Language of the Present Moment

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

abandoned house, abundant flora – Fao, Portugal

I’m glad you are writing in this form. And, woo, there is a book in this also, given the insights you share.”

A friend emailed me this note after reading these photo stories on my walk. Kindred in our love of a good poem to now penning and publishing our own, and in looking at life in a way I describe as “before, beneath, and beyond words,” I appreciated and felt encouraged by Tenneson’s words. He recognized that “this form” is my way to access, coalesce, and give words to sensory impressions gathered along the Way…to all that is before, beneath, and beyond words…necessary to the further distillation that is poetry.

“Since time immemorial, there has been a belief that language is one power that can tap, even trigger, ‘divine events,’ and that pilgrimage, what was called in old Gaelic turas, ritual circuits, was a way to participate in the flow of energy between the two worlds.”

Phil Cousineau, The Art of Pilgrimage, 1998

Another gift of “this form” has been the invitation to remain in this flow of energy between two worlds. I’ve long noted how when traveling by plane, it takes several days for all of me to arrive home. I’ve learned to give myself transition time, realizing a threshold is crossed too, when returning to my everyday life, with its signature rhythms and patterns. Particularly mindful this time, given both the nature and length of time away, I kept my calendar clear for June. Coming home sick with a chest cold and cough that became Covid-19, has meant for an even longer, slower reengagement. Writing here, I re-read my journals, and skim through books that inspired my preparation. Editing photos – this time going beyond cropping and straightening to applying creative filters (a shoutout to “camiga” Elizabeth Cheung whose Camino Facebook posts and photos attract hundreds of followers) – I re-immerse body, mind and soul-sole, and relive my walk.

From my journal, Thursday, May 12, 2022, STAGE 3: Apulia to Esposende:“Leisurely start after a deep, physically tired sleep. Walked to see the beach at Apulia: fishermen coming ashore, surfers, and to the north, in the morning haze, windmills. Retraced our steps though the still quiet main street to find The Way. Corrected by the older woman who had just stepped out of her home, we walked, as the guide book described, past garden plots and through forests to the school yard with children playing at recess, and the football stadium in Fao. Sat by the river a bit, then through the urban to the beach front hotel in Esposende where its azure pool beckoned, and I made my first pen and ink water colour sketch.”

“The beginning of wisdom is the same as its attainment: wonder…
In the presence of that wonder, the head has no answers and the heart has no questions…”

Quote written on the page of my journal, Thursday, May 12, 2022, STAGE 3: Apulia to Esposende

Friday, May 13th, the fourth stage to Castelo do Neiva, was sunny and hot as we walked inland, with only brief glimpses of the ocean. That dark chocolate bar I’d purchased at the grocery store en route to satisfy a hankering, and wisely put in a ziploc bag, became a melted mess within minutes. Cafes along the way made for cool respites where café con leche chased with icy fruit juice refreshed. (For some it was a beer mixed with coke – an international iteration of the shanty, I suppose.) More evident along the route were various styles of markers, including statuary and the ubiquitous scallop shell, pointing the way.

Crossing an old stone bridge on the River Neiva, we began climbing in earnest.

pilgrims crossing the River Neiva

Arriving at this stage’s lodging took some doing. The guidebook, customized for our stages and accommodations, gave clear directions, but obviously not for us. Maybe it was the heat, or misinterpreting distance given in meters, but we found ourselves going in circles, despite asking for help at the local garden centre, consulting my GPS and notes. Walking further, now into what more closely resembled a village, I was just about to enter the local school to once again ask for directions, when a woman walked by and pointed out, off in the distance, the church steeple beside our destination, Quinta do Monteverde. Approaching, where was the entrance????? The old locked gate by the vacant church? Walking around the corner, which by this point felt a long distance, we finally arrived at a more formal entrance with a buzzer. Pressed, the heavy door silently opened to reveal the magnificent grounds and mansion.


From my journal: “Heaven on Earth. Quinta do Monteverde. Country manor home to Fatima and her family since the late 1400s. So as da Gama and Colombus were off “discovering” North America and the Caribbean, this elegant Portuguese home was already standing and lived in…Splendidly, we have rooms in the manor house vs the more modern apartment suites alongside the pool. I selected the twin room, beautifully furnished with a full, spacious bath, the window seat. Could anything be more elegant??? Surrounded by exquisite antiques, sumptuous linens and scents, plush towels and robes, tea, cookies, port. Another azure pool, quiet except for birdsong…”

As dinner wasn’t offered, our host Fatima suggested we either walk the kilometer or so into town (no way as it was still hot!), or down the road to the local tapas bar most of her guests opt for, O Tasco Regional. WOW! The best meal to date, with the first of what would be several samplings of pimientos de padron and, too, razor clams simply prepared with garlic, EVOO and lemon to enhance their sweet, fresh sea brininess; tomato salad; perfectly grilled octopus; coquille with salsa; bread, and that Portuguese signature tinto verde, the best wine with fresh seafood. So enjoying our dinner and the owner’s hospitality, we reserved for the next night once we learned a cab drive would be only 15 minutes from our next destination.

Quinta do Monteverde wall mount

The seventeenth century Japanese poet Basho, renowned master of haiku, devoted his adult life to writing poetry and walking pilgrimages. Contained within the form’s seventeen syllables, he synthesized the art of pilgrimage’s “skill of observation, soul of attention, and heart of intention.” (Cousineau, The Art of Pilgrimage, 1998)

While certainly not haiku, “this form” here attempts to echo that of Basho. By making the ineffable conscious and evident through my words and photos, making what another poet, James Wright calls “the language of the present moment.”

And that melted chocolate bar…soon enough hardened in the cool of my room at the quinta, it became the perfect after dinner complement to the port! A perfect present moment!

Esposende at sunset

“Make the universe your companion, always bearing in mind the true nature of all creation – mountains and rivers, trees and grasses, and humankind…”

Basho in Phi Cousineau, The Art of Pilgrimage, 1998

Much love and kindest regards, dear friends.

Camino’s Ordeals and Offerings

Portuguese Coastal Camino
Stage 2: Vila do Conde to Apulia

(This post in lieu of Friday’s usual photo and poem.)

“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.

Paula fitting me

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.”

Phil Cousineau, The Art of Pilgrimage, 1998

Much love and kindest regards, dear friends.

Crossing Camino’s Threshold

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

stage 1 – beach flowers along the northern Portuguese coast

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

Thich Nhat Hahn

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

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

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

Rumi

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

Praia LaBruge

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

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

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

Vila do Conde

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Much love and kindest regards, dear friends.

You Start Dying Slowly

Portuguese Coastal Camino, from Oia to Baiona


YOU START DYING SLOWLY

You start dying slowly
if you do not travel,
if you do not read,
if you do not listen to the sounds of life,
if you do not appreciate yourself.

You start dying slowly
When you kill your self-esteem;
When you do not let others help you.
You start dying slowly
If you become a slave of your habits,
Walking everyday on the same paths…
If you do not change your routine,
If you do not wear different colors
Or you do not speak to those you don’t know.

You start dying slowly
If you avoid to feel passion
And their turbulent emotions;
Those which make your eyes glisten
And your heart beat fast.

You start dying slowly
If you do not change your life when you are not satisfied with your job,
or with your love,
If you do not risk what is safe for the uncertain,
If you do not go after a dream,
If you do not allow yourself,
At least once in your lifetime,
To run away from sensible advice.

– Martha Medeiros –

This says it all.
Why I took five weeks to walk everyday on different paths.
To travel, and be enthralled with the sounds of life.
To remember, to embody, that life is short, energy is precious, and that it is up to me to go after my dream, and appreciate myself.
To feel turbulent emotions which make my eyes glisten and break my heart.
To ask for help and let others help me.

Not to delude myself that I won’t die, but
to live my life well.
And in this way, to prepare for a good death.

Thanks to my friend, writer-poet Shawna Lemay for quickly advising me of this poem’s common misattribution to Pablo Neruda, who I had originally credited.

Home Coming

THIS MUST BE THE PLACE

Home is where I want to be
Pick me up and turn me round
I feel numb, born with a weak heart
I guess I must be having fun
The less we say about it the better
Make it up as we go along
Feet on the ground
Head in the sky
It’s ok I know nothing’s wrong… nothing

Hi yo I got plenty of time
Hi yo you got light in your eyes
And you’re standing here beside me
I love the passing of time
Never for money
Always for love
Cover up and say goodnight… say goodnight

Home is where I want to be
But I guess I’m already there
I come home, she lifted up her wings
Guess that this must be the place
I can’t tell one from the other
Did I find you, or you find me?
There was a time before we were born
If someone asks, this is where I’ll be, where I’ll be

Hi yo we drift in and out
Hi yo sing into my mouth
Out of all those kinds of people
You’ve got a face with a view
I’m just an animal looking for a home
And share the same space for a minute or two

You love me till my heart stops
Love me till I’m dead
Eyes that light up, eyes look through you
Cover up the blank spots
Hit me on the head ah ooh

Talking Heads: C. Frantz / T. Weymouth / D. Byrne / J. Harrison

“Home is where I want to be,” and now I am. After nearly five weeks away, realizing that 20+ year dream of walking a camino to Santiago de Compostela, I arrived home last Friday after seeing the sun travel full circle, rising in Madrid and setting in Edmonton. Two noneventful flights, albeit with significant delays, but a remarkably quick passage through Toronto, our Canadian port of entry, where within thirty minutes we had disembarked, cleared customs, walked the length of the terminal to be sitting at our gate for the final leg.

During May’s last Sunday afternoon, wafting through the open window of the guest house in Rua de Francos, Galacia, Spain – the resting spot for our “penultimate stage” to Santiago (quoting from Portugal Green Walk’s guidebook ) – I heard a woman’s beautiful voice singing this Talking Head’s classic accompanied by light acoustic strumming. Straining to hear, I rose from the bed where I’d been dozing, and pressed the voice recorder on my phone hoping to include it in the soundscapes I had been creating along the Way.

A gift of prescience, I thought, as a few years ago for my birthday, my husband created a playlist featuring this song, saying for him I’ve always had “a face with a view.” Later I dressed and went to sit in the yard, to warm myself from the chest and head cold that had walked with me the last couple of stages. There, I met Heidi from Portland, Oregon who with her “guitalele” – a slightly larger, more resonant version of a ukelele – was the source of my “homecoming gift.”

“And you’re standing here beside me
I love the passing of time…”

Much love and kindest regards, dear friends.

Walking

“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.

Me: Well, then…

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.”

Peter Coffman, Camino, 2017

Much love and kindest regards, dear friends.

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