“When you reach a stage when you can have a very dark and difficult experience, without having to look on the “bright side,” then you know that you have made progress on your healing journey. Because one significant measure of our emotional health, is our capacity to tolerate all of our experiences without jumping to reactive reframes. You reach a stage where you can stretch to accommodate the truth of your lived experience. You have enough light inside, to own the shadow. And enough shadow inside, to own the light.”
Jeff Brown, Hearticulations: on friendship, love and healing, 2020
Taking a step sideways from my usual posting of a Friday poem, I found this quote scrolling on my Facebook feed this week, something I’m doing only occasionally these days (that might be a story for another time). Posted on a friend’s timeline, after reading the comments I was reminded that decades ago I had read something Shakti Gawain of creative visualization fame, wrote about positively thinking herself into a psychosis. At a time when a heavy theme within the new age thought movement was espousing “think positive and manifest thus,” her words left an indelible mark. In that same era, I read Ken Wilber in an issue of the New Age Journal calling out this same tendency, particularly with reference to blaming those suffering with life threatening illness, as his wife at the time was dying of cancer. (Wilber, having created the brilliantly deep and expansive Intergral Theory, is who Fr. Richard Rohr describes in a recent podcast with Brene Brown, “the wisest philosopher of religion on the American scene.”)
I received the gift of insight a few weeks ago, during an interview with a fellow doing a Masters degree in Tourism, studying the transformations experienced by we who walk “secular,” non-religious inspired caminos. In response to his final question, “What in 3 or 4 sentences would I describe as the main lessons learned from my camino?” and as I wrote here last week, after several moments of quiet consideration, searching for the most accurate words, I said that I am developing an embodied, visceral familiarity with what it means to live in Life’s messy, inchoate middle, engaging with, partnering with, Life living itself.
Bravo to we who are so fiercely tender and tenderly fierce in our refusal to only live on the bright side of life, ignoring its necessary, organic, abundant mess. Life needs us to be so.
While a week late, and a post missed, I’ve kept my promise to myself to “stick to the knitting” and my writing practice here. During the interim, two rejections from the group where last year I’d been invited to read my submission to their ekphrastic poetry contest (beginner’s luck?) – I was sure I had a good one – and another written in the wee hours of Wednesday’s dawn to meet another contest deadline. Fingers crossed and regardless, I’ll get feedback from the judges. Always a boon.
Too, after a record-breaking long and warm and sunny August, September and October, wherein I was playing pickleball outside until Hallowe’en, winter – apparently fed up with waiting – suddenly, unequivocally barged in with November. Blowing and blustering throughout Alberta, it dropped nearly a foot of snow in a matter of days, wreaked highway havoc, and gave us the dubious distinction of being among the coldest spots on earth this week. Add Tuesday’s full moon lunar eclipse; peculiar and powerful planetary alignments wreaking their own astrological chaos; news from home that a high school chum has been seriously afflicted by dementia; another friend coping with pneumonia and two small children; a frozen vehicle; Annie down with a GI tract infection (she’s better now)…
Neither complaining nor making excuses, I’m simply noticing what now has the capacity to knock me sideways, crawl deeper into the covers, and, despite the sun and blue sky, colorfully renounce my gratitude for the seasons, especially this one. I refuse to call it a symptom of age…more the wisdom that comes with…a finer attunement to the nuanced…the paying with attention in my body, and not over-riding it with my thinking. Saturday’s Camino walk in the river valley with a reprieve in temperature, and later with Annie, restored my appreciation.
Last weekend I took the bus to Calgary to attend a Friday poetry evening and Saturday workshop with Pádraig Ó Tuama. Such a treat to physically sit in his presence and hear him do so brilliantly what I’d only ever heard him do through Zoom and podcast space…recite remarkable poetry and invite us into how to listen to its structure for its meanings. Thank God, I knew to book the bus when I’d made the arrangements during early September’s golden glory. (I have a kind of prescience when it comes to weather…that finer attunement thing.) Both of us walking alone as we approached the venue, I introduced myself, said a few words as we climbed the stairs to the entrance, and then made our separate ways. Pretty neat for this enthusiastic fan. Too, I was standing in line to purchase his “hot off the press” Poetry Unbound collection, only to recognize immediately behind me award-winning Calgary poet Rosemary Griebel. We have a virtual friendship initiated when she wrote me a lovely compliment on my blog. Knowing she’d be there, I’d brought my copy of YES, her most recent collection, for her signature. Again, pretty neat for this appreciative fan. And then at the Saturday workshop, of all the coincidences, by way of her friend, Peg, we discovered we share a birthday. How neat is that!?! A bit of kismet perhaps…especially as we talked about Camino walking and her interest in Portugal.
I had several takeaways from the weekend inspired by both Pádraig and Rosemary. With my own rejections fresh, I felt restored hearing Pádraig say how difficult it continues to be for him to find places and publishers for his poetry, still how many and often the rejections. Its antidote, he said, was finding a small, intimate group of writers with whom to share the work, so as to uplift each other in the efforts made, support each other through the process of editing, submitting, and receiving rejections and acceptances. In the acknowledgement of her book, Rosemary mentioned the friendship and support received from her regular local poetry writers’ group. Into my new vocation now for a couple of years, I know its solitary, often lonely nature. I returned home committed to putting a call out, both to the Universe (trusting my efforts are adding), and to some writers to ask if they’d meet me in the sandbox – virtual is fine – to support each other as we make our way with words.
And speaking of Camino, mid week I was invited to present “A Creative’s Way of Walking Her Camino” to the first, post covid, in person gathering of our local chapter of the Canadian Company of Pilgrims. Using a story I’d written for Portugal Green Walks and the upcoming issue of Sage-ing: The Journal of Creative Aging – a synthesis of my blogs – I shared my way of traveling in general, and in particular how I had walked the Portuguese Coastal Camino – using journal, painting, photography and poetry to grok within the experience’s impressions and memories. I was delighted not only with the feedback from attendees and planning committee, but more so to have been “seen” in this way of my vocation, to be, as one of the members said, the chapter’s “resident artist-poet.” Now this is very neat!
I am now inside the season’s cocoon, wintering. Despite the initial shock, I am surrendered to the inevitable, ready to savor having designed time for writing, studying Italian and “rewilding,” walking, cooking, hand work, seeing friends, sharing time with my “pack,” playing pickleball. Feeling life full in the midst of its fallow.
It’s early Sunday night and I’m sitting in my usual space for writing. Hot cup of tea to the side. My radio station playing low in the background. The space heater blowing warm, taking off the foreboding chill. Last week I read that here in Edmonton we were having the longest run of October +20 C degree days since 1944, and today tied the record for the latest first frost. But this weekend, winter made its arrival in other parts of the province and I know it’s simply a matter of time. The wheel turns…
It’s been nearly three months since my last post, one wherein I’d announced the need for a pause…to settle into my breath, body and bones after my month long Camino, to prepare for traveling to Italy with my husband, to re-centre to purpose. Since returning from Spain in early June, I’ve had the felt sense of standing yet again on a cusp. It was an atypical summer, late in coming, the hottest August on record giving us warm, sultry, bug free evenings, and one of illness: my lengthy recovery from Covid; then my husband developing a viral infection – non Covid but with a similar symptom pattern leaving him fatigued and coughing for weeks; and I succumbing to the same a few weeks later. Our Annie dog sustained sprains and pulled muscles. My elderly father’s ever robust and vital presence began to dim.
“I’ve lost my edge,” is how my husband put it, and for the first time I saw glimpses of a wavering frailty that comes with aging. While we’ve both recovered, and are feeling well having enjoyed our unstructured time sauntering in Rome, and then touring the exquisite landscapes of Puglia (albeit in overcast skies and rain), there’s the indelible realization we have entered a new life stage. Grief with facing the endings of ways of living and being, we are staring – starkly, undeniably -at our mortality and that of those we love and cherish.
In readying myself to write tonight and to return to it as my vocation, I spent a couple of hours today catching up on the myriad of e-newsletters in my inbox, a cursory glance telling me they held a pearl or several. Below are some of the more salient bits holding my attention:
“I have this belief that an internal monoculture of peace and clarity and smooth sailing is what normal people experience, so it’s what I should experience. And if I don’t feel peaceful and clear and focused, then there’s something that needs fixing inside me… I want to reframe messiness as holy. I want to slide down and immerse myself in the murky waters of my messy heart.”
Barb Morris, “a messy mind is a healthy mind,” e-letter, September 29, 2022
“I’m curious to know if you have a line you repeat to yourself when you’re trying to sink into that necessary solitude that is at the heart of every human relationship: the relationship of yourself to yourself.”
Padraig O’Tuama, “the solitude at the heart of human relationship,” Poetry Unbound Newsletter, October 2, 2022
“We reach for hope as the antidote to despair, but actually hope is the cause of despair. The problem with hope is that it’s bipolar. Every time we rely on hope, we always bring in fear. Buddhist wisdom teaches that hope and fear are two sides of the same dynamic.”
Margaret Wheatley, “We Have to Talk About Hope,” October 19, 2022
“The rhythms of the seasons play a significant role in my own discernment. Honoring the flowering of spring and the fruitfulness of summer, alongside the release of autumn and the stillness of winter, cultivates a way of being in the world that feels deeply reverential of my body and soul’s own natural cycles. We live in a culture that glorifies spring and summer energies, but autumn and winter are just as essential for rhythms of release, rest, and incubation. When we allow the soul’s slow ripening, we honor that we need to come into the fullness of our own sweetness before we pluck the fruit. This takes time and patience.”
Christine Valters Paintner, Love Notes, Abbey of the Arts newsletter, October 22, 2022
My synthesis, in poem…
the necessary solitude that is my messy heart and mind that I sink into as an antidote to the bipolarity of hope and fear
seasons’ rhythms a discernment where now autumn’s release and soon winter’s stillness allow my soul’s ripening
I took time and patience the needed pause to recover and reveal life’s holy starkly beautiful truths
Much love and kindest regards, dear friends. It’s good to be back.
In circle work, as taught by my teachers and elder “heart sisters,” Christina Baldwin and Ann Linnea in The Circle Way, knowing when to call for a pause is a practice tenet. To regather one’s thoughts or focus, to recentre to purpose, taking a deep breath or several in silence supports the moving through and forward.
So it is that after a month of walking, and another two reflecting and writing about it here, I am pausing from writing my Monday posts. I may return to posting my Friday feature photo and poems, and in fact, have one lined up for Friday. But I’ll see how it rolls. Needing my attention this month are a few projects: writing the foreward and composing poetry for an anthology of women’s leadership in education, fine-tuning my poetry manuscript for the next round of submissions to publishers, and preparing the next issue of SAGE-ING for our September 21 online publication date.
In signing off for now, and “tucking in” my reflections on the Camino, here are beautiful words that affirm who I am and how I show up in the world, evident in my recent Camino photostories. Again, one of those timely Facebook finds:
“Are you happy? In all honesty? No. But I am curious – I am curious in my sadness and I am curious in my joy. I am everseeking, everfeeling. I am in awe of the beautiful moments life gives us, and I am in awe of the difficult ones. I am transfixed by grief, by growth. It is all so stunning, so rich, and I will never convince myself that I cannot be somber, cannot be hurt, cannot be overjoyed. I want to feel it all – I don’t want to over it up or numb it. So no, I am not happy. I am open, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
“If you ever get the chance, go alone. Walk alone, travel alone, live alone, dance alone. Just for a while. If you ever get the chance, learn who you are when the world isn’t demanding you to be one way or another. Most people only know how to stand on their own if someone else will stand beside them. Don’t let that be your story. When you get the chance, know that the opportunity to walk alone, even for a bit, is a rare gift, one that will hand you insight that can change the course of your life.”
I got that chance during the 15th stage when my companion chose to take a day off to recover from the previous day’s fall. Even though I’d been walking more or less on my own with my companion bringing up the rear, today I’d truly be walking alone. This would be a short stage where upon arrival in San Mauro, I’d need to contact the transfer service to take me back to Pontevedra. I was a bit anxious about how that would go, given some challenges the last time we called for a transfer taxi. With a forecast of sun and 30+C temperatures, I opted for an early start, giving me an early return to do laundry and more exploring in Pontevedra. From my journal: “Today’s stage, ‘alone together’ with other pilgrims was a rest… cold and fresh as I walked at dawn, through Pontevedra’s historic centre, down cobblestone streets embedded with blue twinkling lights marking the Way, crossing the wide expanse of the Ponte de Burgo.”
Past homes, parallel to train tracks, then on a busy road to more train tracks, finally in the sun dappled shade of the Reiris woods, to the stage’s destination at the Café a Posada do Peregrino, boasting one of the oldest credential stamps on the Portuguese Way. There, under the flower laden, pergola covered café, filled with pilgrims taking pause and refreshment, most of them continuing on to Caldas de Reis, I enjoyed another culinary delicacy: “sharing fresh Galatian octopus – boiled, sliced, sea salt, hot and smoky paprika and EVOO – with Denise from Ireland (first met in the hotel lobby in Baiona, then in Vigo and now here in Pontevedra) in gratitude for calling my transfer taxi.”
“I returned to the hotel around 11, just as the sun was coming around to my balcony, perfect for drying clothes and boot liners. Napped and showered, I did more exploring – the Basilica of Santa Maria, Alameda and gardens, the ruins of Santa Domingo. Ice cream and pharmacy stops…video call home…then another great Italian dinner steps away from the hotel…Buonasera bella!”
Friday, May 27, 2022 – Stage 16: San Mauro to Caldas de Reis – Another sunny, cloudless blue sky morning, that would bring even hotter temperatures sooner in the day. I woke feeling unwell. A headache, a sore throat. Dreamt of taking a rapid test so heeding its wisdom, I bit the bullet, googled what happens if I tested positive in Spain – nothing – and swabbed. Thankfully a fast and fifteen minutes later, unequivocal negative result. I’d felt my immune system wavering in Arcade after sitting there chilled for several hours following the preceding two days walking in relentless rain. Then, those few moments of feeling deep fear seeing my companion immobile proved enough to topple it. I’d walk the remaining four stages to Santiago under the weight of chest and sinus congestion, coughing, and growing fatigue.
But for now, relieved I was covid free, we met our driver who delivered us the short distance to San Mauro to begin the four hour walk to Caldas de Reis. From my journal: “Transfer back to San Mauro went without a hitch. Joined the ensemble walking at 9:15 am. We stopped early and I ordered a cappuccino, the owner gesturing for me to wait outside. Little did I know what was being prepared for me! A spectacular whipped cream concoction, now on top of those 2 perfect glazed donuts at breakfast! This stage had at least 4 cafes. At another we sat in the sought after shade drinking radlers, probably not the best idea after whipped cream and the rising heat.”
A mid-afternoon arrival at our destination, again waylaid by misunderstanding the directions to our hotel and eventually guided there by a local woman to whom I gave one of my remaining gratitude gifts, we checked in, settled, and walked across the bridge to the Taberna O Muino. Its outdoor terrace, situated in the shade over the river, was a cool respite with temperatures now in the low 30s. From my journal: “Tapas at 2:30 – the owner kindly seated us despite saying it was full and we had no reservation, then when I asked, seeing people leave, he moved us to a better table. Another ‘coup’ as the terrace was filled with locals and the occasional peregrino ready for a leisurely Friday afternoon multicourse lunch. Had my first sangria – too sweet for my liking as an accompaniment to food – razor clams (not as good as those first ones in Castelo do Neiva), manchego cheese, white chorizo (uncured and unsmoked so like Italian sausage, it needed to be cooked), fried sardines which despite being “small” were not the finger length fried-to-a-crisp variety we’d savored at the tapas bar in Triana a few years earlier. A complementary EVOO cake for dessert that unfortunately got only a sampling, being full and hot.”
Caldas de Reis has been a thermal spa-town since Roman times, with medieval travelers documenting its similarity to the famous baths in Baden, Germany. Our “relais” Hotel Balneario Acuna (1812) featured a beautiful thermal pool and throughout the town there were numerous thermal fountains.
As I’d been feeling increasingly under the weather, and with the next day’s forecast for more clear, hot weather, we chose to forgo breakfast for a 7:00 am start, to walk the 20 kilometer stage to Padron before it became scorching. Hindsight would prove us right, and too, the truth of these words scribed into my journal on Thursday, May 26, walking alone to San Mauro:
“‘I do not go into the forest to be alone.’ She said, ‘I go to be with the ONES who speak without human words.'”
This was one of the shortest stages, under two hours, less than 8 kilometers, but with a steep climb through the transmission corridor early in the walk. With the sun shine, blue sky, and cool breeze, it was an invigorating start to the day, getting heartbeats up and leg muscles warmed as we continued to have episodic glimpses of the large and long Ria de Vigo, the lifeblood of the region. Reminded of the Galicia’s Celtic roots, we met a piper in the woods, busking for coins, a preamble of what we’d encounter in Santiago.
True to the witnessed weather patterns and forecast, by the time we’d arrived in Arcade, several hours too early for checking in to our hotel, the clouds had rolled back in bringing afternoon showers. From my journal, Tuesday, May 24, 2022:“…we nursed coffees in the hotel café, and partook of the Arcade iteration of a ‘ploughman’s lunch’, each of us ordering one of the two options to share: ham and cheese pie made in puff pastry; a simple but delicious and easy to replicate chick pea soup with smoky chorizo; cod baked in EVOO and paprika with boiled potatoes; marinated shredded pork with fries; and a simple but good creamy cake. Finally checked in, with our bags having arrived…a hot shower to kill the inner chill, nap and now at 7:30 hoping the sudden cloud burst passes so we can walk the 15 minutes up the road for signature fresh oysters…Of course arriving earlier than the norm, we had our choice of tables at the lovely Marisqueria Arcade: a dozen fresh oysters, and finally tasted percebes (an homage to the women harvesting at Oia, and thank god I’d watched that YouTube video to know how to eat them!!!) with grilled scampi, and the famed Spanish albarino wine. The finishing touch sating my sweet touch, a complimentary snifter of the region’s cream liqueur.” On the walk back to the hotel, I discovered what they did with all those oyster and scallop shells.
The next day’s stage would bring me to, what in hindsight was my favorite stop along the Way, Pontevedra. Somewhat ironic because our arrival had been marked by the morning’s earlier mishap when my companion tripped and fell on the path. From my journal, Wednesday, May 25, 2022: “What started out as another cool, fresh, and sunny walk thru woods and villages, heeding the advice of 2 different men – one playing the archetypal ‘fool,’ carving and selling his wares in the woods – to take the flat ‘complementario’ route by the stream in the forest vs the exposed hot mountain climb, was well worth it…until she tripped and fell and I stood terrified for those first few moments…immediately many on the path were there to offer support and wish us well…intuitively I accepted the wise ministrations from the young Portuguese men, one with first aid training, and his friend, a padre. Bases covered, I wept with relief and gratitude.”
Not to be denied, I held its impacts and implications together with the comfort taken in asking for a room change to one with sunshine and a balcony from which to hang my sink-laundered clothing, and a solitary exploration around the city’s historic centre with camera in hand. My first icy vermut (what, Italian Martini and not those fantastic craft pours I’d fallen in love with in Andalusia!) – another generous pour – sipped al fresco at a café perfect for people watching warmed my soul in the late afternoon sun.
Discovered once home, these words became another source of solace, and a most apt description of my Camino, its purpose, and its gifts:
“In the fields, she stopped and took a deep breath of the flower-scented air. It was dearer to her than kin, better than a lover, wiser than a book. And for a moment she rediscovered the purpose of her life. She was here on earth to absorb its wild enchantment.”
Half way through my Camino and the “ordeals” I’d mentioned in an earlier post were coming to bear. Despite waking to a glorious sunny day, my mood was cloudy. Again, a couple of FACEBOOK finds, written in my journal with the title, “thoughts for my day that re-ignited my love and joy”:
“I worried alot.
…Was I right, was I wrong, will I be forgiven, can I do better?
…Finally I saw that worrying had come to nothing. And gave it up. And took my old body and went out into the morning and sang.”
Mary Oliver, I Worried
And this one:
“I was in darkness, but I took three steps and found myself in paradise. The first step was a good thought; the second, a good word; and the third, a good deed.”
Breakfast with time taken to unpack matters weighing heavy meant for a later start, something we’d need to contend with as the temperatures rose and blistered feet swelled. (Though as I write this now, nothing like the record breaking heat both Portugal and Spain are experiencing – so intense that many are walking at night, or canceling their Caminos altogether.) And our decision to ignore the GPS route to continue walking along the coast would prove less successful getting to our endpoint, though a cooler and beautiful alternative.
Crossing over the River Minor via the jagged 13th C Ponte da Ramallosa bridge with St. Telmo watching over :
Walking on the boardwalk by one of Galacia’s golden beaches, Praia America, with its steeple and domed mosque in the distance:
To finally eating our packed lunch at Praia Patos, further north along the coast on the other side of the peninsula, where, in the hot and hazy distance, we saw the next day’s destination, the Cies Islands:
Maybe it was the blisters, or the bee stings, or the blazing sun, but when my companion acknowledged her need to call short this stage, letting us make use of the nearby hotel to call a cab, she gave us both the gift of an early return to Baiona to enjoy a leisurely lunch over a bottle of “rosado,” some sight seeing, and to organize the cab to Vigo to catch the morning ferry to the Cies Islands the next day. From my journal: “The chapel of Santa Liberata (1695) commemorating Baiona’s martyred daughter and 1st woman in the world crucified, and the Collegiate Church of Santa Maria-Virgen de la Rosa – I felt very much the feminine spirit of this place…how today we had dipped into the wounds of the feminine – as mother, daughter, women…and how in the surrendering to need, giving us a most beautiful day.”
“Once we believe in ourselves, we can risk curiosity, wonder, spontaneous delight, or any experience that reveals the human spirit.”
e.e. cummings – written on my journal page, Friday, May 20, 2022: STAGE 10- Baiona to Patos
The following day brought a cycling back around to cool, overcast weather. Maybe a blessing as we’d be hiking in the elements with limited shelter on the fixed ferry schedule I’d reserved months earlier. The Cies Islands are an archipelago of three islands in the Atlantic at the mouth of the Vigo River. A designated natural reserve with pristine white beaches, cliffs, and fragile flora and fauna, access is restricted with ferry crossings pre-booked online. From my journal Saturday, May 21, 2022 – “Free Day” Cies Islands: “Like clockwork! Front desk reserved a taxi and Carlos picked us up promptly in his immaculate CRV, drove us to Vigo and was there again at 6:00 pm to return us to Baiona. Perfect weather for walking on the ‘Ruta del Alto do Principe,’ to the cliffs on the north island – Monteagudo – facing west onto the Atlantic and the lighthouse – Faro de Cies – in the distance. Ate lunch and then relaxed at the harbor, people watching and waiting for the ferry. Taking a ‘rest day’ I realize my fatigue. But once I clarified with lovely Paola from PGW, who I met tonight, on how we proceed tomorrow, I’m ready for the long walk to Vigo. ‘Stay on the blue GPS route,’ she instructed. “
Back in Baiona, those laden skies opened up, pouring as we crossed the street for dinner, and for most of the night, with thunder rumbling and lightning flashing across the sky. By the time morning came, it lifted enough to set out with Carlos, who having returned, would drive us to the next stage’s starting point, Corujo.
Reflecting that day on the Cies Islands, I recalled my solo travels in Italy, to the time when sitting sipping icy limoncello on the boardwalk at Monterosso al Mare – the first of the five villages of the Cinque Terre – I watched two silver haired women disembark from the train, obvious trekkers with their boots, backpacks, and poles. Inspired by their presence, I made a mental note that I wanted to be like them at their age, which I’d imagined to be in their seventies. As fate would have it, these words appeared on my FACEBOOK feed later that evening:
“Aging is no accident. It is necessary to the human condition, intended by the soul. We become more characteristic of who we are simply by lasting into later years; the older we become, the more our true natures emerge. Thus the final years have a very important purpose: the fulfilment and confirmation of one’s character.”
While I have a few years before my hair becomes as silver, I am more becoming myself with every step, and mis-step, taken in this Camino that is my life.
Portuguese Coastal Camino Stage 6: Viana do Castelo to Vila Praia de Ancora Stage 7: Vila Praia de Ancora to A Guarda, Galacia-Spain
“Soulful travel is the art of finding beauty even in ruins, even in inclement weather, even in foul moods. Like art, pilgrimage cannot wait for the right mood to appear. Like poetry, pilgrimage is beyond time and space. It happens now, or it doesn’t happen at all.”
Phil Cousineau, The Art of Pilgrimage, 1998
“Inclement weather.” And so it begins.
Walking, I’d noticed a pattern where several days of sunshine and warm, verging on hot temperatures would then be followed by socked-in skies, rain, and wind. We were due. Since arriving in Lisbon two weeks prior, we had walked in fog and heavy clouds threatening to burst, but we’d not yet walked in rain.
From my journal, Monday, May 15, 2022, STAGE 6: Viana do Castelo to Vila Praia de Ancora: “Wow! What a day! Left Viana do Castelo in the rain and walked most of six hours, over 20 km, in the rain. Thankfully sheltered by the stone walls. Thinking of the ‘Litoral’ route along the coast would have been very wet, and even more windy than we experienced, being in the open, in the elements. Met Michael from Munich walking ahead – a young fellow whose red rain poncho was like mine. His ‘sloshy’ shoes were the dream I’d had that made me rethink my footwear. Grateful for gators and my ALTHUS rain poncho – though I wished it was vented like Michael’s…”
An ordeal for some, oddly enough, I was looking forward to walking in the rain, curious to see if my preparations would pay off. Last fall, one Saturday walking my local Camino de Edmonton, it poured rain the entire morning, soon enough showing me that all my so-called waterproof wear was not. I promptly researched and invested in new boots, and waterproofing wash and spray for my pants and jacket. In the new year, deposit paid to Portugal Green Walks for this Camino, scrolling though one of the Facebook Camino groups, I learned about ALTUS lightweight, breathable raincoats fitted to backpacks, long length with sleeves, remedying the blowing out in wind which often renders useless more typical poncho styles. I knew walking on the coast would be windy, so with a quick search, discovered Spain’s Deporvillage stocked and shipped, I made the investment and within four days had mine for just over $100 CAD all in – the duties as much as the coat, but far less than the $200+ quoted then on Amazon.
Ordering footwear – ten pair at one point – varying in makes (Merrell and Keen), styles, sizes, and widths – I finally settled on the pair that met my criteria, but weren’t waterproof. (I’d read walking in warmer weather feet get too hot in waterproof footwear – hence go up a half to a full size to compensate for swelling – and add to blister risks.) Then the gift of my nighttime dream…seeing myself in these boots, hearing and feeling my feet sloshing in the rain…and I woke knowing I had to rethink my footwear choices. My waterproof Merrell Moab hikers bought last fall gave me ankle and foot support especially on the stoned paths, and stayed dry inside.
Again part of the weather pattern, by mid afternoon, with temperatures rising and wind blowing apart the cloud cover, sunshine and blue sky made for a welcoming arrival into Vila Praia de Ancora. Once checked into the hotel, wet clothing and boots laid out to dry, I discovered the unsightly but painless hiker’s rash on my lower legs, the result of overheating from wearing gators. I’d recalled and found the photo another “camiga” had posted of the same, with comments as to probable diagnosis -“vasculitis”- and went to the pharmacy for treatment – a chestnut-based cooling cream. Within a few days, and forever dispensing with gators, it healed completely.
Wandering around town, finally rested enough to eat, I discovered a restaurant, empty except for a local nursing his beer. The hostess welcomed me in and yes, dinner could be served to me at this early hour of 7:00 (both the Portuguese and Spanish restaurants are notable in their late dinner hours, where 8:00 pm is often early!) From my journal: “I went my own way for dinner and did I receive! All women cooking…the hostess, in between preparing a rear room for a large party of diners – a group of walkers I’d see the next morning at breakfast – poured me a huge glass of a beautiful Portuguese red and took my order: a grilled veal steak, served flambé, with roasted potatoes, rice and EVOO drizzled greens. A rich and silky homemade chocolate mousse for dessert. I was in heaven. The women and I exchanged blown kisses in appreciation. Such a marvelous night being fed and tended to by these kind women.”
En route back to the hotel, I walked to the town’s namesake beach – “praia” in Portuguese – to take in the sea and sky and ready myself for the next day’s walk.
Tuesday, May 16, STAGE 7: Vila Praia de Ancora to A Guarda, Galacia-Spain -A shorter stage where we’d be making our way into Spain, crossing the River Minho at Caminha. Inclement weather returned. From my journal: “Another overcast, windy walk along the coast, but not as hot as ‘sans’ rain poncho and gators. Feet are doing well. Pretty straightforward into Caminha, through its old gates, lovely square, and then it started to rain in earnest. See the clouds rolling down the mountains and by the time we join the family of three on the outboard water taxi, the wind and surf and rain were coming down soaking us. I loved it! Could hardly see in the storm, but I’d fortified with a trick I’d learned in Capri, an ‘espresso corretto’ made with that terrific Portuguese brandy, minutes before boarding.”
“Then in Spain – Galacia – and through forests, the still quiet and birdsong into the walled fishing port of A Guarda. Another nondescript hotel, lunch sandwich made from breakfast’s offerings. Slim pickings for dinner as many restaurants close on Mondays and Tuesdays. I’ll assume vinho verde now gives way to vermut and manzanilla, roija and tempranillo. Walked to the port for tapas of fresh seafood: steamed mussels, A Guarda’s specialty – langoustines split and fried with sea salt and chiles, and crispy calamari.”
“For many women, going on a sacred journey means getting back in touch with what is sacred in the earth.”
Joan Marler in The Art of Pilgrimage,1998
Yes, and I would add to that, getting back in touch with and staying present to what is sacred in one’s self – one’s needs, one’s knowing, one’s intuition.
Thinking back, that dinner in Vila Praia de Ancora stays with me, deep within my heart and mind and belly. Not only because it so simply and deliciously satisfied my knowing and need for a good, hot meal after a long day of walking face first in the elements, but also because I was tended to with such simple love and kindness, in the most fundamental ways, by the women in that restaurant. Even now, I’m moved to tears thinking back to that evening…what it gave me…how it sustained me.
“Travel is travail. The ancient Greeks taught that obstacles were the tests of gods, and the medieval Japanese believed that the sorrows of travel were challenges to overcome and transform into poetry and song.”
Phil Cousineau, The Art of Pilgrimage, 1998
Quest. Pilgrimage. Hero’s journey. Each entails encountering and overcoming challenges and ordeals. Religious historian Huston Smith in Phil Cousineau’s The Art of Pilgrimage (1998) describes four aspects to pilgrimage: singleness of purpose; freedom from distraction; ordeal or penance; and offerings.
And so it was that on this 20 km, second stage to Apulia, blisters made their appearance. Given my feet would walk me to Santiago, I took their care seriously, each day rubbing them with foot glide, taping hot spots, and yes, even talking to them with words of encouragement and gratitude for their strength and resiliency. The last time I’d travelled internationally, I was recovering from an excruciating case of plantar fasciitis. Then, working with my chiropractor, putting indoor pickleball on hiatus, and packing a couple of pairs of shoes and Yamuna foot balls, I succeeded in walking pain free for three weeks. So yes, I took my feet and their care seriously.
This time I’d bought and broken in shoes a half size larger to account for swelling, and brought umpteen pairs of socks, finally arriving at the right combination of cushion, wicking, and comfort with Darn Tough merino light-weight hikers, socks that arrived just days before departure. My hefty but compact “foot care” kit included several sizes of COMPEED plasters, Rock Tape, moleskin, needles and thread, tweezers, scissors, antiseptic wipes, polysporin, bandaids, and while I was prepared, short of entirely taping each foot, I had no idea until that day of walking across varied surfaces, in growing heat, for six hours, what would be the rub and where the result. Rub identified – the outside heel edge of my insoles – and resolved with moleskin, several days later I was pain free and simply needed the COMPEED to do its work.
Apart from myriad details, and the hours and energy involved in planning and preparing for this first post pandemic international trip – researching equipment and resources, designing my packing systems for easy access, “rehearsing” during my Saturday Camino walks – I made sure to reserve time the week before departure for two vivifying activities: embellishing the pages of my travel journal with washi tape borders (tape I’d found resembling Portuguese tiles) and “touchstone” inspirational quotes; and preparing tokens of gratitude to gift people along the Way, to enact and realize my intention of walking in appreciation and gratitude.
“When you leave home, you are a stranger, and a stranger is always feared. That is why the wise traveler carries gifts. To make a peace offering at every stop of a pilgrimage is to recognize the sacred nature of the journey with a deep personal purpose.”
Phil Cousineau, The Art of Pilgrimage, 1998
I had discovered a collection of bronzed metal maple leaves – what could be more Canadian! – and golden elm leaves in my craft kit, a couple of cool swag pins from my radio station, and some other small tokens that I wrapped in colorful tissue and a sealed with floral stickers, making for little lightweight packets.
After returning to Lisbon’s famous glove store, Luvaria Ulisses (1925), to gift Paula, the delightful saleswoman who the day before had spent a good hour fitting and teaching us about the shop’s exquisite handmade collection – and making two sales! – I learned to always have some packets tucked in my purse to gift to the right person at the right time.
From my journal, May 11, 2022, STAGE 2: Vila do Conde to Apulia: “Another beautiful walk, so diverse as we passed thru morning residential neighborhoods with kids going to school, people stopping for morning coffee; then along the beach and back on the boardwalks. Delighted to meet some local women sitting in the sand, plucking and cleaning their harvest of sage-like greens (though not for eating, indicated with head shakes), and the kind fellow who interrupted painting the beach W/C for me to use (that morning coffee!). Learning I was walking the Camino, he regaled me with his own Camino stories and phone photos. I gifted him with a ‘Keep the Circle Strong’ pin which delighted me as much as him, seeing his surprise and joy. ‘I’ll put this on my Camino shelf,’ he smiled, wishing me ‘Bom Caminho.'”
I wrote Monday’s post days before the US Supreme Court voted to overrule Roe vs Wade, the historic federal legislation ensuring and safeguarding a woman’s right to choose. While I live in Canada, I know it to be both naïve and privileged to think such matters don’t affect me. The personal is political, a truth ever and exceedingly so.
When a friend said she couldn’t wait to begin her Camino to get away from it all – not an uncommon urge – her words gave me pause to consider. I knew I wasn’t walking to get away but rather to deepen into life as it presented itself. And so with “singleness of purpose,” and “freedom from distraction,” I remained tuned in enough to know about and walk with my feelings and prayers for:
the millions of people affected by storms that devastated Ontario and Quebec, news of which reached Portugal and Spain. I knew my nephew, a supervisor with Hydro One, would be leaving his young family to head up a team and taking as long as needed, would together undertake significant safety risks to repair transmission towers and poles to restore power.
the people of Buffalo, New York in the aftermath of a strategic, race related mass shooting. As my birthplace and always visually present in my childhood and youth having grown up across the river, and with family who have always lived there, the shock and grief felt by its people carried across the sea to me.
the families and community of Uvalde, Texas. What can I say that hasn’t been said, watching Americans I met walking the Way shake their heads in grief, with shame for the hundreds of school shootings and children killed in their country?
the ongoing devastation caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Again, no words.
Many mornings I’d be awakened early with powerful dreams seeded by the previous day’s events – near and far – and the “loosening” created by walking kilometers by and in the elements. Deserving of my attention, I’d be preoccupied and silent during breakfast and as I walked, working through to their wisdom. Too, daily tending to my body’s aches and blisters…navigating long distance family matters…and weighing heavy, the worry and risks of misjudged and insufficient preparations rubbed, creating its own blisters: insomnia, injury, illness…
Given my intention, walking the Camino – and now writing about it – I couldn’t disconnect from life, people, and the world around me. The paradoxical gift being that the weight of these ordeals kept me present in my body, on the path, in my life, and in the world I inhabit. Now home, some blisters have healed, some are callused. Others remain tender to the touch.
From my journal: “I wondered this morning that if by walking shorter stages, by ‘sauntering,’ enjoying the vistas, meeting people, taking it all in, if this is enough? Should I be carrying a full pack, walking longer stages? If that by allowing one to encounter and deepen into oneself, easefully, is this the true Camino experience? But as I write, I am answering my own question, and go back to why now and in this way? To walk in love and appreciation. To notice the beauty and encounter people. To go slow and easy…with de-light and in joy. And while I’ve yet to write a poem or paint a picture, I’m gathering the pearls of impressions to string together a beauty.”
“Only through a journey such as this could I come full circle in my life and touch something sacred that could revitalize my life.”
“It’s a piece of deep psychological acuity, carried in many religious traditions: that each of us is defined as much by who our enemies are and how we treat them as by whom and what we love.”
Krista Tippett, On Being, October 31, 2013
Fitting food for thought as we, the world, contemplate the current circumstances unfolding in Ukraine. A simplistic response to vilify the invaders and yet…
We see Russians courageously take to their streets and squares in protest. We read of notables resigning from posts refusing payment from their government. We know people who know people, Russians whose roots run deep and like us all, whose hearts bleed red.
Over the past few days, scrolling social media and participating in online seminars, I’ve been struck with the extent to which we are calling forth the balm found in poetry and prayer, in the arts, dance and song. Evoking the highest good in us, for us all. With poetic irony and prescience, this published in 2009 by Ilya Kaminsky, a poet born in Odessa, Ukraine, now living in the United States after being granted asylum with his family:
We Lived Happily during the War
And when they bombed other people’s houses, we
protested but not enough, we opposed them but not
enough. I was in my bed, around my bed America
was falling: invisible house by invisible house by invisible house—
I took a chair outside and watched the sun.
In the sixth month of a disastrous reign in the house of money
in the street of money in the city of money in the country of money, our great country of money, we (forgive us)
lived happily during the war.
Let us hold the centre, dear friends. Present with what is unfolding. Poised amidst conflict within and without. Persistent in remembering the best in who we are.
Let us take note of the ever-present beauty around us. Remain open to the mystery in the mundane. Tenacious in our tenderness. Committed in our care.
Living our lives as poem and prayer.
“Do you think it’s an accident that you were born at a time when the culture that gave you life is failing? I don’t think it is. I think you were born of necessity with your particular abilities, with your particular fears, with your particular heartaches and concerns… I think if we wait to be really compelled by something… something big, well… we’re going to wait an awful long time and I don’t know if the state of our world can tolerate our holding out until we feel utterly compelled by something. I think it’s more like this, that we have to proceed now as if we’re utterly needed given the circumstances. That takes almost something bordering on bravado, it could be mistaken for megalomania easily, though I don’t think it is. It had a certain amount of nerviness in it or boldness for sure, something that’s not highly thought of in the culture I was born into unless you’re a star or something… regular people aren’t supposed to have those qualities. I say they are of course. That’s what we’ve got to bring to the challenges at hand, not waiting to be convinced that we’re needed but proceeding as if we are. Your insignificance has been horribly overstated.”