AUNT LEAF Needing one, I invented her — the great-great-aunt dark as hickory called Shining-Leaf, or Drifting-Cloud or The-Beauty-of-the-Night.
Dear aunt, I’d call into the leaves, and she’d rise up, like an old log in a pool, and whisper in a language only the two of us knew the word that meant 𝘧𝘰𝘭𝘭𝘰𝘸,
and we’d travel cheerful as birds out of the dusty town and into the trees where she would change us both into something quicker —
two foxes with black feet, two snakes green as ribbons, two shimmering fish — and all day we’d travel.
At day’s end she’d leave me back at my own door with the rest of my family, who were kind, but solid as wood and rarely wandered. While she, old twist of feathers and birch bark, would walk in circles wide as rain and then float back
scattering the rags of twilight on fluttering moth wings;
or she’d slouch from the barn like a gray opossum; or she’d hang in the milky moonlight burning like a medallion,
this bone dream, this friend I had to have, this old woman made out of leaves.
– Mary Oliver – Twelve Moons
While never naming nor summoning a great-great aunt from among the trees, my earliest memory is of gazing up into the spring green canopies of maple and chestnut, where placed in my buggy to nap, I’d be lulled to sleep by their fluttering leaves, the play of dappled light, and the hum of cars passing by. Those maples surrounded my great gran’s home on the street hemming the mighty Niagara River, while the chestnuts, with their lacy pyramids of pink and white blossoms and glossy brown nuts hidden behind green prickly shells, held court over the fence and in the backyard of our main floor apartment, it, too, on that same river street.
A small Canadian town, across the river from the bustle of a big American city, both trees and river became my touchstones, providing a grounding for the inner and outer bustle. It’s only as I’ve grown older that I realized the necessity of that gift to my well being, that I would have known them to be, claimed them to be my friends.
While reading this poem, wishing I’d had the imagination then to have conjured a friend made out of leaves, maybe it was simply a matter of being inarticulate and diffuse. Maybe imagination was always at play, given my natural affinity for always noticing trees as I walk with Annie, or ride shotgun, and knowing that sitting in my yard surrounded by trees has been healing post surgery and illness. Maybe too, I’ve had my own Aunt Leaf all this time, inviting me to wander the world, and walk in circles wide.
“I want to live the rest of my life, however long or short, with as much sweetness as I can decently manage, loving all the people I love, and doing as much as I can of the work I still have to do. I am going to write fire until it comes out my ears, my eyes, my noseholes – everywhere. Until it’s every breath I breathe. I’m going to go out like a fucking meteor.”
– Audre Lorde, A Burst of Light and other essays
When I read this quote earlier in the month, I thought, “That’s a powerful manifesto… just what I need to claim for myself for my birthday and beyond.”
I’d been home a week from my three weeks in Morocco, basking in the full sensory experience that IS Morocco. I had enjoyed myself immensely – a feeling that’s lingered now a month, delighted with my decision to have returned. I felt deeply content with how I’d shown up – not by bringing the best of me, but by bringing all of me. I used my skills to navigate some tricky dynamics, to ask for what I needed, and to offer what I could, including having “an answered prayer” in a room mate, simpatico were we in many ways. (Not everyday do you have a room mate who suggests we meditate daily.)
Travelling solo meant I needed to stretch beyond several comfort points, and while I had some inevitable moments of anxiety, scared even the final morning in Marrakech when my driver never showed, I tended to myself with care, regularly checking in, quietly reassuring myself. My boundaries were intact, yet flexible.
I’ve learned over years of travelling that my creative practices – photography and journaling with the occasional small painted vignette – give me both wonderful personalized memories and in the moment help ground and grok the rich day to day experiences. As I’ve upped my photography skills in the last year, my journal entries lapsed. So this week I filled them in using ticket stubs, brochures, business cards and photos to prompt my recollections. A touch of water colour to brighten the text heavy pages already embellished with washi tape.
In short, I came home, to use a somewhat passé, admittedly overused description, feeling empowered. Ready to keep on living the rest of my life until “I go like a fucking meteor,” just as I’ve long imagined myself coming in.
When we’re young there’s lots We don’t know about The beloved: How he or she is only housed Briefly in this or that body.
Mostly, the beloved is the world, But we’re not ready to see That yet, not able to bear The idea that the beloved Won’t necessarily gaze back at us With eyes like ours, won’t Wrap us in his or her arms.
We want risk, but comfort, too, Comfort most of all. We’re still clinging to our loneliness, Not yet ready to be alone.
– Gregory Orr – Concerning the Book That Is the Body of the Beloved
I think I’d heard of Gregory Orr. Read something of his when a poem arrives in my inbox, or crosses my Facebook feed. But this poem really grabbed me given its appearance this week during the still potent trifecta of faith traditions. From his publisher, Copper Canyon Press, Mary Oliver is quoted as having written about this volume: “What other poet do you know who would give his work such a title—ambitious and humble at the same time? He speaks now, in these many short poems, which in their entirety are really one long poem, of mysteries, of those things—emotions, situations, mind and heart states—which are beyond the definitive.”
In addition to poetry, and city happenings, my inbox welcomes me each morning with a variety of contemplative essays and musing . For one, this week’s theme has been resurrection: what it may have originally meant, how it’s been distorted over time and empire’s (mis)interpretation, and what it might mean in a renewed way today for us. Referencing contemporary theologian Matthew Fox, it offers that we “be resurrection” for ourselves and each other, by rising up and being counted through the commitment to hope and creativity…by being in love with Life.
Being in love with Life and recognizing that the beloved IS the world, are among travel’s most significant gifts to me. I carry home as “souvenir” the memory of my encounters with people, land and culture beyond my familiar, and I am renewed. I return empowered having traveled well with my self in “our” aloneness. And my curiosity, gratitude and imagination are enlivened.
Very much taken by this poet, and the bit I’ve read about him and from him as I prepare this post, I’ll conclude with another of his poems from the same volume, perhaps as wise instruction and reminder for me as I begin my next round of poetry submissions…
“How lucky we are That you can’t sell A poem” How lucky we are That you can’t sell A poem, that it has No value. Might As well Give it away.
That poem you love, That saved your life, Wasn’t it given to you?
The grass never sleeps. Or the roses. Nor does the lily have a secret eye that shuts until morning. Jesus said, wait with me. But the disciples slept.
The cricket has such splendid fringe on his feet, and it sings, have you noticed, with its whole body, and heaven knows if it ever sleeps.
Jesus said, wait with me. And maybe the stars did, maybe the wind wound itself into a silver tree, and didn’t move. Maybe the lake far away, where once he walked as on a blue pavement, lay still and waited, wild awake.
Oh the dear bodies, slumped and eye-shut, that could not keep that vigil, how they must have wept, so utterly human, knowing this too must be part of the story.
– Mary Oliver –
It’s Good Friday, Passover, and mid way through Ramadan. To my way of thinking, the convergence of such significant holy days across these Abrahamic faith traditions signifies an energetic, archetypal potency, transcending dogma. So suggests Mary Oliver in the last stanza of this poem…the inevitability of utterly human error and vulnerability…as if written in the stars for all to unfold as it must.
I’ve written here in the past that I was born on Good Friday. For those who follow the traditions, this doesn’t translate to having a Good Friday birthday every year, though I have had several. Too, I’ve shared how having a birthday on what many view as the darkest day of the Christian calendar gave way over the years for much consternation and contemplation. Now I simply accept it as a meaningful thread within my personal narrative.
This year my birthday is tomorrow, Easter Saturday. Nearly three decades ago, I intuitively evolved the creation of a “coming of age” ceremony for that day, one held within the earliest traditions for baptism. For me, the declaration before my God that I was from that day forward accepting responsibility for my life…that I would now become my own “god mother.” This culminated in legally changing my name to honour the women after whom I’d been first named, and taking a third in gratitude for another who had championed me as a young girl. I became Katharine Maria Anneliese, names that took some time for me to publicly claim, and that I have been growing into ever since. Names that, in my opinion, age well with the promise and potential for ever becoming. Names that every day honour the ancestors, ancients and angels who guide me.
In a most lovely, spontaneous revealing, I learned a few months ago that I share a birth date with poet whose work I admire. Given some other shared affinities and affections, we’ve concluded a soul connection at work that might eventually bode well for some poetic collaborations. In the meantime, I send her my love and warmest wishes for a lovely April 8th birthday.
“To journey and to be transformed by the journeying is to be a pilgrim.“
A week from now I’ll be a year older and closer to closing in on a new decade, my 8th. THIS IS A STAGGERING REALIZATION. One I only came to several weeks ago when anticipating the women with whom I’d be traveling through Morocco. With the exception of one and our tour leader, we were all in our 6th, 7th, and 8th decades… fit, active, engaged in life, mostly retired or pursuing encore careers, well traveled, even if that simply meant in our own neighborhoods. So yes, I’m in my sixties and still will be next week, but this actually does translate to my 7th decade. Obvious for you, but a reframing that had escaped me.
Home a week, I’ve observed how this journey – traveling alone both to and from Morocco, arriving a day early in Casablanca without knowing anyone, and extending my stay in Marrakech several days once the tour had concluded and everyone else was homeward bound or extending their travels to other countries – with some of its requisite and complex inner and outer navigations – strengthened my confidence to discern and clarify boundaries, speak my truth, and not give away carefully considered intentions and plans. Embodied and illuminated by the act of solo traveling, these capacities are, too, the boon of aging, arriving at the solid ground of greater self acceptance – warts, quirks, idiosyncrasies, contradictions, and all. Able to name and claim:
“I’m not here to fix anyone. I’m ready to honor my sensitive nature. Taking care of my energy is my priority. Saying no is a healthy way to set boundaries. Self-care is my path to attracting amazing people. I’m a super feeler, therefore I have a big heart. I don’t owe anyone explanations why I feel this way. My sensitivity is my strength and a source of intuition.”
Jane_lightworker, Empath Mantras at The Soul Journey with Sarah Moussa
Too, how I am showing up is a deepening clarification, a further consolidation and integration of the gifts and challenges from my Camino, now approaching its first anniversary. That journey is never far from my thoughts, living daily into the truth that the Camino continues to cook one long after having reached the destination in Santiago…paradoxically, the destination that never arrives.
Today is my first time posting a Monday blog in months. When I signed off in mid January, I only knew I needed to tend to the nuances of an emerging, inner, imaginary conversation:
Once again, it’s apparent to me that the stuff of my wabi sabi life is swirling inside, needing its time to sort and settle. After my new year’s post wherein I realized – the result of another episode of early morning insomnia – that I simply didn’t know much about how I stood on this threshold, I didn’t post my Monday blog last week, and am not inclined to push myself to produce one for this Monday, or beyond. For the time being, it’s my own inner “imaginary conversation” to which I will pay my attention, not yet to be mined for here.
I rest easier knowing I’m not one to procrastinate, but rather am becoming more familiar, in an embodied way, with living in the messy inchoate middle. That place I have named “before, beneath and beyond words.” That place where I become a conscious partner engaged with Life living itself.
Yet during those months I found myself well engaged with words. While not posting longer pieces, my regular Friday photo and poem posts invited shorter reflections as I shared why I’d chosen the poem and-or what it evoked. Then I surprised myself by submitting multiple poems to over twenty literary journals, entering several poetry competitions, and refining my collection for publication. As I wrote here days before departing for Morocco, in a post titled “True to Path,” I won a contest, had a photo chosen for a poetry anthology cover, will be published in several journals, and the anthology for which I wrote the foreward and chapter section poems has been accepted by an international publisher. Now April, National Poetry Month around the world, I’ll return to my desk to write words, maybe the ones that describe travel’s gift of new impressions, acknowledge a simple noticing and attention paid, heal a wound, light a fire, bring joy.
Staying true to path. The destination that never arrives. Naming and claiming the birthday to be celebrated. A new dance around the sun begun.
Packing up for a weekend away, the stark pleasure of compartments. A miniature version of my life.
It is never photographed so my great-grandchildren will never know it but this just-before time of folding and stuffing and zipping it all up is as delectable as the trip itself.
When I backpacked around Europe and India I was asked, don’t I feel vulnerable with everything I own on my back?
Goodness no, I replied, with no stuff to anchor me. I am free, which is the safest feeling of all.
-bentlily by Samantha Reynolds –
As some of you know I’ve been travelling this month. I returned to Morocco, a destination that captured my heart when I first visited in September, 2019. I’d made a deposit to return in 2020, then the world stopped and I needed to apply it this year before it expired. Given I was touring with the same small group, women only company, its itinerary evoked the comfort of familiarity with enough change brought by our remarkable local guide, Mariam, to keep it fresh and as enthralling.
A week ago, I enjoyed my final dinner at the riad in Marrakech sated by not only the varied collection of fresh Moroccan salads and flaky “briouats,” but also with the multitude of sensory impressions newly etched and deepened from my first visit. Morocco does that. In the surrounding silence, as dusk descended through the open roof, the first stars flickering, the only sound was the water tumbling into the pool below from where I sat. The following day would begin the journey home. Once returned, I came across Samantha’s poem on IG where she regularly posts. From Vancouver, Samantha is known for writing a poem a day, a practice she began as a first-time mother over ten years ago.
Struck particularly by Samantha’s last stanza – as one who travels light, able to curate clothing for three seasons for numerous weeks in a lightweight carry-on and messenger pack (in contrast to the huge pieces of luggage I saw on countless airport carousels, and in the back of our tour van, everyday portered by men at our various accommodations, and lifted and arranged twice a day by our driverHakim) – I responded, “The freedom in traveling light is practical and a powerful metaphor for life.“
Determined to shop very little this trip, and increasingly finding it is my way, as weighing heavy with time passing is wondering what I’ll do with and to whom I’ll give what I’ve gathered over the years. Yes, the carpets with their rich colours, textures and patterns are always my temptation, and offered the opportunity to practice non-attachment, albeit with much silent self-talk and a few tears of regret. Yet I did well… until that last day in Marrakech, when my guide casually walked me into a 12th C caravanserai, now restored and converted for local artisans. Immediately recognizable were paintings by an artist whose work I’d first purchased in Essaouira in 2019. I’d heard he lived in Marrakech, and there he wasat Galerie le coeur blanc, the studio shared with his better known brother, Hamid Khantour. Smitten again with his soft yet vivid palette and Moroccan subject matter, I caved and came way with two more pieces, confident they’d fit in my suitcase. Hah! Two inches too long, posing a packing up challenge.
Admittedly, a step backward in traveling light! But I loved supporting a local artist and making memories of my return to Morocco, soon to beseen every day on my walls.
Happy to be home. Much love and kindest regards, dear friends.
“You can’t measure your success by the number of people who follow you. You measure it by how true you are to path. Because if you aren’t true to path, no amount of societal success will ever gratify you. And if you are true to path, the way that the world receives you is of little significance because you have already found your way home.”
Jeff Brown, Hearticulations: on friendship, love and healing, 2020
Hmmmm…ideally, in principle, I know this to be true and appreciate Jeff’s reminder. Though right now, during the cinematic and music awards season, witnessing the unabashed joy, honor, respect, humility, and bewilderment experienced by winners, and too, by those who didn’t win (let’s step away from the binary), I do think such acknowledgement of one’s being “true to path” is important. Perhaps even vital. I sampled such sweetness when after several submissions over the past two years, and a couple of honourable mentions, I received the email this week announcing my poem had been chosen by the judges of Off Topic Publishing’s poetry contest. Last week another publisher wrote back in response to a submission that my three poems were “fabulous.” Had I not erred in submitting them simultaneously, often an acceptable practice but in this case forbidden, they’d be published this spring. A trifecta of success when the Edmonton Stroll of Poets selected one of my photos for the cover of its 2023 annual anthology, and too, a poem. A bit more remote, though nonetheless rewarding, is that my editor secured an international publisher for the education anthology she oversaw, for which I wrote the foreward and poetry for each section.
Do I feel joy, thankful, affirmed for my efforts? You bet I do. Emailing a friend, I wrote that the angels had given me just enough to nudge me on in this new calling. While I’d already lived the lesson of leaning into rejection and mustering perseverance – one I know will come again and again – after hiding in a cave for a couple of months upon taking way too seriously an off hand remark from an established local poet, I somehow found my way back to path by editing, writing and preparing over twenty submissions, including another send out of my collection, during the first two months of this year.
Now to wait and see…and finish packing for my return to Morocco, where for three weeks I’ll revisit a land that enchanted, enthralled, and inspired one of those “honorably mentioned” poems. I won’t be posting here this month. And while I’ll be photographing, I’m uncertain about posting on my Facebook and or Instagram accounts.
In the meantime, I wish you, dear friends, the uplifting joy in spring’s arrival together with much love and kindest regards.
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.
“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.