Late December. It is foggy and dead quiet in the tiny pueblo.
Mist comes in the night, and stays well into morning. Today we braved it. We took all the dogs in the car over to the Promised Land, to a new section, the dirt road that connects San Nicolas a dying adobe pueblo called Rio Sequillo.
The road was impassible. Yellow mud squidged underfoot. The dogs ran up and down the gray fields, but they stayed close. There was no horizon, no distance. We could hear the busy autopista when its sounds bounced off the facing rise, but our voices were muffled and softened.
Clouds laid themselves along the ground. What are usually the heavens came down to the earth.
We cut across the fields until we were lost. Distance stretched out. Time slipped. Mud clogged the treads of our boots and weighed us down like deep-sea divers.
Paddy has a chest cold. He started slowing, coughing.
We found the road again, a road, it could´ve gone anywhere but it felt right.
That is when Lulu and Harry, like Victorian villains, vanished into the mist.
They stayed vanished for three hours.
We are not sure what to do about this, aside from keeping them on leads all the time. They are greyhounds, designed to run free. They glory in their morning gallop, but when the two of them are loose at the same time, after their initial game of cannonball-run, they cannot be trusted.
We know all this. We´ve been through all this many times. You would think we´d learn.
It was particularly stressful today, seeing as Paddy was feeling bad, and the days are so short and the sunlight so feeble. The trail was far from home, unfamiliar, and fog blocked out all the landmarks -- Lu and Harry are sight-hounds, they don´t navigate by nose. The roads between there and home are busy with holiday traffic. And these are not bright dogs.
We have three other dogs, good dogs who stay close. They were tired and dirty, so we took them home. Rosie had rolled in something smelly, so I bathed her. We had a bite to eat. Paddy had a lie-down.
Long story short: I drove the Kangoo out there once the mist began breaking up. The impassible roads were made passible, but not without hair-raising slides, spinning tires and flying muck. (Our little van has a nice high clearance, but the next one I buy will be a four-wheel drive, I swear!) I scanned the horizon with my little field glasses. I saw a tractor out there, and a couple of human figures -- hunters maybe. No dogs.
I drove down to where the drama started. Alongside the car was a flicker of movement.
As if from out of the very earth she sprang -- Lulu! She was beside herself with joy to see me, she cried and whined and yipped, and leapt into the back of the car when I opened the hatch. Her brother was nowhere to be seen. If Lu knew where Harry was, she wasn´t saying.
I took her home and gathered up Paddy, whose face by then resembed the very Wrath of God. We drove out to the same place, and found Harry waiting there for us.
The two of them are, literally, in the dog house.
The sun went down by 5:30. The rain started up again.
And so you see how little happens out here on a winter´s day. Nothing to write about. No deep insights, no revelations, no pilgrim tales. No Christmas tree this year, no bright lights or packages. We are being minimalist -- the doctor told Paddy his cholesterol number must come down, the wine-bibbing must dry up, and so we are being abstemious. The weather is right for asceticism. A box of Christmas wine arrived on Wednesday, crianza from Rioja, in huge magnum bottles. We opened one, but there´s still a few glasses left of it.
We read all day, and chase dogs, and I go to my Spanish lessons twice a week -- nice progress is being made on the past tense.
On Thursdays, after my lessons, I can shop at the little weekly market in Carrión de los Condes. A man there sells lovely mandarin oranges, fat ripe pineapples, and dates and brussels sprouts still on their stalks. The bakery on the plaza makes real raised glazed doughnuts. One stall sells nothing but hats. One old lady comes into town to sell the three cloth-wrapped soft cheeses she and her sheep made that week. Above them all on her marble plinth is a bronze Immaculate Virgin Mary. She gazes into the heavens, ignoring the grackles cackling in her starry crown. The plaques say all of Carrión is dedicated to her Immaculate Heart, but her face is turned from them. No one down below seems to notice her, either.
There´s not a pilgrim in sight.
Nothing to see here, folks. Come back when the sun comes out.