Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Back to the Light

Good sense and sunshine returned to The Peaceable on Monday, in the form of Kim.
She heard about the downward spiral I was on, so she got on a bus and came back.
Gently she told me again what Paddy´s been saying for weeks, what Fred said right here on the blog comments: Una´s not seen the X-rays. Let her live as long as she wants.

So we filled in the grave out in the yard (loosely), and we had a big dog party out at The Promised Land, a piece of rugged, untillable erosion that´s full of hare-holes but has a beautiful view. Kim made a beautiful Valentine of a video out of it. (it´s so cool, having a videographer in the house.)

a big dog party from salt ... on the road on Vimeo.

Life goes on. Una´s going slow, but she´s still going. As Paddy always said, "she´s as game as a pebble."  Kim goes back on the road today. I feel a whole lot better. I think Una might, too. Friends are good.

I bought seed garlic from The Garlic Dude at the street market in Sahagun, for planting over the winter in our spankin´ new garden beds. I was warned, however, to hold off planting garlic til after St. Martin´s Day, November 6. Not because that´s the new moon. Not because that´s when the first frost always comes. Because that´s just what you do.

And so I will.

altitude therapy from salt ... on the road on Vimeo.

Saturday, 23 October 2010

Running Out of Sunshine

October is many days of a sameness here at The Peaceable. We wheel things around in barrows, and shovel up muck, and update all our files of important documents (which is much like shoveling muck, I think, but with less visible progress.) Una lets us know she is not ready to die yet. She bounds about each morning chasing mice and beating up Tim and bossing everyone around. Maybe the veterinarian gave us too much information. It seems like we humans are the ones doing all the suffering. At least until evening, when her breathing is labored... 

 Life in Moratinos goes on the same rhythm it´s followed, more or less, for the last 500 years or so: Harvest grapes and press them into mosto and set that aside to moulder, clean up the cemetery, chop up the kindling for the winter fires, get your flu shot, your pneumonia vaccine, wash the windows, plow and sow and hope the rain comes down on time.

The weather´s been kind. Progress continues apace at both new pilgrim albergues, and the pilgrims themselves continue flowing through the middle of all our activity, dozens of them every day. They don´t stop to say hello when we greet them. They don´t come home for coffee, even, not anymore. So I was surprised a few days ago when three pilgrims at the edge of town surrounded me with hugs. I knew them right away, because they stop in here whenever they come by: Jussi and Liisa, evangelical missionaries from Finland, and Daniel, a sometime Yankee sailor who does odd jobs. They´re a strange trio -- the Finns are elderly and parental, with ruddy cheeks and kindly smiles. They don´t have to tell you they love Jesus, cause you can see that. Daniel´s somewhere in his 50´s, but he´s young for his age, full of jokes and advice and American brass, with a Jewish vibe ringing in there somewhere.

We met them on New Year´s Eve 2006, soon after we settled here. All together we attended a do-it-yourself pagan bash in a town nearby that included downing shots of home-brew liquor and vegetarian lasagna and singing our respective national anthems. The highlight was watching our rather-floppy-by-then host attempt to light a bonfire and jump over it without torching himself or the neighborhood. All of which might be a blast if you´re not partying alongside teetotal born-again elders.    

They must´ve forgiven us, because they keep coming by when they´re out spreading the Gospel. This time I gave them boiled eggs and mandarin oranges, grapes and figs and brown bread to eat. They drank down a pot of coffee, blessed our house, and set out on their way. I don´t think I will see the Finns here again. Jussi looks grey with exhaustion. Liisa mentioned retirement, stepping aside and letting the younger evangelists have a go, seeing as Jussi´s coming on 70.

Seeing them again made me wonder. Maybe pilgrims have changed in the past four years, or maybe we have, but we don´t often see the soft, slow type pilgrims any more. These ones flow slowly down the Way, stopping now and then to help someone lay bricks, or to pick a Neil Young song on a guitar, or to talk about Jesus in the middle of the morning. Nowadays it seems like pilgs roll along hard and silver as ball-bearings, self-contained, on schedule, leaving no tracks and picking up no dirt or bugs or color, waiting til they´ve found a place to stay before they open up their packs and relax.    

Today is Friday, a wake-up day. I can keep myself occupied Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday, but the veterinarian is closed on weekends. If we let Una stay alive through Friday evening, we commit her to hanging on through Saturday and Sunday and most of Monday, too. We have to gauge carefully, balance her morning liveliness against the afternoon clinginess and the breathlessness of night. We cannot let her suffer. We pretend not to notice how slowly she rises in the morning, and how she decides against the long hike, turning aside instead to squeeze past the fence and greet the Italian work-crew laboring at Bruno´s albergue. She has a terrific appetite, and we´re giving her deluxe dog food, driving greedy Tim mad with envy. 

We are running out of sunshine. If I work hard and stay busy I don´t hear Una coughing. I don´t notice how Paddy´s grey hair is going white on the edges. I don´t feel my own breath coming shorter each afternoon, after the medicine wears off. I don´t notice when the sweet old pilgrims don´t come back again.

Death is part of life, it´s all around us, it´s easy to deal with when it´s out there in the future, and abstraction. But as I dump the barrow out in the patio, I rake the soil ´round a grave already dug and waiting for a certain dog. The sky is going grey, and winter is coming on. Friday comes ´round so fast, and Una looks sad in her bed at night, struggling her way to sleep.

I do hate long goodbyes. I hope October doesn´t linger too much longer.  

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Una Going

It´s true what they say: "those whom the gods would smack upside the head, they first make happy."

Looking back over this year we´ve been very happy and golden and blessed. No one died or even cried much. We had tons of great company and wine and cheese, music and pilgrimages, trips and donativos. The flowers bloomed, the chickens laid beautiful eggs. I got a start on the book, and Kim was around to keep things humming while I hid out or lit out.

I wondered when the other shoe would drop. Because it always does. So here in October, after the last wave of Septemberness (the Camino Invierno, visits from good old friends, a couple of days at the beach), Nabi ran onto the highway and died. And now the veterinarians in Leon, some of the best in the region, tell us Una´s cough is the cancer come back, the cancer that cost her a leg more than a year ago.  Her right lung is just about done. She has maybe a week, a month at the most.This is not a big surprise. The vets told us more than a year ago that bone cancer like Una had often travels to the lungs next, and that this would likely happen, sooner rather than later. It was supposed to be a lot sooner. She´s been living on borrowed time, and we are grateful for all these extra months her pure cussedness has won for us.

So if I am distant, or I even seem like I´ve disappeared, it´s just the Una thing, OK? Because it was painful to say goodbye to beautiful Nabi, but Una? She is simply the best dog I ever had.  She is part of our marriage, and integral to the Peaceable story.

For now, she is on steroidal anti-inflammatories and the same kind of hardcore pseudo-neurotransmitter I take when I´m in dire straits from asthma. She feels grrrrr-eat through the day, chasing mice and barking at the mailman, but at night she comes crashing down, usually onto one of the beds in the salon. When she stops enjoying her dinner, or she´s in obvious distress, we will have her put down.

(We hope Kim gets here in time. If things go to plan, she will arrive in time for a Big Dog Party up at the tumberon, with liver and pig-noses and dog toys and mouse-digging enough for every dog in the neighborhood, and maybe some Burgos morcilla for the humans involved. 

On the way home from the "malas noticias" (bad news) on Monday, we stopped at the tree nursery and bought a big healthy olive tree. Yesterday we cut down the scruffy lilac in the patio, and started excavating a hole there, alongside where all the people and animals come and go. Excavating in adobe takes a long, long time. We´ll dig a bit more each day, and watch our Una dog. And when the time comes, we will put the olive tree in the ditch, and curl her body up around the roots, and bury them together. Una can still be part of the life here, even though she is gone. Right there at the heart of the house.

Una is still very much around, and may be for a little while, so I am not overwhelmed. I need to keep myself on a steady keel, as I am preparing chapters for a literary agent interested in seeing a Peaceable book. (Apologies to those who are waiting for the Camino Invierno guide, it´s next!) I am trying my best to pour all this emotional energy into the writing. But I am also ready to let it go, if they agent says no. I need to let the book go, and let the dog go. Like I have let the house go in the last few days... the pilgrims seem to sense that. No one´s come knocking at the gate since Nabi died.

Things are unhinged. Everyone´s being fed, but there´s not a lot of Big Fun happening here. Just Real Life.

Saturday, 9 October 2010

Nabi Goes

Nabi Dog is the spunky, feisty little greyhound, the darker and smaller of the starving pair who showed up here in January, rescued from a ditch alongside the highway. Her "sister" Lulu is much more refined and retiring, afraid of everything. Nabi doesn´t like strangers, but when she´s among family she´s a pushy broad. At dinnertime, and in the morning when it´s time for everyone to get up, she is out in the patio leaping ´round the flowerbeds, shouting out the "woo woo woo" that brands her forever a hound-dog.

I´ve told her a thousand times that no hound-dogs are allowed in the house, but she tries her luck every time the front door is left open. She´d dearly love to be a house dog, but no dice. Two dogs in here is enough. And with her extra-long whip of a tail, a joyfully wagging Nabi is a destructive force.

Nabi´s not quite so fast as Lulu, but when they´re out in the fields chasing one another, the mirror-image Galgo Girls are never more than a meter or so apart from one another. They are a perfect pas de deux, and at 15 mph., a breathtaking sight.

On Thursday they hunted critters together in the woods alongside the camino into Calzadilla de los Hermanillos. Nabi killed at least two field mice. Together the galgos ignored us when we called them back to the car. And when we finally got everyone home, the two of them slipped out the gate. Paddy went to feed them dinner, and found the barn empty.

He stepped into the dusk and called to them.
Only Lulu appeared. Very strange, that. Very wrong.

It was a long night. Friday morning I took my spyglasses and the car, and went looking for naughty Nabi.

It took a while, but I found her.

I found her body. Lying along the edge of the A231 autopista, at the foot of the same roadside rabbit warren that so tempted Una a couple of years ago, was a greyhound carcass the same size as Nabi, wearing the same kind of collar.
She was not mutilated or messy.
She was elegantly posed, long legs outstretched, as if she was sunning herself on the patio.
The highway gave her to us. The highway took her away, just a few hundred meters west. 

A part of me started to cry, and didn´t stop for a long time.
Some other part of me marched back to the house, told Patrick the news.
"Nabi is dead," I said, and somehow that made it so. We loaded a sheet and a shovel into the back of the car, and drove back to the autopista to collect her.

Together, with a pick and shovel, we buried her body out back. We put a seedling tree in the hole with her, so something good might come of it. Una and Tim and Murphy stood by in the tall grass, watching solemnly while we worked and wept.

Lulu stayed in the barn. In the night she cried. Tim went out and slept on the greyhound sofa with her, in Nabi´s spot.

Lulu is confused. Maybe she is lonely or sad, but who can tell what is going on in her tiny brain? She asks for more of our attention. She walks more sweetly on the lead. We wonder if we should go ahead and let this hound dog in the house, give her the gift of human company we denied to Nabi.
But Lulu doesn´t want to come inside, even though Una and Tim stay in here. Lulu lives in the barn, in the "Greyhound Lounge." That is where she wants to be.

I project my grief onto Lulu´s slender shoulders. I know Nabi´s troubles are over. She probably never knew what hit her, out there on the highway in the dark. It´s little Lulu who makes me feel the most sad.

I must learn to live without one of my pets. 
Lulu must learn to live without her shadow.   

Friday, 8 October 2010

Esperanza Comes Alive!

I´ve never done this before, (used someone else´s blog for a post here), but this is good, especially if you like music and understand a bit about it. This is a post from Peter Blanchette, one of the fine musicians who played here this summer. It´s all about Esperanza, (the guitar Federico built) who lives at our house.

I think he likes her.

Makes me wish I knew how to play something on the guitar beyond the chords to "Eleanor Rigby." Makes me know that sending Esperanza to live at the Peaceable, where no one plays guitar, is like sending Cinderella to live with the Steppy Uglisters.

Oh well. The pilgrims enjoy her, even if they only play "Streets of London" and "Working Class Hero" and "Smoke On the Water" on her. We can´t all be maestros.

Before he went back to America, Peter re-strung our guitar so she could "use her entire voice properly." The guitar sounds great, but singing along is restricted to the Neil Young/Frankie Valli category, at least til you get a feel for the pitch and just drop your voice down an octave or two. (maybe this is why I always sing flat?)

Now I know why "high-strung" isn´t always a bad thing.. just something else that takes some getting-used-to.  If you want to know more about Peter, who is a character, and who played at our church on Fiesta Day this year,  or to even hear some of his excellent work, go to . I´ll vouch for the guy. Hey, he said nice things about us in his blog!

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Yes, I do come home sometimes

Kathy heading for Pico Sagrada
Fun days at The Peaceable. David and Malin are here -- he fixed the computer beautifully, and tomorrow they are off to France to attend a wedding of two acrobats from Toulouse. When I think I lead an exciting and exotic life, I just look at these two and I know I´m still safely dull.
Just to add to the fun, this afternoon who rolls up to the door but the original John Murphy... the pilgrim our cat Murphy is named for. John Murphy is the most Irish man I ever heard speak. When David´s puppy tried gnawing his already gnarled pilgrim foot, John Murphy blurted "Ooh doon´tcha, by Jayzus!" He is a nice man, even if I only understand "soom" of what he says.

For the first time in many weeks I saw rain on Sunday. Summer´s long pointy fingers open cracks in adobe walls and roofs, and the first wet day of Fall is always an unhappy revelation of maintenance jobs neglected. Our bodega wants our attention. We bought materials this summer, and discussed how to get the job done, but we never got ´round to putting an asphalt barrier on the roof. We instead spent the weekend with Laura and Sam, a couple of blog readers from Oregon. It was strangely dissonant, being with two such American Americans in this very Spanish place. They´re not even pilgrims!  (and they brought blueberries!)

Filipe heading for the beach

 I spent most of last week in a Portuguese beach town with Filipe and Dick. I always see them in extraordinary places, as they are travelers, too: We´ve met up in London, Chicago, Rotterdam, Gouda, Ghent, Paris, Palencia... and now Altura. (I met Dick when I walked the Camino in 2001. He was my best Camino friend, another great gift given to me by this old road.) We only had a few days together, but we filled them up with sand and Campari, langostinos steamed in a cataplana with coriander and clams, big red Portuguese wine "liberated" from Filipe´s dad´s cellar, and conversations lasting long into the night in the dark back patio. It was sweet and delightful and sybaritic and rather allergenic, too. These two do maintenance on my soul.

I spent a good chunk of the best September weather out having fun on the Camino. I haven´t told you much yet about that -- I´d planned on walking the Camino Vadiniense, a climb down a Roman road from the mountain fastness of the Picos de Europa in Cantabria. But with the end of summer the buses don´t run to the starting point any more. We couldn´t get ourselves up there. So when Kathy, (my hiking bud from last year´s Camino San Salvador run) arrived with her hike-ready sister JoAnn, we settled for a revisit of the last 100 or so kilometers of the Invierno, the path I walked this spring.

This time it was much, much better. The ground was dry, so we could stay on the marked paths and get off some of the asphalt roads. (A lot of the lower-lying ways were flooded when I was there in April.) I had a good feel for the path, having taken so many wrong ways already. We didn´t get lost, not even once! Best of all, this time I did not have dysentery. Revisiting the scenes of the last days of my spring Camino, I realize how very weak and ill and lonesome I was. Poor old me. I am glad I gave it a second chance, because it IS a wonderful path. I am now working on a new English-language trail guide, and hopefully more people will give it a try. It is too hard for first-timers or tourists, so hopefully it will not become the littered, paved-over knucklehead parade that the Camino Frances is turning into.
Me and Kathy, laboring over the burning trail

The Invierno is a hard camino. I wore boots I bought in America in June, boots I thought were broken-in over the summer... OMG. I was wrong. My feet were blistered like a newbies´!
buddies drinking

But we stayed in some great places, and ate some really great food, and made an impact on supplies of Ribeira Sacra and Valdeorras wines. We suffered a bit, but we medicated well. And we met some real characters along the way -- including Joaquin and Esteban, two traveling salesmen from Noia, in Bar Toxa Octopus Emporium in Silleda. This is what the Camino is supposed to be about!

Oh, and when we arrived in Santiago, who did we run into, standing in line to enter the cathedral? George Greenia, our old bud from William & Mary, down in Virginia. He was just in town for a couple of days.  as the Spaniards say, "el mundo es un panuelo." "The world´s a handkerchief."
Three Chicas Americanas

Saturday, 2 October 2010


Amigos, I spent the last few days on the beach in Faro, Portugal. I was going to start work on the new Camino Invierno guide down there, and I was going to catch up on the backlog of New Yorker magazines I´ve built-up. But really I did very little but walk on the big white sand beach and talk with Filipe and Dick, two of my favorite old friends. (We ate, too. Portuguese food, especially in a fishing village, is absolutely superb; we made significant inroads on the local shellfish population and the green wine supply as well.)  It was very very nice.  It was downright decadent, really. I shall have to go back there soon. 

Yesterday I made the long journey back to Moratinos, and discovered on my arrival that our internet connection is down, and no one knows why... all the equipment is working just fine, but the computers just won´t recognize there´s a signal out there. And so I write this from an internet café in Sahagun. We await the arrival on Monday of David, our Dutch friend and IT engineer, the only person who knows how to make our particular network work.

And so this is brief.
Be patient with me. These are deep mysteries, beyond our understanding and control.