Thursday, 21 June 2012

Light in the Labyrinth

Eleven p.m. on June 20. Science says the Solstice is happening just now, the longest day of the year is ending, the shortest night is begun, the sun is moving into the part of the sky called Cancer.

It´s Midsummer Night, a time when the veil between this world and the next is particularly thin and the future can be divined using potato peels and still water and a correct repetition of rhymes.  The Catholic calendar says this is the Feast of St. John, the patron of the Templar Knights, and therefore also the pueblo fiesta in Terradillos de Templarios, our neighbors three kilometers east.

In Moratinos this year, St. John´s Day meant a long, long stretch of daylight for working in. Up on the roof of the church tower the steeple-jacks shored-up the timbers, dropping adobe and terra-cotta onto the street and plaza below. A cloud of swallows whirled  around them as they worked. Farmers toiled in their vegetable gardens. Pilgrims toiled down the trail. Thunderheads stacked up on the horizon, then blew on by. The grain waved gold, the sunflowers green in between, and soon -- God willing -- their thousands of bright yellow faces will open to the sky.

In the morning we walked in the woods outside Ledigos. We gathered butterfly lavender, local wildflowers that might propagate here in our garden. We drove to Leon, we had the car serviced, we looked at the staggering array of things for sale at the big department store, and for lunch we ate the strange Spanish take on Chinese food. We drove home down the strangely deserted autovia.

And at 10:45, as the sun finally set and the Solstice approached, I gathered up two dogs, a candle, and a glass jar. I drove through the sleeping town, past the albergue and hostal where the pilgrims were by then snoring, up the Camino past the cemetery, where the sleepers make no sound. I crossed the concrete bridge at the Rio Templarios, and stopped at the little grove called Villa Oreja.

It´s there, alongside the road, we keep a small labyrinth of stones. And yes, I confess, at the change of each season, every Solstice and Equinox, I go there with a dog or two and a candle. In the dark I walk the labyrinth, and I make a prayer.

I pray for everyone who walks past that place, and everyone who walks that labyrinth. I pray for Moratinos, and Terradillos, and my family and my friends, and for whatever is coming down the road toward us in the next three months.

I leave the candle out there, burning in the middle of the maze. (I am sure my neighbors think I am mad, but not in any harmful way.)

Tonight at 11 p.m. there still were scraps of light along the western horizon, a hot little spot of red where the sun had been. Rain sprinkled, but when I looked straight up from the center of the labyrinth, stars shone down on me. 

Supposedly the spirits of Templar Knights pass by that place on St. John´s Eve, but I have never seen or heard them. Only hawks calling in the dark, or maybe an owl. Sometimes the breeze makes the trees roar overhead, and one of the dogs growls at something in the underbrush. Sometimes it gets creepy out there.

But not in summertime. The night is soft in June. Glorious, soft, and bright with the last scraps of sun -- the very peak of the year.

Monday, 18 June 2012

Heavy air

The air is heavy.

To our north the miners are rioting, throwing coal-cars onto the highways. In the cities tomorrow the unemployed and annoyed plan to rally, hoping that marching around the plaza and shouting might somehow lighten their burdens or brighten their futures.

To the east, in Greece, the economy totters and reels. Here in Spain, the timbers are shivering at the banks -- or so we are told. (So far, being even a shaky bank is a lot more fiscally safe than being a regular person. The government believes in shoring up even the most rapacious bankers, while leaving the regular folks to "practice austerity for our country´s sake.") I may be thrown off the free medical care gravy train at any time.  I´ve had a good ride.
 In America the Vatican is cracking down on nuns who do not toe the company line. In the Vatican itself police are uncovering a web of "dirty money" accounts used by the Mafia to sanctify their ill-gotten lucre.

In England, Princess Kate strapped on her $500 boots and went camping. Queen Elizabeth II celebrated herself with a huge street party, and millions of flag-waving commoners turned out to cheer for their best-beloved billionaire. European Cup football fills flat-screens in a million bars as the sports fans double-down on anesthesia.  There´s so much ache that wants treatment, so much angst, so little work to be had, and so much merchandise they just gotta have if they want to be worthwhile.    
Here in Moratinos Tim and Harry are having stomach trouble, probably from drinking water from ditches alongside chemically-treated fields. So far there´s no talk of opening the church this July so the pilgrims can stop in. Kim´s gone home to Florida. Paddy´s online horse-betting career is over, a victim of Spanish tax law. Having family members ship us low-cost goodies from America is now off, because the customs people are enforcing the import duty laws. No more powdered-sugar and cornmeal and hiking boot shipments, alas! Release of the paperback version of "The Moorish Whore" is delayed. I want to write another book, but I wonder if it´s worth all the trouble getting it out there. I wonder if I can afford to be a book publisher.

Should we get all our Euros out of the bank? Should we turn them all into pounds, or dollars? Should we hide all our silver in the bodega, buy more chickens, plant more lettuce, string up barbed wire?

Even with so much mayhem going on, the pilgrims keep coming. On bicycles, on foot, some with donkeys and some with little children. They still need food and shelter and company. Some of them still leave us money, some still want to become volunteers themselves. They talk about love and unity and kindness. Tonight they are a  young French girl and a young Quebecois Canadian man. They have walked here from Luzerne, in Switzerland. Both believe they will find jobs when they finish here and head home. They are full of confidence. They will find something, they say.  

Everybody´s looking for something. No one is really sure what it is. We keep living the way we always do, but the ground feels slippery underfoot. The air feels heavy.

Monday, 11 June 2012

Before and After

BEFORE: looking out the front door

BEFORE: View from the front gate

BEFORE: Looking left from the gate, w/trough
I went away to Portugal and left the patio pretty much the way it´s been since we moved into our house. The big spruce tree was dropping sticky seeds and bird doots everywhere from up above, while down below its roots snaked into the sewer line. The old sheep-watering tank was crusty with black stuff, the well-head was festooned with Paddy and Kims´ "found objects," and my less-than-successful attempts at starting seeds were scattered along the windowsills and ledges. What once was a lawn, was long since reduced to scorched earth by dog paws. Bloomed-out rosebushes soldiered on in the middle, and a few brave weeds scaggled on along the edges. It was scruffy. 
DURING: tree and arch are no more

DURING: aaaaauuuughh!

When I returned home it was gone. The trees, the rose bushes, the lawn, the sidewalk, the trough... cut down, demolished,  and hauled off. We now have a spectacular sweep of biscuit-colored earthen tiles, terraced on two levels, with much more modern drainage. The little olive tree still stands bravely in its own square of dirt -- Paddy insisted that remain undisturbed. Three more slots were left for planting something in. It´s a lot less dirt than I´d specified when I talked to the builder.

It´s my fault, some of it. I went away and left the job in other hands. I wasn´t here to tell them otherwise. So I got the "garden"  the builder wanted -- a blast of right angles and hard sunlight. It´s new and clean and shiny. We had to immediately start painting the surrounding walls, which suddenly became a gallery of five years´ worth of  grubby. 

Of all the things that went, I especially mourn the passing of the ivy arch. I loved that arch. It was the first thing I saw when I first walked into the gate of the Peaceable. It was sweet and rustic and alive all the year ´round, and now it is history.
AFTER: View out the front door
AFTER: View from the front gate

AFTER: Well still is there, but no trough or tree! 

But there is an iron structure to support a vine. And I do have long, wide flowerbeds to work with. So we set out to soften the hard angles. I planted three kinds of lavender and several kinds of herbs, and put a healthy jasmine in a huge pot beside the vine-arbor. (Now if I could convince the dogs to not sleep on them...)

We put the outside dining table up near the front door, and when the parasol is up and the table is set it is a jolly sight. I climbed up onto the roof and put the new chimney-pot on top, a capriccio from southern Portugal. It is crooked, but it is now set in concrete. We painted the chimney-piece ochre. It looks very nice. Paddy painted the mint-green potting-shed a deep Greek blue. 

It´s going to be all right, I tell myself. We just need to sit with this a little while, and freshen up the paint, and get some plants growing. Next year, maybe, add a small fountain. A wall painted with an Abstract Expressionist thingy. Some ivy. Some birdsong.

The sky is very blue these days, and with the spruce gone we can see much more sky, night and day. The birds are not gone far. We have another big spruce out back.

We have a house, after all. It is paid-for. We are happy, and relatively healthy. Life is very good to us. 

The poppies bloom madly. The rye and oat fields are turning gold. The air is sweet with new-cut alfalfa. The guitarists are back, filling the churches with music, and Kim Herself is here, shimmering, if only for a couple of days.

Nothing lasts. Everything changes. This, too, shall pass.

Portuguese chimney-pot, Castillian ochre  
Harry among the flowers

Monday, 4 June 2012

Kim´s Tribute

If you have read this blog for any time at all, you will know who Kim is. Kim is a free spirit from Key West, Florida. She blew in here on a breeze one day, and came and went a few times, and stayed for a good long time, and made many good things possible. (including Rosie Dog, the design of this blog, the cover of the Moorish Whore, even our business cards.)

The critters love her. She is like a sister to me. Paddy, who does not come easy to sweetness, says Kim is "the daughter I never had." 

We have not seen Kim for a few months. She is out there somewhere on the trail, and once in a while I see a blog post or a Facebook update that hints at which backwater she´s exploring. I can tell she is nearer now than she was before. So maybe she will show up again soon, and all the dogs will rejoice, and Murphy will snuggle up against her and purr. (Momo will probably climb up her pantleg, needling her legs with his tiny claws, and make her scream.) 

Kim´s latest gift to us is a blog entry. I have exerpted the Peaceable part here. You can see the rest of her mystic journey at    

Rosie loves Kim best of anyone
before you can travel the path, you must first become the path itself. – the buddha

it would be by the side of the ancient pilgrim’s trail in an ochre colored house that the camino requested my presence and attention. instead of making my way as a pilgrim, i was asked to stay still by the side of the road for a while. to learn to become the path. and to let the world come to me. the peaceable kingdom sits just about halfway or so between st. jean pied-de-port (one of the main jumping in points for the camino frances just over the border into france) and finisterra.  there, in the middle of the spanish meseta, where the infinitude of a ‘big sky’ can make any good pilgrim a little wild of mind, is the small village of moratinos. this funny little pueblo is where i would come to spend many a moon smoothing out some of my rough edges and maybe gaining a few where i was much too soft.
just off of the calle ontanon is a private home (known as the peaceable) that is generously open to wanderers of all kinds. the place has grown organically in these past four years from the dream of american writer rebekah scott and her husband, artist and englishman patrick o’gara. it seems that the camino chose them to put down their roots in this small village of crumbling houses made from earth, with its 14 or so inhabitants that range from kind to curious. it hasn’t been easy for reb and paddy. from the beginning, they have been tested and tried and asked by the camino more than once  if they really meant it and were committed to being there … and then stretched just a little bit more for good measure. (you can read more about their story by clicking on the three-legged una dog in the sidebar on the right)
and so, through the cold winter, into the deep red poppy bloom of spring and maybe just a bit longer, i became part of a strange tribe. a place where the existence of god is debated daily and the presence is felt even more often. mice are chased, wine is had, prayers are layed down and each day brings something or someone new. change is constant and flows over a foundation that has grown strong and sturdy. and it was here within these walls that i got down to some gritty soul work. i had the opportunity and privilege to care for pilgrims from all over the world—some blistered, broken hearted or mixture of both. i became hospitalera to the hospitaleros. had great adventures with wild dogs (and a handsome cat) all with the oldest of souls. i ran in the fields under skies as wide and blue as the sea that had i left behind. i chopped wood, carried water. cleaned out coops, shoveled poop. discovered the zen of dishwashing, learned to love european football, enjoyed good meals and became famous for salads and soulful stones. i tended the small but mighty labyrinth, wrestled my ego, felt grouchy sometimes. expressed it. was loved anyways. held space for healing and had space held for me. and it happened there, in through the cracks of everyday living and being, that the deepest of daily lessons seeped in —the ones about love, forgiveness, acceptance, compassion, boundaries, kindness, receiving, giving, humility … and a much needed clarity of the difference between service and servitude. this subtle grace shimmered a fine light into the dusty corners of my soul and it was in this space that i practiced ‘the leaning in’. leaning in for a deeper understanding. for truth, without attachment or aversion. to be near and listen from the heart. to come to a simple knowing that we are all on our own spiritual journey, without exception. that we all want to be loved, to be understood, to be heard, to be seen and to know that we have the right exist. we each have our own unique story filled with dreams and longing, failures and disappointments. and no one’s is less important than the other’s. we have all known, at some time in our lives what it is like to suffer. we all want to be free of suffering. we want the freedom to be who we truly are. and through this practice of learning to see with the eyes of the heart and to stand in the stillness of a place of knowing the truth of who i really am and who i am becoming, i am beginning to understand that each time i lean in to others, i am also leaning in towards myself. thanks Peace (with all of your people, creatures, pilgrims and wanderers) for your mysterious spirit that has provided me with the time and space to learn about becoming the path.