Tag Archive - Endurance

Vincible: A Riff on Aging…

It seemed like a good idea at the time.

When the cardiologist’s office offered me an appointment on the same day I was seeing the dentist, I figured this was efficient. I would already be out — and showered (never a given).

I did not realize that these two were engaged in a secret conspiracy to steal my invincibility.

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Despite the fact that it has been five years since my last visit to the dentist, (Don’t judge, I have trauma issues.) I am praised for my hygiene. No cavities. Hardly any plaque.

“There is, however, the matter of these silver fillings. While they will last forever, they are much less flexible than your teeth and with the passage of time have begun to cause cracks. If left untreated, you will begin to have breakage. We need to replace them.”

“Wait, what?! Let me get this straight. Because I am old, I am going to need to come in once a year for the next four years to have silver fillings dug out of two teeth at a time, and those same two teeth fitted with crowns?!”

“Yep. That’s pretty much it.”

“Awesome.”

I walk out into the stifling heat feeling seriously deflated. And old. I think back to my check-up a couple of years ago where the answer to every question I asked was “Well, at a certain age…” I contemplate taking up day drinking. Then I remember the cardiologist and think better of it…

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I had my first episode of tachycardia when I was a teenager. My mom and I were sitting in the living room having a pleasant conversation when my heart abruptly went from beating 70 beats a minute to more like 180. As if someone had flipped a switch. It lasted about five minutes, then was over. It was weird, but I didn’t think a lot of it. I have continued to have these episodes randomly, and infrequently, ever since.

The impact on my life has been minimal for the most part. Only twice has it been problematic. The first time was when I was pregnant. A woman’s heart rate naturally accelerates because of pregnancy. In me, this translated to more frequent episodes that sometimes lasted an hour. I finally saw a doctor who diagnosed the problem and taught me ways to help restore my rhythm.

The other time it was a problem was when I had an issue with my thyroid. But that only lasted about three months. In the ten years since, I have been back to the old pattern of infrequent and short.

Until the morning of July 6th.

That morning, Kenz and I were on our way to explore the playhouses at Cheekwood when I had an episode while driving. It was so severe that I had to pull over til it stopped. Over the course of the morning, I had four more episodes, the last of which persisted almost two hours until, at my doctor’s direction, I went to the emergency room and had it corrected forcibly. (Mike had joined us by then and was driving, lest you fret.)

Because there was no obvious explanation for this sudden craziness, my doctor wanted me to see a cardiologist.

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Dr. Estrada is calm and laid back, and I think to myself that this is going to go well. He sketches an illustration of the heart and its valves and shows me how the several types of tachycardia work, including the one he believes I have. It is not as dangerous as some of the others which is good.

“However, with age, these random episodes like you had a couple of weeks ago are likely to become more frequent, and possibly more severe. At that point they can cause damage to the heart and you may find yourself in the emergency room more often. We don’t have to fix it now if you want to wait and see how it goes. But it is probably just a matter of time.”

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When friends and family have asked about, and even challenged, what they perceive as an overly rigorous commitment to eating healthy and to exercise, I have explained it like this: There are a lot of things about our health we can’t control. Mike and I both have strong family histories of diabetes and heart disease, for example. It seems to me that we have a responsibility to be wise about the things we can control.

That is what I have said.

But apparently, what I actually believed was this: If I do all the right things, I will be invincible. The ravages of age will have no authority over me.

I was wrong about that.

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Wise men and women in the Church have always urged us to be very aware of our mortality. It is a potent reminder to be fully present in the moment. For this reason, it has been common practice in many monasteries to keep the bones of those who have gone before on display. As I understand it, this awareness should be a voluntary practice. Failing that, I suppose some of us must have it thrust upon us.

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And so, I am working to come to terms with the fact that I am vincible. Yes, that is a word. I looked it up. I spent yesterday morning in the dentist chair getting thirty year old fillings ground out of two molars and am now sporting fine, fashionable new crowns. And while I still believe that we have a responsibility to steward well the bodies we have been given, I am being disabused of the illusion that this guarantees a life free of physical adversity.

There is a price to be paid for the wisdom that hopefully comes with age. All that learning takes a toll on the body. And maybe the toll itself has a wisdom in it.

I’ll let you know.

Ripened Love

love

Give me a ripened love
full of recollection…

love tender and fragile in
the wild, impatient spring when
romance was new and
each day a discovery

love that has borne
the heat of summer defending
its yield against storm
invader
drought
sending roots deep
to drink the earth

love that has endured the
measured violence of pruning
and known the consolation
of the Gardener

Give me a scarred love
bent by wind, whose branches
tell a story long in the making
fruit distilled
to a warm dark sweetness

ready for the pressing
and aging
still to come

and the final surrender
and the drinking up

~sm

for my darling who has loved me long

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A Pilgrim Tale: epilogue

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It is a strange thing to come home. While yet on the journey, you cannot at all realize how strange it will be.

~Selma Lagerlof

Mike and I take the bus to Finisterre. It is the first time I have ridden in a motorized vehicle in five weeks. It feels strange. We pass a lemon tree, and I realize I can’t smell it. A woman works in her garden, but there is no scritch scratch of the hoe. When we first glimpse the sea, I don’t smell the salt, or feel the ocean breeze, or hear the birds. Everything is at a remove. Like I am watching the world pass by on television.

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Long before the discovery of the “new world”, Celts and Romans called this westernmost town of Galicia Finisterre because they believed the world ended here. They named the coastline el Costa da Morte, Coast of Death, because so many ships sailed from here, never to return. Finisterre was a place of pilgrimage even before Santiago as ancient peoples came here to see the place where every day the sun died.

It is not uncommon for Santiago pilgrims to continue to Finisterre and/or Muxia. We do not have time to walk it, so we have chosen to ride here for a couple of recovery days before flying home. Jan and David, on the other hand, began the walk this morning, and we made our most difficult goodbye yet, waving to them from the window til we could not see them any longer.

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The Hotel Langosteira, feels like a little slice of heaven. Bright, light-filled rooms decorated in white and blue with whimsical touches of colored glass, mosaic, and reclaimed wood. And our balcony overlooks the sea. All for just 40 euros/night. Oh yeah, and we have a bath that we do not have to share with anyone! I take LONG, HOT showers just because I can. 🙂

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On our second day, we walk out to Cape Finisterre. Here we see the Faro Lighthouse, a cross, a bronze boot, and several burn sights where pilgrims have incinerated various items they do not plan to take home. Mike and I seat ourselves on a rock and are looking out over the sea when I sense someone approaching us from behind. Suddenly a familiar voice says, “It’s really pretty, huh?” Jorge! We knew they were heading this way sometime today, but figured the odds of our running into one another were low. But what does camino magic care about odds?

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We follow him round the hill to find Steph and Kathy, both of whom ceremonially toss their boots into the sea. Or thereabouts. 😉 Jorge launches a pair on behalf of Catherine who has already begun her homeward journey. We take one more crazy group photo and give one last round of hugs. Then, Mike and I watch them walk up the hill. I can’t look away until the last of them has vanished into the sky. And I know this pain of leaving is part of the price of having known and loved such amazing people. It is a price worth paying.

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Mike and I carefully make our way down to a large rock near the foaming surface where we can feel the spray against our face. Here we sit for a very long time without saying anything, just letting all of this–the excruciating beauty, the accumulated fatigue, the hard letting go, the satisfaction of completion, the whole extraordinary experience of these last few weeks–have its way with us.

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We walk back to town and have a late lunch near the harbor. I spend the rest of the afternoon journaling. Trying to capture the stories while they are still fresh in my mind. Hoping the rough notes I have written in snatches here and there, along with the photos, will help me remember. Because they are stories worth telling. Of this I am sure.

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Recollection is the final discipline of the pilgrim-poet-traveler, which entails recalling the vows taken before departing, revering the idea that once we have been blessed with the gift of the journey, so now we must bless. We can continually recall beauty through the practice of memory, through daily acts of imagination that seize the moments that once seized our hearts…

The art of pilgrimage is the craft of taking time seriously, elegantly. What every traveler confronts sooner or later is that the way we spend each day of our travel…is the way we spend our lives.

~Phil Cousineau, The Art of Pilgrimage

*Thank you, Jorge, for the group photo.

A Pilgrim Tale: day thirty-three

I don’t remember rolling up my sleeping bag or packing away my gear for the last time. I don’t remember walking down the hall to brush my teeth, or lacing up my boots. But I am sure I did all these things.

I do remember that the sky was the color of rose petals. And the air was cool, but soft. And we walked mostly downhill, til we were in the city. There was a monument. Then the city was like any other.

And not like…

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We breakfast at a cafe where we see the familiar tortilla. And the very unfamiliar rose tea. And all the tables are indoors and everything is clean and bright and the owner moves about calmly and easily and some people look like they are dressed for the office. And I wish we were bumping into one another and sitting out on the sidewalk and the owner was bustling and something about the place was a little run down, and friendly.

Jan, David, Mike and I stop at the inn where we will share a room tonight and drop off our backpacks. It feels wonderful to be walking without them. It feels strange to be walking without them.

We decide to head to the pilgrim office straightaway before the line gets too long. This turns out to be a good idea. But we almost miss Jorge, Kelly, Otto, Jose, and gang. Almost. We had walked with Otto for a while earlier this morning, but he and Jose went on while we were leaving bags. And yet, like iron filings to a magnet, we seem to be drawn to one another.

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We find Jorge and Kelly, Kathy and Catherine in the square just as several others arrive. We hail Otto who is walking away and take a group photo. This picture will be one of the treasures of the Camino for me. Then we run into Nathadeo who we haven’t seen since we sang with the nuns in Carrion de los Condes.

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This is one of my favorite stories from the Camino. These two gentleman walked the whole 800 kilometers of the Camino Frances, from St. Jean Pied de Port to Santiago, just like we did. All the mountains and valleys, all the rocky terrain and narrow, briery paths, all the puddles and cow patties. Here is the difference: the fellow on the left, he’s blind. Watching them move in concert is like listening to a duo that has been singing into one another for so long that they breathe together. Some friendships are given to us as examples, to know just how far love can go. This is one of those.

The Cathedral is undergoing renovations which means that we cannot access the Portico of Glory. We walk round to the other side to enter. We queue up to “hug” the statue of St. James. Then, we walk down to the crypt to venerate the body of our Lord’s own apostle. This is a solemn moment.

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Coming out of the cathedral, we run into Paul and Lasse who we haven’t seen for days. Mike is not with them. He too will arrive on this day, but we will not see him. Jan and David will find him in Finisterre, though. AND we see Adam, our friend from Poland, with whom we also have lost contact for a bit. We have one last beer with the boys and share a few final tales of the road. Bittersweet.

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We choose from a dizzying array of tapas for lunch, pop our head into a few shops looking for gifts for our kids, our granddaughter and our godchildren, then go back to the inn for a little rest. We head over to the cathedral around 6:00 to snag a seat for the 7:30 pilgrim mass and who should we find resting just outside, but Damien, Psicobeta, Filipe and Claudia! They have walked 40 kilometers today to be here for the evening mass. It is SO GOOD to see them.

Shortly before the mass begins, a feisty little nun comes out to teach us a couple of responses we will need later in the service. Then the mass begins. Like all of the masses along the way, this one is in a combination of Spanish and Latin, so I understand little. But it is nice to know the responses.

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You may or may not have ever heard of the Botafumeiro. It is an inordinately large censor. Incense has been used in worship since the pre-temple days of the Old Testament. It is still essential in the practice of Orthodox and Catholic Christians today. But I’ll bet you’ve never seen a censor quite like this one. The story goes that part of the reason for its size was to help cover the stench of the pilgrims. This, I believe. (The above photo is its support structure.)

The Botafumeira is not used at every mass as the cost of the incense is prohibitive. But we have heard that it is commonly used on Friday night. So we are glad to be here on Friday. Still, it’s not a sure thing. Til we see the men in red cloaks, one of whom carries a shovel (as in a garden shovel, you understand) full of charcoal and incense. Then we know.

However extraordinary you imagine it would be to stand here, it is a thousand times more so. I have provided you with a taste. But only a taste. The music, our prayers arising as incense, the weary bodies so full of miles, the stories, the love that has knit so many of us into one another…

And then it’s over. Except it’s not. We walk out into the night to find our young friends again: the newlyweds, Damien and Psicobeta, and friends Claudia and Felipe. We talk about their long walk today and they ask us if we remember the spiritual Mike and Paul sang at Granon. “We have been changing it up a bit as we walked,” they say. And right there, in the gathering dark outside a cathedral in Spain, they sing…

I believe it too.

Go with God, dear friends!

I miss you already.

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Once the soul awakens, the search begins and you can never go back. From then on, you are inflamed with a special longing that will never again let you linger in the lowlands of complacency and partial fulfillment. The eternal makes you urgent. You are loath to let compromise or the threat of danger hold you back from striving toward the summit of fulfillment.

~John O’Donohue

A Pilgrim Tale: day thirty-one

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Hórreos. We have been seeing them all over since passing into Galicia (though not often so well guarded). 🙂 Always raised. Constructed of various combinations of wood, brick, and stone. Usually ornamented with crosses, bells, etc… Early on, we came up with some pretty outlandish theories regarding their use, because there was one in pretty much every yard, big or small, city or country. (Let’s just say, we might have been overly influenced by having slept too near the dead.)

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Turns out they are graneries, or as we would say in Appalachia, corn cribs. Raised and roofed to keep out rats and rain, but ventilated to keep the crop from rotting. You probably can’t see it, but there are already stacks of corn in the one at top left.

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Today is a visual and olfactory feast with lemon trees, forests of eucalyptus, voluptuous grapes dripping from overhead arbors, dahlias and wildflowers. We smell the lemon trees and the eucalyptus before we see them. And I drink deeply of it all, trying desperately to hold onto these moments, this being right here right now, so that it will be part of me forever.

For days now, Mike has been searching in every little market we pass for smoked salmon. Finally, in Arzua, he finds it. We gather crunchy whole grain bimbos (toasts), creamed cheese, capers, tomatoes, apples, and chocolate, of course, then walk on, keeping an eye out for the perfect spot to enjoy our picnic.

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We pass tables sitting outside a closed restaurant in the sun and they beckon to us. Just as we get all our goodies spread out, a car drives by. Slowly. Studying us. The owner. Snap! Except, she doesn’t want us to move. She is not ready to open. She has come in early to cook and kindly invites us to stay and enjoy our meal. Galician hospitality!

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Tonight we sleep at Albergue Bondi in Salceda, which is mediocre at best. But the hospitalero is very sweet. Here we have one of our more curious experiences.

After dinner at a nearby cafe, Jan and I are sitting in the kitchen/common area visiting with a grandmother and granddaughter who are walking the camino for the granddaughter’s 21stbirthday. A haggard and grizzly man marches in. He begins addressing us in an arrogant and flippant manner asking for money.–Here it should be noted that he came while he knew the hospitalero would be out and that we had seen him earlier at the cafe eating and drinking heartily.–No one gives him anything. He grumbles something obviously unkind and skulks out.

A few minutes later, he comes back and dramatically drops a small bag of dog food mixed with waste in the middle of the floor.–His request for food had been for his dog as well.–The grandmother asks him why he did this. “Why not?” he spews, then skulks out again leaving us scratching our heads. And cleaning up his mess. We have encountered beggars several times. Most are humble and kind. Not this one.

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We are now less than 30k from Santiago. Tomorrow we will walk as far as Monte del Goza, Mount Joy, a traditional place of preparation for entering the holy city…

Imagine what the equivalents of a gracious arrival are for you. On the evening of your arrival, read from a sacred text that was written on the holy ground you stand upon. Write down something you want your grandchildren to remember you by. Leave behind an offering. Let your joy show. Savor the moment. Linger a while. Relish the idea that for now you are no longer a stranger in this world. Wonder about the saving grace that came your way. Remember that sacred places are those that eternity shines through like sunlight through a rose window.

~Phil Cousineau, The Art of Pilgrimage (emphasis mine)

*Thank you to Mike for the sunrise and the Salceda sign, and to David for the picnic.

A Pilgrim Tale: day twenty-six

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Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God,
But only he who sees takes off his shoes…

~Elizabeth Barret Browning

Breakfast at our albergue is delicious and fortifying. While eating, we meet Susan who was a late arrival at the albergue the night before. She had been having a frightful time finding any place that could accommodate her. Jose had prevailed upon our young innkeepers on her behalf and they had pulled out a cot for her and allowed her to sleep in the lobby, at the base of the rock. She will become a fixture of our merry band from here on out. (Thanks, Otto, for reminding me of this part of the story.)

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We head out into the darkness and promptly make a wrong turn. Happily, we discover our error before too much damage has been done and are able to make correction. Much of today’s walk is along the road, but on the other side of the path is a gurgling river which makes us mostly forget about the road. There is a remarkable irony as we walk past ancient, sometimes derelict, buildings, while in the distance, towering modern bridges convey commuters crossing the country at break-neck speed.

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We are just getting into cattle country when we stop for lunch at a lovely outdoor cafe overlooking a pasture, and the river beyond. Trees are being felled on the heavily forested hill just above the river and it makes the cattle dogs nervous. We feast on fresh, beautiful salads and fortify ourselves for the big climb that awaits us.

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Most of our friends stop in La Faba for the night, but we decide to press on to Laguna de Castilla. We are very glad of this next morning when we already have an extra 2.3k of hills out of the way.

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We lodge at Albergue La Escuela, right smack dab in the middle of a dairy farm. We even watch them drive the dairy cows to and from the milking barn. In some ways, this is all very familiar as my grandparents made their living milking cows, and I saw this scene played out more times than I can remember in the mountains of my childhood.

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Here we have Galician soup for the first, but thankfully not the last, time. Potatoes, kale, beans. Hearty, warm, and delicious. We visit with Boyd and James, a father and son from Australia. And we meet “Martin the Healer”. An odd bird, he is walking the camino for the second time, is covering long distances (40k/day) and claims to have healing powers. He trys them out on James who is having difficulty with his knee, but the jury is still out on his effectiveness when we leave them.

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There are autumn blooming crocus everywhere, mallow and foxgloves growing along the fence, and some other scrumptious wild flower I don’t recognize growing in profusion with deep purple buds that open to dark pink blossoms (see top of post). I can’t stop taking pictures. I know I will never capture what it is to stand on this mountain with these bright blossoms all around me, and the lowing of the cattle and the earthy smell of them, and the good, wholesome fatigue in my legs and feet, and the deep peace inside me. But I know that when I look at the images, I will remember.

And that is enough.

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Travel Note: At this point in our journey, we have begun making advance reservations at albergues most days. Opinions are divided on whether this is appropriate. Some albergues do not even allow them. But, the number of pilgrims grows daily as we near Santiago, and it is becoming increasingly difficult to find rooms at the end of a long day. So we are buying ourselves a bit of insurance. Each pilgrim must decide for himself. It does require having a phone with cell service (thx David), or a kind innkeeper who will call for you. You can, and should, cancel if you see you are not going to make it that far or decide to go farther. There is usually a limit to how late they will hold a bed for you before giving it to someone else.

A Pilgrim Tale: day twenty-three

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The way I see it, if you want the rainbow, you gotta put up with the rain.
~Dolly Parton

Thanks, Dolly.

Thanks a lot.

Tough day for me. Rain coming and going all day. Jacket and pack cover on…off…on…off…ad nauseum. And stuff hurts. The front of my calf. My knee. My shoulders. Tired. Plus I have a bad attitude. Mostly, I have a bad attitude

And yet…

The whole day is braided with luminous moments. The best one comes early in the day. We stop at Meson el Llar for a little second breakfast. There we run into our friend Josh who we met at the very start in St. Jean. He has become a pied piper of sorts, gathering a whole group of young people around him. Almost immediately, we are also joined by Otto and Jose, Jorge, Kelly, Kathy…SO. Many. Friends.

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The counter is lined with all sorts of delectable temptations: tall, luscious looking tortillas, French toast, meatballs, fancy teas, a whole jar of muesli… And the busy proprietress is laughing and bossing people around while golden oldies are cranking on the stereo. And then it happens. A spontaneous eruption. Like a single spirit moves us all at once.

It is one of the singularly most memorable moments in an ocean of memorable moments.

We finally tear ourselves away from this warm, friendly oasis and resume the walking. Despite my best efforts to be a total grump, God keeps pelting me with beauty until my resistance is finally spent.

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In Rabanal, we attend an evening candlelight service. Several pilgrims read passages in a variety of languages. Our friend Jorge reads here in Spanish. A mercy of peace at the end of what has been, in some ways, a turbulent day.

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The Most High has wounded me with His Spirit,
filled me with His love,
and His wounding has become my salvation…
All the earth is like a memorial to Thee,
a presencce of Thy works…
Glory to Thee, O God,
Thou Who are forever the delight of Paradise.
Alleluia!

~The Odes of Solomon

*Hat tip to Mike who captured our proprietress at Meson el Llar.

A Pilgrim Tale: day twenty-two

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The rain in Spain falls mainly on the plain. And the hills. And irrigation channels and wildflowers growing in ditches. In small towns and big cities. On men riding bicycles. On allees of poplars. On pilgrims.

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It comes strong early, but by the time we reach Astorga in the afternoon, it is mostly mist. Astorga is a quaint, old city with winding, labyrinthine streets. The Bishop’s Palace, another Gaudi offering, is just around the corner from our albergue. It is the quintessential marriage of refinement and whimsy.

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And there is a civil building with figures on the clock who come out and hammer a bell to ring the hour. Mike and I walk back at 4:00 to see it.

Our albergue, San Javier, is in an historic building in the charming old quarter. A stellar location. The building has nice bones, with stone arches, heavy wooden beams, and a fireplace (especially welcome on this chilly day). But it is a bit of a run down affair. EVERYTHING creaks. The floors. The beds. It would actually be funny if it didn’t make it almost impossible to sleep. OK, it’s still kinda funny. But the beds are tight, there is no room for storage, and the laundry sink is out of doors with only cold water. Brrr.

We buy cheese and bread, olives and wine, and picnic in the common area near the fire. We stuff newspaper in our boots, hoping against hope that they will dry before morning, when we will walk back out into the rain. Again.

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Tell your heart that the fear of suffering is worse than the suffering itself. And that no heart has ever suffered when it goes in search of its dreams, because every second of the search is a second’s encounter with God and with eternity.

~Paulo Coelho

A Pilgrim Tale: day twenty-one

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RAIN.

I hear it outside the open window as I brush my teeth and it makes my stomach feel tight. We really can’t complain because we have mostly had amazing weather. But it is still hard to make myself walk out in it. I’m not gonna lie.

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But there are beautiful snails scurrying across the path. And we can’t help but laugh when the dirt path becomes mud that sticks to our boots in huge clumps and makes us feel like we are wearing anti-gravity boots that weigh 100 pounds and we have to slog off the path and into the far away grass to try and get rid of it and find some way to move forward without being finally sucked into the mud so deep that you can no longer find any trace of us.

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Then, in the late afternoon, the rain finally stops for a space and the skies are ridiculously gorgeous and the fields of corn are saturated with color. And though gratitude is not the only possible response, it is the only proper response.

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Once we secure lodging in Villavante, we head out to the local pub for dinner. There, I feel like we step through some kind of wonderful time machine. At four different tables sit men of various ages engaged in spirited games of dominoes and cards. There is yelling and laughter and smack talk. You would think we were at a major sporting event. It’s amazing.

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Gear note: We read mixed reviews before coming regarding ponchos versus rain jacket and pack cover. Jan and David did the former, Mike and I the latter. While each has advantages and disadvantages, I had first hand experience on this day with one of the disadvantages of the jacket/pack cover option. As it rained ALL day, water trickled down my back between my jacket and pack and invaded my pack from inside, puddling at the bottom, meaning my towel and a portion of my sleeping bag were damp. From here on out, I put both in a large plastic zip bag and had no more trouble.

*Due to the rain, my phone stayed in a plastic bag in my pocket for most of the day. Top two photos courtesy of David.

A Pilgrim Tale: day six

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When my kids were little, one of our very favorite books was Meindert DeJong’s The Wheel on the School. It tells about a village in Holland where the storks no longer come to nest, and how a group of school children go about bringing them back. It is a magical story and we love it.

On our way out of town this morning, I am confused by the enormous circles of twigs and grass on the church until I realize… They. Are. Stork. Nests!! I am giddy with excitement and immediately wish my children were here to see them. We will continue to see them all across Spain. Apparently the Iberian Peninsula is a favorite nesting place. And every time I see them, it makes me happy. Every time.

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Today there are rolling hills and Templar towns, aquaducts bringing water from the mountains, and grapevines groaning under the weight of their voluptuous burdens. There are snail gardens and more haystacks. (We later learn that Mike and Paul stop to climb all of these. Naturally. :))

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The day has grown very warm, and we eagerly join several others under a medieval bridge where we plunge our feet in a mountain stream. The water is icy cold and I can only bear it for a few seconds at a time. But, my goodness, it is refreshing!! While we are visiting with Shay and Nicole, we are joined by a pair of young pilgrims bearing a bag bulging with grapes. They tell us how the farmer talked with them, proudly showing them the bounty of his labors, then generously filled a bag for them. They have eaten their fill and want to share his gifts with all of us. The grapes are sweet and juicy, a delectable treat.

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We have lost track of the days of the week, but today is Saturday. And when we reach Villatuerta, we are just in time to see a wedding party exiting the church. The bride is radiant in a timeless gown of heavy brocade. I can’t stop looking at her. I ask her if I may take a photo. She hands her cigarette to a friend :), grabs the arm of her new husband, and flashes a smile that is all joy.

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In Estella, we check into the parochial hostel where we find Mike, Paul, and Lasse (Denmark), along with the beautiful newlyweds, Damien (France) and Psicobeta (Brazil), who are still on their year long honeymoon! For the first time, we pay to have our laundry washed in a machine. Though we still hang it to dry, it will dry faster after a nice spin. With the laundry done, we head out in search of a couple of cervezas grandes. On the walk back up the hill, we see clumps of people in traditional dress. I try to find out what’s happening, perro mi Espanol es no muy bien.

Vale. (Spanish for, it’s all good.) Shortly after we return to our lodging, they come parading right by us, stopping occasionally to dance. It is fantastic!! I follow them down the hill and across the bridge before my legs refuse to carry me any further. Later, we will go back out to a market for picnic provisions. We sleep in close quarters with mostly people a lot younger than us. Next morning, we enjoy a communal meal of bread and jam and coffee. And begin again…

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Every second of the search is an encounter with God. When I have been truly searching for my treasure, every day has been luminous…I’ve discovered things along the way that I never would have seen had I not had the courage to try things that seemed impossible…

~Paulo Coelho

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