded in for cooler trail runners. Then a day later, the temperatures dropped, and by Friday night, another snow fall. We have learned this is spring, that she takes her time given winter’s reluctance to leave too soon. Though already there are indisputable signs of her arrival: geese flying paired and in their signature triangle formations; robins warming up their warbling mating melodies; tender green shoots of longed for daffodils, hyacinth and tulips peeking though.

“Caprice” would, too, describe my outlook of late. A narrow field of vision, with my eye and energy focused on several necessary and pressing deadlines helps me navigate the world’s wider angle of continued uncertainties and devastation. Capturing the macro moment, up close and defined against the present but softly blurred background becomes a metaphor of hope, to cope.

I wrote this poem a few years back, posted it in 2020 and offer it now revised and refined. Its message remains constant.

Call Me Caprice

March blew in strong. The proverbial lion, rattling leafless branches.
Made tall spruce and pine dip and dive in a pre-dawn dance.
Egged on clouds to race across still dark sky,
streaking it silver in morning’s moonglow.
On her wind, the first, fresh fragrance of Spring.

“I’m coming but be patient,” Spring scolded. “You know Winter
likes to take her time leaving. A bit slow and sluggish, she
likes to dig in her heels when she feels my push
to get going and growing.”


Come noon, sun reigned higher in the southern sky,
nudged warmth into wind’s still icy chill. Their partnership
melted Winter’s tiresome leftovers of grungy snow and gritty ice;
pooled puddles into ponds on streets and alleys;
exposed sodden soil and mangled mush in garden beds and farmers’ fields.

“I’m coming,” Spring murmurs her assurance. “But remember,
I’m temperamental. I like to take my time arriving. Ensure that I’m welcome.
So, I suggest you call me Caprice.”

Much love and kindest regards, dear friends.

January

JANUARY

Of course it’s to be expected:
the dim light and early dark
and the endless days of rain.
And if the week of brutal cold
wasn’t what you signed up for,
well, it’s what you got,
so might as well make the best of it.
Other people got blizzards,
and friends have flooded basements
or days without power
or lost everything to wind-whipped
wildfire. Of course, there’s nothing
less comforting than the notion
that others have it worse.
Misery doesn’t love company,
it just spreads like an oil slick
across the dull land, and we
have moved on from terror
to a cranky ennui. But one day
last week, the clouds lifted,
and there was the mountain, shining
in all its snow-clad glory.
My breath caught to remember
that what I see is not
the sum of what is there.

– Lynn Ungar –

So this is January, 2022.
Today, a Facebook cartoon meme showed Lucy complaining to Charlie Brown of the new year, suggesting we had, in fact, been stuck with a used one. Last year, or even the one before that. Where I live, we’ve had weeks of “brutal cold” suddenly broken overnight by above freezing temperatures and rain, making for treacherous travelling, by car or foot. House fires with fatalities. Inflation rates the highest in 30 years. Unprecedented numbers of Covid cases with friends suddenly succumbing.

And yet the beauty of snow laden trees and brilliant blue skies. Wolf Moon an incandescent marvel illuminating the night. My parents’ 68th anniversary. The birthdays of my husband and niece. Poetry books in the today’s mail. Stories shared and books reviewed on Zoom. Tonight’s easeful meanderings in my women’s circle. An abundance of goodness and gratitude, more than named here. This is my January, 2022.

Morning Song

MORNING SONG

The red dawn now is rearranging the earth

Thought by thought
Beauty by beauty

Each sunrise a link in the ladder

Thought by thought
Beauty by beauty

The ladder the backbone
Of shimmering deity

Thought by thought
Beauty by beauty

Child stirring in the web of your mother
Do not be afraid
Old man turning to walk through the door
Do not be afraid

– Joy Harjo –
How We Became Human

Every day I receive and read several poems from various sources, including social media. Not too long ago I read a brief musing on poetry by philosopher, author, activist Bayo Akomolafe:
“Poetry is the language of the apocalypse. When cracks appear, when tensions materialize and split the familiar open, the least thing you need is precision. The least thing you want is to simply get to the point. Well, the poet casts his eyes beside the point, beneath the surfaces, where the exquisite sprouts.”


As we step into this new year, one where cracks and tensions continue to be evident, continue to split open the familiar, this poem felt right as an offering and evocation of the exquisite. A prayer of sorts to greet the day, to remember the power of thoughts and beauty, to not be afraid.

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