When walking in the woods, Or on a path, Or down the street, In a store, Or just upstairs, When you are intent on going, Where ever it is you are going, Stop. Stand still.
Notice how the mind can chatter, Like purple finches in the trees, Endlessly clicking and warbling, Rising and falling and rising again. Notice all your plans and longings, All the things you got, but didn’t want, All you wanted, and didn’t get, All the circular conversations aimed at changing, What was already said or unsaid. Notice all the losses you are carrying, With as much grace as you can muster.
Notice the sky, the feel of the air on your skin, The sounds or what hangs in the silence, The hard knot in your throat. Notice all these things and more, Because there is always more. Then let your heart open, Even just a crack, A dribble or a dam break, It doesn’t matter. Because it is in that opening, You’ll find a clear space The one you keep finding And losing And finding again.
Remember to love it all, All of it. Hold hands and high five With what’s easy and dear, Ephemeral and brilliantly ordinary. Wrap compassion like a blanket The kind we place tenderly, Around other people’s shoulders, When the disaster is done and the worst is over. Love it all, Without looking for any way out, Not condoning, just allowing, For it all to just live, Where it lives. Love everything that broke your heart open That changed you forever, That made you softer, And helped you understand, What you could not have understood otherwise. Love what you’ve endured, Love what you are still enduring. Love the purple finches and the sidewalk, The view from the upstairs window, The brambles and wild asters, And the click of the keyboard.
Love all of this Small and fragile, Big and beautiful, Life.
Then take the next step.
– Carrie Newcomer –
As I wrote in my post Walking, I like to meander and saunter. I like to pause to listen, to look up into the sky, into the trees, onto the expanse of river or field. Yes, to find the image that shimmers, but also to empty myself of all the clutter and clatter so I can take in a bit of what surrounds me, let it envelope me, inside and out.
When Annie and I walk, she is patient with me, as I pause, as I focus my camera, as I stop to talk with a neighbor. Just one of the many things I love about her.
This poem arrived in the monthly “Growing Edge” newsletter by Carrie Newcomer and Parker Palmer. Evoking David Wagoner’s “Lost,” and David Whyte’s “Start Close In,” I love Carrie’s grace-filled noticing and wise counsel to love everything that breaks our hearts open…makes us softer…that we’ve endured and are still enduring, while encouraging us always to take the next step.
Dear friends, may you, too, love it all and take the next step.
“I suspect that the mind, like the feet, works at about three miles an hour. If this is so, then modern life is moving faster than the speed of thought, or thoughtfulness.”
Rebecca Solnit, Wanderlust, 2001
Text on Friday night from my friend:Are you planning on walking tomorrow? It’s supposed to be raining all day.
Me:Yes, I saw the forecast, and yes, I plan to walk. I made the commitment to myself to walk every stage, come rain, sun, sleet or snow. So, yes, I’ll be walking.
Friend: Thumbs up emoji
Text on Saturday morning – well before dawn – to my friend:Hmmmm, I’m reconsidering walking. It’s been raining all night, the forecast is for rain all day. I don’t want to get chilled and cold and sick. What about you?
Friend:I’m up and already dressed.
Friend:We can always go, see if anyone else comes, and what’s happening.
Me:Good idea. Thumbs up emoji
“Go out and walk. That is the glory of life.”
Maira Kalman, My Favorite Things, 2014
So at 7:35 am I drove the short distance to the park for the 8:00 am rendezvous for Stage 7 of the local Camino de Edmonton, amazed at how much darker it was from a week ago, due to heavy cloud cover and the shortened days. We’re now past the midway point, with twelve stages in total, ending the last Saturday in November at the city’s west end of the river valley, when my drive will be much further. A repeat of last year’s camino, now with the stages in reverse order, we’ve had glorious fall weather every weekend until now.
And there we were, ten of us hardy “peregrinos” ready to embrace the day, stepping through puddles, agreeing it would be a good day to test our gears’ waterproofness. Mine – boots, pants and jacket – failed miserably by the end of the 13.5 km circuit, my feet and quads wet to the skin. Once home, showered and dried, wet clothes laundered, boots aired, I began researching remedies and replacements. Several pairs of boots ordered, a couple of jacket styles eyed and waiting, hopefully, for a Black Friday sale (yup, those Arc’teryx jackets are an “investment” to quote my friend ), and waterproofing wash and spray purchased to renew the life of my pants.
“The pieces that I chose were based on one thing only — a gasp of DELIGHT. Isn’t that the only way to curate a life? To live among things that make you gasp with delight?”
Maira Kalman, My Favorite Things, 2014
Every week I post pictures of the week’s walk on social media. Last week in response, another friend asked if I ever wrote about my “camino” experience, relaying how my posts brought to her mind the hauntingly beautiful composition, “camino,” by the late Canadian violinist, Oliver Schroer, created in May and June, 2004, as he walked one thousand kilometers of the Camino Frances, with his partner Elena, and two friends, Peter Coffman and Diane Laundy.
“In my back pack, I carried my violin like a wooden chalice, like my own precious relic, carefully packed in its reliquary of socks and underwear and waiting to work a miracle. My pack also contained a portable recording studio. When I found a church or cathedral that was acoustically enticing…and open…I played my violin and recorded in those spaces. I played some of my older fractal and spiritual pieces. I improvised a lot. Walking for weeks, new pieces came to me – one hill, one valley at a time. In two months, I played and recorded in twenty-five different churches…
…The music still sings on these recordings. The sense of place is strong here – pilgrims praying, children playing, birds, bells, footsteps, passing snatches of conversation, the sounds of the buildings themselves. Each space has it sown distinct character and resonance.”
Oliver Schroer, “camino” journal notes, 2005
My photographs are glimpses into the sense of place I encounter as I walk – “that magical stuff of ‘the moments inside the moments inside the moments.’” (Maira Kalman). What shimmers – audaciously or subtly – and has me gasp with delight, or stop and turn around to really take in the moment? What is different or the same this year, from when I walked the same stage last year? What memories are evoked, impressions stirred, conversations silently replayed, or spoken anew now?
“With the utmost love and attention the person who walks must study and observe every smallest living thing, be it a child, a dog, a fly, a butterfly, a sparrow, a worm, a flower, a man, a house, a tree, a hedge, a snail, a mouse, a cloud, a hill, a leaf, or no more than a poor discarded scrap of paper on which, perhaps, a dear good child at school has written his first clumsy letters.”
Henry Thoreau, The Walk, 1861
Last year walking, it was a friend’s question about what I did with my photos – having watched me pause many times that glorious Saturday, to frame the image and focus my camera, fall behind the group and then catch up – that planted the seed for creating a photo journal of how I experienced my life during the pandemic. The first volume of one hundred pages, from March to December, 2020, and now a second volume almost at capacity with three months of this year still to enter. Too, my husband suggested I make a photo book exclusively of my Camino photos in appreciation for the co-ordinator’s efforts in planning and hosting all thirteen stages last year. As our host didn’t follow along on social media, it was the first time he saw in its entirety the beauty of what he had envisioned and coordinated for us, through the beauty I had captured and created for him.
“…the genius of walking lies not in mechanically putting one foot in front of the other en route to a destination but in mastering the art of sauntering – which word is beautifully derived “from idle people who roved about the country, in the Middle Ages, and asked charity, under pretense of going a la Sainte Terre, to the Holy Land, till the children exclaimed, “There goes a Sainte-Terrer,” a Saunterer, a Holy-Lander. “
Henry Thoreau, The Walk, 1861
Since 2000 I’ve waxed and waned with the dream of walking a camino, ever since I read Shirley MacLaine’s memoir. She brought to mainstream consciousness the ancient pilgrimage through France and northern Spain to Santiago de Compostela, today known as The Way, or Camino Frances, the same one walked by Oliver Schroer. There are many camino routes, ending at Santiago, or Italy’s Vatican, or through the forests and shrines of Japan. Last year, walking the Camino de Edmonton 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.
And hearing inside my heart, Oliver Schroer’s homage to the Camino de Santiago, “Field of Stars.” (Click the link to listen.)
“I went because I knew others who had gone, and the experience filled them with wonder.”