I was kissed for the first time by a boy in July. (His name was Jeff Smith. Up on a roof under a fig tree, in Izmir, Turkey. Just after fourth grade. He said I was groovy.)
July is the month when the ripe grain is cut and straw and hay are baled, when the lush green goes golden brown. July is when fireflies light up the dark orchards -- at least in North America, where I come from. (no fireflies here in Palencia, alas!) July is cookouts and vacations, swimming pools and long, long stretches of sunshine, with thunderheads looming in the western sky. In my book, July is the best month of all twelve. June and May battle it out for second place.
Last July I took a hike up in the mountains, on a trail I knew, but with a gang of mountaineers. I pushed way too hard. I hurt myself pretty badly. I scared myself.
This July, starting from tomorrow, I am taking another hike in the mountains with a mountaineer, on a trail I know already. But this time the mountaineer is Laurie. She is a hiking machine -- she is over 60 years old, a law professor from Illinois, tough as shoe leather. She can go 40 kilometers for days at a time without ill effect, and I am joining her at the finish of her Camino Olvidado -- she's spent the last couple of weeks striding across Spain from Bilbao along a rarely-used Roman Road that pilgrims walked a thousand years ago, back when what became today's camino was occupied by unfriendly Moorish Muslims. The Olividado goes straight through the Picos de Europa mountains, east to west. The Moors didn't bother much with mountains, but the pilgrims back then were plenty happy enough to move their camino a few miles south, down onto the flat, when they got the chance -- and the Camino Frances was born. (And now the pilgrims complain because the flat bits bore them so. Poor things have to take a bus.)
The Olvidado's been a lonesome trek, Laurie says, long and tiring and tiresome.
I am counting on that. I hope it's slowed her down.
Laurie and I will meet up tomorrow in Ponferrada, stay at a posh new pilgrim Albergue, and on Monday morning take a leisurely 22-kilometer hike from there on another Roman path uphill, across some forgotten bridges, to a little camino town called El Acebo. We will stay with Jaime, who keeps a nice B&B and a couple of goats up there, and who knows all the trails through all those mountains. It was Jaime, back in 2010, who drew me a map of the backwoods way from Acebo up to Penalba de Santiago, the local mountain-peak Mozarabic pilgrimage shrine. Me and Laurie hope to walk that way on Tuesday, over the river and through the woods and past a huge hollow tree full of honeybees, up into the mountain fastness. We will go slow and easy. We will stay up there in that twee little town, and visit the hermit cave, there I will light the candle I have packed in my pack.
The next day we will climb back down to Ponferrada via the Valle de Silencio. The Valley of Silence. Then Laurie will continue down the trail to Santiago. I will go back home.
The forecast is clear and cool. Paddy feels pretty healthy. The cupboards are full of chow for everybody.
And I love the mountains, and Penalba. I could use a good walk, and the company of a girlfriend. (One who's promised already not to walk my legs off.)
It is July, after all. The peak of the year, the top of the calendar. Gotta make that hay while the sun is shining.