Tag Archive - Grace

25 Reasons Why…

kb2

Truth is, I have never required a reason for loving you. Not since the first time I looked into your pretty pink face, breathed the sweet scent of you, and pulled your soft, warm body into me. In that moment, our hearts made a covenant: all the time, no matter what.

kb1

If, however, I was ever asked why I delight in you, here are some of the things I might say…

 

kb3

I love the way you have always been able to hold an audience spellbound.

  1. When you were a baby, dad and I would go to dinner and set you (in your car-seat) on the table. You were our dinner show.
  2. At your second birthday party, you told the story of David and Goliath, beginning to end, with all the proper drama. I have never forgotten that, nor, I dare say, have our guests.
  3. One of my favorite Christmas photos is you in your green velvet dress, standing on the hassock at Grandma and Grandpa Nelson’s enacting some performance, all eyes on you. (Forgive the blurry photo. Remember, this was pre-iPhone. Back then, every shot was a crap shoot. You never knew what you had till the film was developed. Some were better than others. This is one of the others.)
  4. You are a gifted singer. You have a lovely voice and are remarkably good at finding harmonies. It was fun watching you use these gifts in children’s choir, and in our many family sing-alongs, but my favorite of your performances are the unintentional ones; when you are busy at something and do not realize that you are singing. I could listen to that all day. 🙂

kb

You are the most generous person I know.

  1. We got our first glimpse of it just after you turned two. Dad and I were decorating the Christmas tree and you were worried that your brand new little brother would feel left out. So you decorated him. 🙂
  2. One morning, you woke before us, and by the time we got to Jake, you had filled his crib with pretty much all of your toys.
  3. Then there was the Christmas when you, as a teenager, asked for only money from everyone so you could give it to Bloodwater Mission to provide clean water to precious ones in Africa.
  4. The gifts you give others always say something about them. They convey to the individual the fact that you know her. You have studied her and chosen something that is uniquely suited. Regrettably, I do not share this gift, but I admire it ferociously.
  5. And then, you had a baby. And every time you went to buy something for yourself, you came back with something for her and totally forgot whatever it was that you needed because, all of a sudden, you didn’t need it any more.

kb4

You make a place for everyone. This is one of the things I most wish I could learn from you.

  1. When you were just a toddler, you had next-door best friends. You were never happier than when Jillian and Julia or the other Kelsey came over to play.
  2. As a teenager, friends were essential to your happiness, and were the sources of your greatest delight, and sometimes, your greatest heartache.
  3. You have always had a remarkable ability to find the ones who feel left out and make them feel seen and known. Whether it was the awkward kid at church or that person at work that everybody dreads working with, but somehow engenders sympathy from you, you make room in your life for all the “misfits”.
  4. I suspect that one of the reasons you were most keen to have your own home was so that you could invite friends over. You are at your most natural when you are welcoming and feeding friends and making them feel loved and enjoyed.
  5. In this year following the death of your Papa, I have watched you make a determined effort to love on Nana the way she always loved on you as a child. Most 20 somethings are too busy living their own lives to stop and imagine how lonely it must be to navigate life without the one person who has always been at the center of everything. But not you. Thank you for that.

kb6

You have an inimitable sense of style.

  1. From fairy tale dresses to flip flops, from blonde hair to black, purple, pink, etc…, piercings, tattoos–your body has been a canvas onto which you have projected that which is inside. Sometimes it has been painful, most of the time exquisitely lovely, but always, always honest.

kb7.

You love extravagantly.

  1.  Those who have had the great good fortune to float into your orbit, be they family members or friends, have hit the jackpot. Your love is unconditional. I, personally, am very thankful for that. It is the type of love that pursues, forgives, and makes bold.

kb16

You are brave.

  1. When you were 5, you wanted your ears pierced. I took you to one of those stores at the mall. When they shot your tiny little ear with that awful gun, tears slid down your face, but you didn’t make a sound. Frankly, I was panicking a little, wondering what I would do if you said no to the second side. But, you took a deep breath and told the lady you were ready. Just like that.
  2. You bought a home of your own, in which to raise your little one, when you were 21 years old! Twenty one! This astonishes me still.

kb15

You are funny.

  1. I love your laugh, but mostly I love that it is always easy for you to find something to laugh about.

kelskenz1

You are a wonderful mother.

  1. You take obvious delight in your daughter. Kenzie will never need to wonder whether she is loved.
  2. You have made a great many sacrifices to insure that Kenz has a good life; from rising early and working multiple jobs to provide for her, to teaching her to enjoy clean and healthy food, to showing her how to esteem others and treat them with kindness–by your own example.
  3. You are the fun mom; going all out to decorate and dress up for Halloween, helping your baby girl collect wildflowers and small critters, playing in the rain. And the sand. And the snow.

kb14

You make the world more beautiful.

  1. Your photographs open our eyes to a world that we might otherwise pass by.
  2. You coax beauty from the earth.
  3. You make food an art form with creations delicious, nutritious, and gorgeous.

kb10

Darling daughter, when I held you for that first time, twenty-five years ago today, I had no idea how spectacular my life was about to become. Thank you. Thank you for being. Thank you for being you. Exactly you.

I love you.

Always.

 

East of Eden

“And the Lord God planted a garden eastward in Eden…”

eden

My people are people of the soil.

My grandpa made his living as a dairy farmer. And now, when he sits on his porch in the evening, he looks out over the fields where he pastured his cattle, and where he made hay for their winter sustenance. In the middle of those fields sits the timber frame house where, one hundred Aprils ago, he was born.

grandpa

Over the past forty-nine years, my parents have planted gardens, fruit trees, and flowers; dug a pond and built some barns; raised kids, dogs, farm cats, and beef cattle; snow sledded, cut firewood, and canned a million quarts of green beans on the wild twenty acre plot of Eden they bought when I was just a baby.

river-ridge-barn

My brother and his bride have reared their babies and built a beautiful life, and now a business, on the very same farm where my dad was once a boy.

Deep roots.

img_6412

Mike and I have been somewhat more transient. Gypsies. In June we moved into our sixth house in twenty-nine years of marriage. And yet–something of this need to plant things, to intimately know my portion of earth, has pursued me.

garden

So I lovingly lift out my mama’s irises and haul them with me, wondering if any of the soil of Appalachia still clings to their rhizomes. I sift cleome and larkspur seeds into the new ground and bless my grandmothers who loved them so and who, though immensely practical, could not live without beauty.

lilies

I study the vicissitudes of sun and shade. I tuck columbine under the dogwoods and border the walk with lavender. I make a home for Samra’s calla lilies and Lorri’s Lenten roses. I stand perfectly still when the hummingbird comes to drink while I am pulling weeds. I watch Kenzie charm the butterflies.

butterfly

And slowly
thread by thread
I stitch myself into this new soil.

thread

p.s. The barn pictured above has been transformed into a gorgeous event space. If you live in the East Tennessee area and are planning a wedding, reunion, or corporate event, check out River Ridge Barn HERE.

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.

__________________________________

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…

__________________________________

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.

________________________________

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.”

________________________________

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.

meteora

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.

__________________________________

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.

The Halftime Report…

birthday

As of today, I have breathed upon the earth for 50 years. Given that this birthday comes just five days short of my grandpa’s 100th, I am choosing to see this as roughly halfway. 🙂

For someone with my disposition, it is impossible to arrive at such an auspicious waymark without a fair amount of reflection and rumination. You might expect me to share with you some of the wisdom I have acquired over low these many years. And while I do pray that I am wiser than once I was, mostly I find myself overwhelmed with a profound sense of gratitude for the beautiful adventure that has been my life, thus far. So much more than I could ever have thought to ask for…

My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior…for He who is mighty has done great things for me, and Holy is His Name. ~Luke 1:46,49

For planting my roots in Appalachia…
For lightnin bugs and cold swimmin holes
and the Christmas trees we dragged from the woods
Bare feet in warm soil, scent of freshly turned earth
Wobbly-legged calves still glistening and new
For tender lettuce and onions in hot bacon grease
Wild muscadines eaten right off the vine,
I thank you

For a mama who read stories to me in that voice
that will always be my favorite
Who wakened in me a love for the piano and then
showed me how to make the magic
Who sewed my clothes and permed my hair
and dried a million tears,
I thank you

For a daddy who worked two jobs to make sure we had enough
and brought treats home in his lunchbox
Who taught me to be curious
and to work hard
and to sing
and to never stop learning,
I thank you

For my brothers and cousins
For painting with poke berries
and traipsing through wild places
For all the bicycle rides
across the honeysuckle bridge
through the woods
to the store on the highway
And for the rides home
eating candy necklaces
from our sweaty necks,
I thank you

For the church that smelled of cedar
and teaberry gum
tent revivals on summer nights
hymns and Hallelujahs sailing out into the dark
For foot washins and singins
and dinner on the ground
and all the people
and the way I first learned to love You there,
I thank you

For every teacher
every mentor
who saw something in me
that I could not see
and ruthlessly drew it out,
I thank you

For that adorable 22 year old boy
who scurried into my life on a Sunday morning
and stole my heart
and upset all my plans
and became God’s provision for me
Who has stood with me
in cathedrals and canyons
and emergency rooms
Who meant it when he said better OR worse
and has loved me more than I deserve,
I thank you

For a warm, sweet bundle of joy
who exploded all boundaries of love
when she made me a mommy
and who continues to teach me about love
daily
with her life,
I thank you

For the first boy child
grabbing life by the horns from the get go
For music and hikes and food
and long, deep talks into the night,
I thank you

For the baby boy
who is taller than us all
For the way he makes life a celebration
For his courage and curiosity
his talent and his zeal,
I thank you

For the wee one
For the way I am meeting the world
all over again
through her
For the way she teaches me to wake
each morning
eager and expectant,
I thank you

For all the beauty…
For the delicious agony of words
and the excruciating ecstasy of music
For the grandeur of mountains and vastness of the sea
For lavender, and butterflies, and red tailed hawks
For cardinals in winter and the first blossoms of spring
For the wildness of summer storms
and the silence of snow
For glaciers and rain forests
and the stark loveliness of the desert
For the extraordinary places all over the world
where it has been my privilege to stand,
I thank you

For found friends in far flung places
who have knit themselves into my heart
And for friends nearby
who love relentlessly
who see what could be
and make it so
who have made my life immeasurably rich,
I thank you

For faith
that has traveled long and endured much
and just when I least expected it
blossomed into something so rich and wide
that I will never come to the end of it
For all that is mystical and sacred
For the gift of Your Presence,
I thank you.

 

*And for you, dear reader, wherever you may be, for visiting these pages from time to time and sharing your life with me. Thank you.

To Wear Forgiveness…

forgiveness

The triumph of sin, the main sign of its rule over the world is division, opposition , separation, hatred. Therefore, the first break through this fortress of sin is forgiveness.

~Alexander Schmemann

Slanting rays of late afternoon sunlight fall on the solea as the priest bows before the first deacon and says these words, “Forgive me, a sinner.” The deacon replies, “God forgives, and I forgive.” The deacon bows before the priest and says the same. They repeat this ritual with the second deacon, and the third. Then, one by one, we add ourselves to a line that eventually snakes around the whole church, bowing to one another, “Forgive me…” til each person in the temple has bowed before the other, asking for, and receiving forgiveness.

There are tears. And hugs. Some of us barely know one another, others have complicated histories. We do not take time to enumerate the many ways we might have hurt one another. God knows. But by our words and the humbling of ourselves, we say we would like it to be other. That we want to be made right.

With this, we begin our Lenten effort.

And because, in her ancient wisdom, the Church understands that we need lots of practice, she gives us the whole of this week to contemplate repentance and forgiveness. The services are filled with a great many prostrations, mingled with reminders of my propensity to seek my own way. But this is not punitive. This is liberation. I speak to my friend Jack one night after praying the penitential Canon of St. Andrew and ask him if he is tired after chanting so many long services this week. “Not at all. I love this service! It’s invigorating.”

Invigorating? A service whose primary focus is repentance?

In the long and difficult effort of spiritual recovery, the Church does not separate the soul from the body. The whole man has fallen away from God; the whole man is to be restored…Salvation and repentance then are not contempt for the body or neglect of it, but restoration of the body to its real function as the expression and life of spirit, as the temple of the priceless human soul.

~Alexander Schmemann

I have discoloured Thine image and broken Thy commandment. All my beauty is destroyed and my lamp is quenched by the passions, O Saviour. But take pity on me, as David sings, and ‘restore to me Thy joy’.

~The Lenten Triodian, Canon of St. Andrew

It just so happens that a couple of days before Lent began, I had an encounter with a dark cloud from my past. A reminder of a difficult season in which I made choices I am not proud of. And I allowed that cloud to rain all over me and put me in a terrible funk.

Perhaps this is why I need this week so much. I need to physically stand inside forgiveness. I need to look into the eyes of another who will say to me, “You are forgiven. By God, and by me.” I need to know hunger in my belly. I need the opportunity to touch my face to the floor, not as a grovelling worm, but as one who recognizes my vulnerability. I need to wear forgiveness in my body so that the next time accusation visits, it finds no harbor in me.

It is only when we have lost all love of ourselves for our own sakes that our past sins cease to give us any cause for suffering or for the anguish of shame. For the saints, when they remember their sins, do not remember the sins but the mercy of God, and therefore even past evil is turned by them into a present cause of joy and serves to glorify God.

~Thomas Merton

May it be so.

Forgive me.

*A parenthetical word on dates: The Orthodox and western dates for Pascha (Easter) frequently differ, usually by just a bit, but occasionally (as this year) by more than a month. You can read about why that occurs HERE and HERE. Hence, as our western brothers and sisters are ramping up for Palm Sunday, we have only just begun the Lenten season.

 

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

love2

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…

sunrisesantiago

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.

IMG_5051

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.

IMG_5117

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.

IMG_5104

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.

tapas

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.

IMG_5058

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.

IMG_5029

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-two

IMG_4996

We repeat some familiar themes on this, our last full day of walking.

Anise has been with us from the beginning. Forever, when I think of Spain, the scent of licorice will be in my mind. We run our hands over it to release its fragrance and also for the way it makes our hands feel soft. I promise myself I will plant it in my garden next year.

sheep

IMG_4976

And there are sheep. I remember them scattered out all across the Pyrenees with their bells and long fleeces on that day when the wind was so fierce. And there was the stampede on the dry, flat meseta. The young shepherd boy beneath the tree. Today it is a small flock, and they seem to want to walk with us. We think that’s sweet. Not so much their shepherdess. 🙂

animalwhisperer

Perhaps I have neglected to mention Jan’s love for obsession with animals. All along the camino, she has found them. And they have found her. They all seem to sense the goodness in her and her great love for them. So it is fitting that they are out in force to bid her buen camino just here at the end.

We sing and re-sing some of our favorite camino repertoire. But mostly we are quiet. Quieter than usual, anyway. Each of us readying for the culmination of our journey in our own way.

mountjoy

Monte del Gozo, Mount of Joy, is so called because it was once the first point on the camino from which pilgrims could glimpse the spires of the cathedral. Today that view is obstructed, but the nearness of it is palpable. We see Santiago spread out below us and it is far larger than I imagined. This startles me a bit.

The final albergue of our journey is the very clean and efficient Xunta Albergue where we will sleep for 6 euros. There are 400 beds spread over this hillside, but on this evening, in the middle of October, not nearly all of these will be required. We bathe, then walk up to the monument honoring two of the more famous pilgrims of the Way, St. Francis and Pope John Paul II. Pilgrims sit at the foot of the monument or on blankets spread out on the grass, scribbling in journals or sharing stories.

mountjoy2

We have been in communication with some of our friends and know that many of us will arrive in the city tomorrow. Though it would be lovely to walk in together, trying to organize this feels contrived. So we will trust the process by which we have marvelously found one another over and over again along the road. We have lost track of several of our young friends, but hope against hope that we will somehow find them there as well.

Buen camino, friends. See you in Santiago…

IMG_5012

May the stars light your way and may you find the interior road. Forward!

~traditional Irish farewell

 

A Pilgrim Tale: day twenty-six

IMG_4826

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.)

buildings

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.

bridges

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.

salad

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.

IMG_4813

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.

IMG_4830

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.

IMG_4811

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.

IMG_4796

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-four

IMG_4655

The morning comes clear and cool. And dry. We race the sun up the mountain. She reaches out rosy fingers, gently caressing everything we see, as though she is as glad to see the world again as we all are to see her.

foncebadon

Foncebadon is like a little hill town that time forgot. Scattered between albergues and cafes are neglected relics of another age; lovely stone cottages that have no one to love them back into themselves. We stop in a general store/cafe that has the wonderful smell of old wood. With it’s glass canisters and suspended farm implements, it looks as though it would be at home in any small town of Appalachia. We share coffee and conversation with Otto and Jose before resuming our climb.

IMG_4720

On the way out of town we pass a remnant of what I imagine was once a church. One impossibly slender fin with a perfect arched window stands sentinel in a walled yard. We first see it bathed in warm, early sunlight, then silhouetted against the same. It is a striking figure, and it begins to prepare our hearts for the weighty encounter just ahead of us.

IMG_4721

The Cruz de Ferro

Here each pilgrim leaves something that no longer serves her. A burden, a sadness, or perhaps a token of gratitude. It is a very personal thing. And yet, it is made even more beautiful for us because we arrive with a great many friends who have become dear to us on this journey. When we first see it out ahead of us, we fall silent. The deep significance of being here settles on us like a mantle. Holy Ground, Otto calls it.

Each of us stands in respectful silence as the others take their own walk to the cross. There is a holy hush over the mountain that all of us are reluctant to break. We carry this with us for a space, unwilling to intrude upon the sacred.

IMG_4692

IMG_4696

IMG_4688

IMG_4708

IMG_4709

IMG_4711

Somewhere we know that without a lonely place our lives are in danger. Somewhere we know that without silence words lose their meaning, that without listening speaking no longer heals, without distance closeness cannot cure. Somewhere we know that without a lonely place our actions quickly become empty gestures…
~Henri Nouwen

IMG_4722

The afternoon is a succession of mountain towns under a cerulean sky where contrails form giant fans, followed by long, deep, cerveza lubricated conversations with our fellow pilgrims on the porch of Albergue Santa Marina in Molinaseca. Our home. For tonight.

The road has been long. And good.

My heart is full.

 

Page 1 of1712345»10...Last »