Thursday, 27 February 2014

Wet Morning

I wheeled the trash bin back inside the gate. The snow was shifting to rain, it pelted down, and there on the edge of the N120 dripped a pilgrim. He did not respond to Spanish, but he knew what "tea" meant.
He followed me down the muddy garden, doffed his poncho in the laundry room, sat down in the warm kitchen.
He did not care that the kitchen was messy.
He smiled, wrapped his fingers around his mugful of tea, bobbed his face over the rising heat. He smiled at the cookies and the apple on the plate. He picked up the cookies in a stack and sniffed them, like he´d never seen cookies before. He ate them that way, all three at once. The apple went into his pocket, for later.
Paddy came home with the wet dogs. Tim and Rosie wagged and greeted the pilgrim on their way to the woodstove. They threw their bodies down and steamed their wet-dog stink. The windows started to drip.
The man said thank-you in gestures. I helped him get his poncho on over his pack. He went back the way he came in, through the mud, out onto the side of the highway.

It is that simple.

I do not need to join the Association of Christian Welcome at the Benedictine convent in Leon, nor the Amigos del Camino in Logroño, nor trouble myself with the American Pilgrims on the Camino FaceBook page. I do not need to bemoan the demise of "the camino spirit" on the Santiago de Compostela pilgrimage forum, nor spend next weekend down in Villalon with an over-caffeinated gang of Spanish hospitaleros, touring dusty convents and swapping high-decibel tales and shmoozing -- fun as that might seem for a while. I do not need to go back to school and get my deacon credentials in order. I do not need to write any more camino books or guides or plans. Other people, worthy people, can do all those things better than I can.

I do not need to put my fingers into all these pies.

The Camino is right here, outside the back gate, in the rain.
The pilgrims are cold and wet, and our kitchen is warm, and we have apples and cookies and tea. 

It´s that simple.

Thursday, 20 February 2014

A big heavy Truth

Little Ruby

Truth is bird-like. It sings beautifully. It can fly south for months at a time, and you don´t notice it
until it´s not there any more. It is known to "lay an egg" now and then. Truth can twitter sweetly all morning, and then poo on you from a great altitude.

We are dealing with a big, heavy Truth here, ever since I came back from the Camino trip. If this Truth is a bird, it is an ostrich or emu, or maybe a bustard. 

Malin and David, our trusty friends, were here when I got home, working their tails off in the pouring rain. I jumped in and helped David pour concrete and reset the fencing in the chicken pen. We shifted the remains of last year´s firewood to the other side of the woodstore, and ordered in more. The three of us moved that and stacked it very neatly, all in a single afternoon, just before the rain began again.

We hung up the Franz Kline prints in the pilgrim salon. We cleared and cleaned and got the car inspected. We said goodbye on Friday, when Malin and David went off to Palencia to busk with their guitar and ukulele and  marionettes. On Saturday, Paddy and I helped clear up the Plaza Mayor during the annual tree-trimming -- this year we planted a line of chestnut saplings! We loaded up the back of our car with long switches cut from the plane trees. We left them in the car overnight.

There they breathed out their green breath and steamed up the windows. When I moved the car round the the back gate to unload them into the wood store (the wands make good kindling once they dry out) the car was perfumed. It smelled like February, the best kind of February -- like something green and living buried very deep beneath the cold.    

There was no Mass in Moratinos this week. We went instead to Terradillos and worshiped with the neighbors -- the few who were not in the street outside. Sunday was a boar-hunting morning in Terradillos, and dozens of flourescent-clad gunners with their car-trunks loaded with hound dogs were hanging round the streets, waiting for the fog to rise. You cannot hunt in the fog, it´s illegal, Mauricio told me. I wondered. I have seen many, many hunters out in the fog in recent mornings, some of them shouting that it´s illegal for me to be out there with my dogs! Go figure. 

We drove toward home. On the camino just outside town I felt a big bolt of pain in the left side of my chest.

I´d felt the same bolt about halfway through the camino last week, about halfway up a long, long hill. It took my breath away. I am having a heart attack, I thought.

And so, long story short, we went to the medical center, and from there to the hospital, with a stop in between along the road so I could have a cry. I was poked and tested and scanned and x-rayed. In the wee hours of Monday morning the doc gave us the news: No heart attack.

Asthma has left me with an enlarged heart, but it is in great shape, along with my blood and bones and food-digester. But sometime in the recent past -- probably at San Andres de Teixido, where I took a spill in the rain -- I tore some of the muscles between my ribs and my breast-bone. Hauling wood and concrete and tree-limbs in the following week didn´t help the healing. A couple of months with no heavy lifting and I oughtta be just fine.

I was very glad to know I was not dying. We went home and slept all day.
And woke up with this big feathered Truth Bird nesting in the middle of the kitchen table, squawking an awful song.
Truth is: the last couple of caminos I´ve done have kicked the tar out of me physically.  Much as I love walking caminos, I must reconsider my wandering ways.
Truth is: It´s been a tough Winter for both of us, health-wise. I can´t go away for longer than about ten days, because this place requires heavy work on a daily basis. Paddy cannot keep this place going on his own. He cannot drive the car, haul the firewood, handle all the dogs. (The man who was going to take little Ruby Dog in May has backed out. We have SIX dogs now.) The pair of us can never go anywhere together, and going seperately is becoming increasingly difficult.
But we have to go. Our families need us sometimes, and our families are in England and the United States and way down south in Malaga.
Truth is: We don´t get so many pilgrims any more. Winter used to be our busiest time of year, but in the past month we have had exactly five pilgrims here.   

We are not so useful any more, pilgrim-wise. We are here and equipped with goodwill and food and beds, but if the pilgs choose to go elsewhere, well... Maybe we should consider other options.
What are those? 
Even if we don´t take pilgrims, we need help to keep this place going.
If we keep this place going.   

We need an architect.
We need a caretaker, friends, funds to build the far end into a place a caretaker can stay. 
And maybe a vision. A new one. A purpose. A ministry, maybe.
Or just some wisdom.
(If I was me, I´d tell myself to walk the camino til I got an answer.)

But please, no more Truth. Not for a little while.
I am not sure my heart can take that.  


Wednesday, 12 February 2014

A Blast

the view from inside my poncho for about 3 days

OK, I admit it. I am a prophet.
In my last post I predicted everything that happened in the past week, in a most awesome way. Yes, I went to London and there I went shopping for Finery in the teeming oriental bazaars of Southall with Leena, a former Santiago pilgrim who is Canadian-English-Gujarat Indian.
Leena in a Finery Emporium

In addition to being a beauty, Leena is a born shopper, a sharp bargainer. We found dresses, fabrics, and trims we liked, then a little woman measured me up and down, and three hours later: Voila! Spectacular gowns and stylish up-to-date dresses I will actually wear again once all this Pakistani Wedding business is through. Three dresses, plus materials to make four more if my sisters/family want them, all for just a little more than price I paid for my Spanish designer outfit. I owe it to Leena, who also made sure we were very well-fed and never lost or over-charged during our sojourn in The Great Wen. 

London was very soggy. I left on Sunday afternoon and landed in the dark in La Coruña, a port city on the coast of Galicia in Spain. There began the Christian retreat portion of the odyssey, with Anglican clergymen Andy and Michael (both of whom serve inner-city parishes of Birmingham) and Kathy, my best hiking bud, from San Francisco. (The retreat once registered nine people, but those numbers shrank down for a spectrum of reasons.) I was mad about that for a while, even though I understand the insanity of walking in rainy Galicia in mid-winter.
It is, I can now fully affirm, utterly insane to hike in Galicia in mid-winter. Especially THIS mid-winter. During our four days on the road to Santiago, the coast was blasted with hurricane-force winds. Fifty-foot waves smashed waterfronts, split a big ship in half, and gutted the Giant Squid Museum of Luarca, a personal favorite. We could not have chosen less clement weather for contemplative walking. 

Andy and Michael at San Andres, with clooties right
It is not like we could not literally see it coming. On Monday in Coruña we rented a car and drove to San Andres de Teixido, a charming seaside shrine on the northern coast. We had to climb down to it from the cliffs above, and down some more to the "Energy Vortex" New Age believers say inhabits a cow pasture there. (they leave behind "clootie cloths" on the wire fences and tree branches, to carry their prayers. I think I have a new favorite word. "Clootie cloth.")

We had a little picnic by the holy well. We saw some clouds out at sea. It started to rain on the way up the hill. And when we reached the road at the top, all hell broke loose.

All hell broke loose at least five times in the next three days, as we toiled down the old English Way from Coruña to Santiago and maritime storms large enough to have their own names broke over our heads. We waded through flooded crossroads, staggered over slippery stones, squelched for miles in sodden boots and damp "waterproofs," climbed the great hill outside Bruma right into the teeth of the gustiest gale I ever tried to stand up in. The dirt road was awash, the fields and hog barns losing volumes of topsoil and slurry, and it was Grace Alone (and hiking poles) that saved me from flying sideways into a great lake of pig shit.

Into the screeching wind Kathy, her glasses steamed-over and running rain, shouted at us: "Admit it, you guys! Isn´t this kinda fun?"

We made it to the inn. We hung out wet things from the chandelier in our room. We slept deep. The following morning we walked in sunshine past a weird collection of roadside sculptures. On our left the light caught water standing in the fields, mist rising over distant pines. On the right, to the west, the sky was black with Ruth, the next storm. A perfect rainbow reached down to us. Andy read us a bit from R.S. Thomas, a Welsh poet, called

"The Bright Field."

I have seen the sun break through
to illuminate a small field
for a while, and gone my way
and forgotten it. But that was the pearl
of great price, the one field that had
treasure in it. I realize now
that I must give all that I have
to possess it. Life is not hurrying
on to a receding future, nor hankering after
an imagined past. It is the turning
aside like Moses to the miracle
of the lit bush, to a brightness
that seemed as transitory as your youth
once, it is the eternity that awaits you.

Beauty. Andy had a little notebook full of these. It was a retreat, after all.

A retreat warmed with Cola Cao hot chocolate, Dewar´s scotch, lots of laughter and jamon and ragged candy bars. We probably should not have been out there, what with the schools and ports closed, roads blocked, Level Red alerts for ships and heavy trucks. But some of us had come so far. Some had little holiday time, and we´d been plotting this walk together for two whole years. Besides, pilgrims have used this trail for centuries. We could not be the first of them to push through heavy weather.

And so we pushed through, and talked about where we grew up, our husbands and wives and kids, why we were doing this, where we´d go when we were through. We introduced bemused barmaids and innkeepers to a church with married priests, women ministers, and two men and two women, all of them married but not to each other, who hike together for days on end without bringing their spouses.

We arrived in Santiago at last. Flooded streets, huge deep churchbells ringing, our gloves and hats and pants wringing wet, we shivered through the shrine city to a bar where fresh young things sang Bessie Smith and the Eagles, and an old Gallego played a dobro like he´d spent his life in Mississippi.

We went to church at the cathedral, and we held our Anglican communion service in English, right there in one of the side chapels. (the chapel of St. Andrew, matter of fact -- we´d started at the vortex of San Andres, and finished again at altar of San Andres in Santiago de Compostela, with Father Andy presiding.)

Our Scottish friend John lives in Santiago and works at the pilgrim welcome office. He arranged many things for us, and it was him who locked the chapel gate behind us, under orders. We celebrated then, I read the Gospel, Andy officiated, we ate up all the hosts and drank up all the altar wine ourselves, just to be polite and politic. Rain dripped down through a hole in the roof and pinged off the stones. There were only four of us in there, but that was plenty enough.

It was delicious, blessed, and very damp. Just as I said it would be, prophet that I am.

My three amigos