Paradise

Paradise

Can’t sleep.
4am and I hear the surf.
It calls.

Walking the beach
in a strong full moon’s light,
alone except for the stars and breathing surf.

Sand changing under feet.
Now soft. Now hard.
A massage on traveler’s callused treads.

Surf grabs my ankles in a warm grip.
A strong and sassy wave looks up my skirt.
I dance away laughing – “not yet”.

I’d like to meditate.
Breath in – breath out.
Too excited by silence that keeps speaking to me –
“Wake up! Feel me! See me!”

What’s that metal sound made by man, not nature?
A sailboat’s loose rigging sings.
“Take me out! Take me out! Take me.”

No man here.
Alone with my dreams.
There will be pancakes made with bananas.
And sunrise.

Paradise.

(poem I wrote my first morning in Hawaii November 6, 2014)

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Happy Birthday

There is a place on the Camino where one is meant to leave something. I carried a small rock from my garden at home to participate in the tradition of adding to the pile of rocks, memories and promises embedded into and laying around the Cruz de Ferro (Iron Cross) 32 days into my 44 day journey.

I was walking alone the day that I arrived at the site. I had built this moment up in my mind to have real emotional significance and was underwhelmed. The cross is along a road and people where scrabbling up the rocks mugging for camera shots. It is a touristy site. To be sure there were very serious and sincere pilgrims in this mix, and I was one of them. I pulled out the little rock from its safe spot in the bottom of my pack and sat with it. What was I to leave behind with it? What sin or regret did I have? Well, I am sure that I have a few of both, but in that moment, I was in fact very happy and not interested in reflecting on the dark nature of sin.

I selected the adventure of walking the Camino as a 60th birthday and retirement present to myself. I wanted to reflect on my life, now 2/3 completed, and look for a purpose in this next portion. I did this and discovered in the process that I am very content after some years of making my own misery. Preparing for this adventure and simplifying my life helped me appreciate how very fortunate I am. When I reached this Iron Cross I realized that I had already let go of any demons and felt very peaceful and deeply happy.

I have health, security, and love in my life, which makes it possible for me to find ways to reflect my values around curiosity, gratitude and service more fully. I still do not know what I will manifest, but I know I will be useful. What more can I want? What more do I need? Nothing.

Okay, this is the weird part. In the midst of all this self reflection, I thought of Bill Murray, or rather the character that he plays in the movie “Ground Hog Day”. My birthday happens to be the same, so I tend to watch this classic annually. In it, the self absorbed protagonist played by Bill Murray is trapped in a time warp and forced to repeat one day, over and over again. Each day, he gets a little more insight into what he really wants, but he keeps making his same old mistakes. Until the day he gets it right – then the clock finally switches to February 3 and he can move on. The thought that came to mind that day at the Iron Cross was that I have spent some years needlessly repeating some of the same mistakes.

So I wrote “Feb. 3” on that little rock and left it at the base of the Iron Cross (no picture). I felt right and ready to move on.

Following the Bouncy Girl

She was wearing an outfit that a young Jane Fonda might have promoted. The black Lycra was stretched tight and thin across her ample buttocks which the neon pink Nike swoosh-like inserts across her hips and thighs accentuated.

Sorry, but I’ve gotta say, I could not take my eyes off these bouncing rubber balls! Her backpack sported one piece of drying laundry and was so haplessly askew so that it was almost sideways on her small frame. She should have been doubled over from carrying it, as it looked to be nearly half her body’s weight. But she hiked with bouncing abandon – joyfully swinging her walking sticks as she virtually danced down the path.

And I thought, ‘Yes! You go girl.”

I Love My Feet

I love my feet. Now. It hasn’t always been so. We started out alright, but then the complaining began. It’s too hard! My toes can’t see! We’re hot. These socks stink… On and on it went…one thing after another. Then my feet tried to enlist other parts of my body for a Camino revolt, but my lungs and heart were totally for it from the beginning and just ignored the feet for the most part. The arms didn’t see the problem and have always remained neutral on the whole Camino thing. For a while I thought back and shoulders might join the fight, but they have remained rather ambivalent for the most too.

After a while of feeling pounded on and neglected in their opinion, the feet sent out some crazy street fighters. Blistering attacks ensued. The most notable terrorist had to be take out with surgical precision, but others, though menacing, were only watched until they skulked away on their own. Still, the feet were getting some serious allies with knees, shins, calves and tendons.

Negotiations began. Better socks? Okay. More rest stops – with the boots and socks off! Well, Camino world is a little different, and removing your shoes for lunch stops is rather accepted, so okay. But socks off only on picnics! Grudging acceptance by feet, if better creams and thrice daily massages would be provide. But whoa! Legs got wind of this and insisted on more frequent and professional body massages – something that back and shoulders thought was a good idea too. Okay, I say, but you upper body parts are a bunch of opportunist! Mind and heart chimed in an told the brain to shut up and go with it. So we do.

I told a German Camino companion that my body is a democracy and until every part has it’s say and is accommodated, I have a hard time going on. He did not take the joke and told me, “No! You just decide to do it and you make your Body do it!” I laughed. That “just do it” stuff might work for Nike, but Nancy world doesn’t go for it. I run a democracy.

My feet did have a point. After so many days of walking, they are longer, flatter and puffy – like a pork chop flatted out for schnitzel. But now they are also, soft and smooth (except where there were early casualties, now calluses) and we talk every day very lovingly. I enjoy the open air picnics now as much as they do. I love my feet and they love me back. I think that I am lucky to have these feet and legs that reach the ground and a heart strong enough to move us on our Camino.

But wait! Now stomach is posting new complaints. It seems that he’s tired of eggs and potatoes and wants some more of that Magnum double chocolate ice cream… Well, we’d ALL like that, right? I’ve been looking for three days now and can’t find any more!

It’s always something…

Truth or Dare

When you set out to walk everyday for many miles you begin to look for ways to entertain your active mind so it does not pick on your weary body… It is not all deep thoughts. I have played many rounds of twenty questions of the “I’m thinking of a person…” variety with walking companions at the end of a long day just to cover the last miles of a long day.

Sometimes when I am really all alone I will try to sing. No one should ever witness this as I cannot carry a recognizable tune and I do not know the words to many songs, but I will make up some pretty silly ditties and, with no witnesses, will even add my special little dance steps by clapping my walking poles to my tune and dancing circles around them… I can also spend kilometers contemplating the best garment to use as a makeshift hankie. Should I use my scarf? My shirt sleeve? A glove? I can create a weighted decision chart in my head to factor for each choice, the effectiveness, comfort, difficulty of washing and drying the garment, and how well I can conceal the offense.

With so much time to think… What to think about?

One of my Camino companions has a brilliant source of puzzles. She enlisted a supportive group to send her weekly challenges. Every Monday she opens her email to get a new challenge, something she either must plan and do, or a question that she must consider thoughtfully and answer truthfully. She gets to choose which to accept. When I first saw her she was braiding mens beards with flowers and I chalked it up to eccentricity. Later, after I had walked with her for a while and knew her game, I cheered her when she elected to draw a self portrait of herself on a wall of our albergue while holding the pencil in her mouth. Turns out she is an artist and she did a really great job of it. I got curious about her project.

One of the questions she had posed to her for a truth or dare was, “what is advice you would give to others, and not take for yourself?” Boy, this had me stumped for a very long time and kept my mind pretty well occupied for a day or two as I looked for my own answer. Try it, please, and let me know what you would answer.

So, what did I really get out of this mental dalliance?

Somewhere along the way I had a teacher who said that everyone has there own ‘givens’ and that people operate as they do ‘given their givens’. I have interpreted this as we each have unique sets of gifts and challenges, whether these are things we inherited, created intentionally or just stumbled into, they make us who we are. If you share or know what a persons ‘givens’ are, you might begin to know them. Our best decisions, then, should start with an exploration of our ‘givens’, don’t ya think? And it would follow that our advice must also explore the other’s givens, right?

So it is my opinion that almost every piece of advice should start with ‘it depends. . . ‘ and not with, ‘if I were you. . .’

Of course even this bit of advice depends on the situation too. For example, if there is a snake on the path, you very well might go with something more directing, like ‘look out! get off the damn path!’ But, wait! What if the person loves snakes and is looking for his special snake mate? Then you might say, ‘hey, check out that pretty snake over there’ right?
Everyone is pretty complex with lots of history, and guess what? I am NOT you – surprise!  So, after some solid pondering, I caught myself actually doing it! I was chatting with a young couple and I heard myself explaining the pros of joining the US Army and encouraging a young woman to consider it. Then, I remembered that I also encouraged Dale and others to join the Peace Corps post retirement and then chose not to do that myself.

Okay, I am officially Camino nuts, right? (Only a few readers will get that inside joke.) Anyway, in more complex advice, I would go with, ‘it depends. . .’ Would you?

 

About Love

Lots of people are talking about love, expressing love, finding or looking for love on the Camino. Surrounded by it as I am, it is the theme of today. Like most people who are not raging egomaniacs I have never felt quite up to snuff by my own standards for being the perfection I know I should and could be. With my life 2/3 done, I think that I am coming to understand what I have always been told. Self love must come first for all of the rest to follow and, without it, you are blind to how much you truly are loved.

And if you go first in loving your imperfect self, it is so much easier for those who want to love you to do so. I am a fortunate human in that I know that I have a community of people around me like angels who know me as imperfect and they still manage to groan, grin and bear me.

Ah well this is not an original thought. One of my favorite poets, Mary Oliver, said it best for me, and it is good that I remember her for this step on my Way. I will share her with you as I close this with a big thank you to all of my loving community – especially to Dalito who makes all things possible… abrazos y besos.

“You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.”
― Mary Oliver

Blessings

I’m finding that I very much like blessings and I have had more than a few already on this way. I have attended the Catholic masses a few times. I like sitting in these dimly lit beautiful spaces surrounded by centuries old art that takes my breath away. It is a a great place for rest and contemplation even though, after a long days walk, I really do not relish being roused from my cozy thought space to stand-up and sit-down again and again. My feet hurt! Ah, well, it does keep me from dozing off.

I understand maybe ten words in a hundred spoken by the Spanish priests and nuns but the soft sing-song and ritual is comforting. And when I open my eyes, I cannot beat the views either whether it is massive stain glasses, paintings and statues or simple old stone masonry.

I would not accept communion, as this does not seem fitting to me, but I do circle up when, at the end of mass, the pilgrims of St. James are invited to come forward for a blessing. Every time has felt special, but the last one was on a Sunday evening and many of the pilgrims in attendance are now familiar to me and some I will count as lifetime friends. This was a big group and the priest was very kind. He called out the names of almost every country on earth (impressive in itself) and hands went up for so many of them… peace seekers of all ilk I like to think. Some were touched to tears as the priest methodically laid hands on each of our heads and blessed us one by one. Then the nuns played guitar and sang for us.

A few days earlier, in a very tiny town, I attended vespers with the nuns who run the rest stop where I had a bed for the night. After the short service in a very nondescript meeting room, a sweet old nun tied a small plastic milagro around my neck and gave me a little blessing with a kiss. Earlier that same day in the only snack a bar in town a very jovial bartender introduced me to his beloved mutt. He was so proud of his little establishment and showed off his wall a of remembrances from other passing pilgrims… little notes on paper napkins and post cards and signatures on many nations money. Knowing that I am from the USA, he set aside the Iraq currency because he thought I would take offense and I assured him that I did not. Before I left him, he also bestowed the same plastic milagro on a yellow string. – I felt equally blessed.

Last night as I checked into the albergue where I would share living space for the night with 90 or so pilgrims, I found myself in line before a nice looking Korean man. I gave him my best Korean hello and, he predictably asked me how I knew Korean. I told him that I had been a Peace Corps volunteer in his country and love the culture and people of Korea. He took my hand and thanked me for my service. Then he asked if his wife could take a picture of us. He had learned English from a volunteer and was very grateful. So sweet! More blessings!

Today, I was walking alone through this middle size town, trying to decide if I should slow down a bit and appreciate that I am not on the timetable that many other Pilgrims have because they have someone to meet or a plane to catch. A potbellied older man took the time to point out a nice view that I would have missed. He walked me around to the far side of a chapel for a spectacular view of the river with the Camino path on the other side. As we strolled along, I found the opportunity to practice a little of my broken Spanish with him. He asked if I was married and noted that I did not wear a ring. I told him that I am married and that my husband is a volunteer in Peru helping people clean water. Then he told me that I am guapa (good looking) and asked me for a kiss. I told him no, my husband would not like it. I think he said something like ‘how would he know?” and gave me his best smile. I laughed and repeated no. He was nice and did not press me. We parted nicely. I guess that I could have been frightened or offended, but I was not. Silly me, it has been a long time since a fellow has made a pass.

About 10 minutes later, another old man (this one was very old) spotted me as a wandering pilgrim and asked me to stop a minute. ‘Here we go again” I thought. “What’s with me and the old codgers today.” But no, this one was struggling to open a little bag of groceries. He handed me a small candy for my journey with his blessing. This is the second time this has happened (the first was a young lady). What a sweet custom in a poor country where “se vende’ (for sale) is the most dominant sign on the old buildings.

People all along our way take a moment to sing out “buen Camino!” as I trudge by with my sticks and backpack and it always feels affectionate. Walking into the very big city of Burgos through some of the poorest areas, I felt safe. I was along side of a half dozen pilgrims, when a portly lady that looked to be someone’s still very hardworking grandmother stopped us all to ask if we were walking all the way to Santiago. We assured her that we were and she picked me out of the group and took my hand between hers. Looking earnestly into my eyes, she made a request that I could not understand. She was not begging and seemed so sweet and sincere, so I just smiled and nodded until she bade us all “Buen Camino”, and waved goodbye. One of our group understood Spanish well and told me that she had asked me directly to light a candle and offer a prayer for her when I reached the cathedral of St. James in Santiago. I wished that had understood and asked her name. For sure, I will do my best to honor her request. I will ask for more blessings for both her and all the other sweet people of Spain and the world. I like blessings.

Intuition, Intention… Attention!

I am walking alone in the pre dawn light – it is just enough that I do not need my headlamp to see. I feel the crisp morning air that smells so new new and fresh. In the early morning I love to notice the chirping birds, a cat quickly darts across the path… then I pass a dog who nestles his nose more closely into his tail to gain some warm… I am just another pilgrim passing, not worth the trouble to bark. Just as I leave town I encounter a beautiful spanish donkey who does want to capture the attention of a passing pilgrim. He bats his beautiful eyes and twitches his ears. ‘Are you my Don Quixote?’ No, just another pilgrim? “May I have a bite of apple or perhaps a carrot then?” Such an opportunistic flirt! Now I hear the quiet murmur of human voices, so respectful in the early morning… I am at peace.

I have been noticing the vast landscapes and the changes along my Way. Crossing the Pyrenees I traveled through immense sloping fields with large herds of sheep and goats and even big floppy-eared pigs all grazing together. I watched the modern era shepherds in mini vans letting go their working dogs. One of them was a small blond jet on three legs with no time for pilgrims as he is all business with the sheep.

I became conscious of so many varieties of trees growing on the Camino Way. In the mountains I saw one growing straight up, then twisting dramatically before straightening up again. How can you not find a metaphor for life in such trees? And, in the fierce wind of the Pyrenees, there were those that look small and sickly growing sideways – I wonder if they are related to those centuries old bristlecone trees that you see in the Rockies – they are so surely much older and stronger than they look. I loved the groves of stocky trees (I don’t know their name) that look to me like soldiers in full camouflage. I have not seen them again in days, but maybe they are still out there in even better camo!?!

This is such a bountiful region and I have seen olive, almond, acorn walnut trees. It is harvest season and we watched the almond harvesters bundling up the crop. The grapes, figs and blackberries are in season and we have pilfered our share of these along the way. Poor pilgrims that traveled this way for centuries may have benefited in this same way, at least I like to think so.

I have also noticed the changes underneath my feet. First we slid along the black slate from the Pyrenees. It started off in small sheets underfoot and then sometimes turned sideways so that it felt like walking on the spines of dinosaurs. As we came down, the paths gave way to big gold and tan boulders. (These also remind me of home – the color of the rocks in my garden pond turned puddle.) They started large and gradually became smaller and smaller. The fields are full of stones such that it seems impossible that they are plowed and fertile, but they are! Someone remarked to me “look! they are growing rocks!” it surely seemed that way.

On my fifth day walking the sky opened up and it rained all day. We walked then in heavy sticky mud. Mud, mud, slippy-slidy treacherous chunky chocolate milk colored slop. But sometimes the camino is gravel, or asphalt, or street pavers that can be beautiful mosaic stone or brick. Any way, I watch my feet a lot and also stop to look up, ahead and back and I see a lot and think a lot.

I told someone before I started that I wanted to walk the camino intentionally with intuition and I didn’t know what I meant then. I am not sure yet what in means, but it does seem to be a theme for my journey. I think it means something about being internally quiet enough to hear my own voice telling me what is best for me – no judgment of myself or others which is difficult. For now I practice with which way to walk, and when to stop and who to walk among…. Then, I try to not to over analyze, second guess or look for confirmation and move confidently with respect. In doing this there is no one to thank or to blame – mostly. Today, though, I will add that I also need to remember to be present and pay attention. There is so much for which to be happy and grateful if I just look around.

Well, this Camino does offer up so many metaphors and gives time to ponder. It is as always,
Buen Camino.

Tell Dell They Killed Me On The Camino

Pilgrims meeting on the Camino have a routine greeting ritual of 5 questions.
1. What’s your name”
2. Where are you from? (decide which language to use)
3. Are you going to Santiago?
4. Where did you start?
5. How much does your pack weigh?

This is where I want to give thanks to my “packing committee”, the wonderful women that I hike and play with at home, also known as the “Piece of Cake” hikers. One week before I departed Denver, we made a little training hike near Keystone with my fully packed rucksack. Afterwards they held court for every item in that bag. I was required to lay each item from boots to lip gloss on the table and justify why it was literally worth it’s weight. Ladies, you did such an excellent job and I feel very well prepared. I even amaze myself that I can haul it around, but let me tell you what else I left and what I acquired.

I did not have facial moisturizer that I liked, but figured this out in JFK airport and begged sample tin foil packets from vendors in the duty free. Works well. I hate washing my hair with that all purpose bar soap (my hair squeaks from it!) but I will keep it. The toothpaste with baking soda really tasted nasty, so I traded for a brand that taste better that was left in the second place I stayed.

In SJPP I mailed forward my cell phone and charger and the clothes I wore on the plane including flat shoes. I also sent my water bag (camel back) and this I miss. I thought that using the water bottle would be better, but it is not. I may get another.

There is no privacy in some albergues and I wished for a sarong – and the Camino provided! At the large refuge in Roncesvalles I found a beautiful one that was placed on a table full of items that others pulled out of their packs and donated.

I thought that I would just want a stick to walk with and I ended up with hiking poles with which I have a love-hate relationship. The first day they were really in my way, but as I got used to them and learned how to match them with my pace, they have grown on me. Really, I mean it – they have GROWN ON me. I feel like I now have these two long pointy limbs where just my hands and arms used to be.

I have not needed the moleskin that I brought, but I have already used up most of the glide jell between my toes. One toe is threatening to grow a blister and I tried the suggestion of another pilgrim and wrapped wool around it. Works brilliantly! Thank you again to Kim and Darrell for the sore muscle cream. I bath practically my whole body in it twice a day! Also, thanks to Barbara for my ‘goodie bag’ that she pressed on me as I left DC. The almonds provided a great trail lunch one day and I have made many friends by rationing out one or two of the bitter chocolate coffee beans in the afternoon when we need the boost that it provides.

What the “packing committee” questioned the most was the computer that I purchased from Dell to bring along for this blogging. I was in love with the tiny 8 inch full blown computer (Dell Venue Pro 8) and I had it all set up. I purchased it the end of June and it stopped working the 13th of September! Dale resurrected once, twice, then we went back to the Widows store. They did not have another to trade and would not give me a refund as it was already ancient (more than 2 months old). I took it to Maryland with me the next day hoping to find a better solution there, but no, Dell would not refund it. They insisted on ‘fixing’ it for me instead. They also did not seem to understand that I have no phone number and no residence to which they can send the ‘fixed’ device. In exasperation I sent the thing to them – who knows when I will see it again, and who cares!? I now have something even heavier with me which is my old iPad with hard case and keyboard. It weighs as much as everything else together. Argh!

The second night on the Camino, I pulled out this monster iPad at a gathering of other pilgrims during our ritual greeting period. “How much does that weigh?” they asked with a gasp. “Much too much!” I said. Then I asked them all to promise that, when they find my exhausted body smashed under the weight of an overpacked rucksack, they will blog to the world and tell them that Dell killed me on the Camino.

Now then, after you have passed or joined with other pilgrims for three days or so, you know names, some cultural things (I am learning to speak Kiwi), how fast each walks, how much they carry, and if they are kind and sharing… Now you may move on to what I call the ‘day three question’ which is, “Why are you doing this?”

Why? WHY?!? Hmmmm… this is for a much longer answer for a longer walk… we are all, I think sorting it out. What we start out with may not be what we end up with, right? For me, right now, living with every possession on my back is a metaphor for how much I am willing to carry and what I am will to let go? When I am at my best, each step is intentional and I see joy everywhere if I look for it in a peaceful place. I recall, as I often do, a quote from Joseph Campbell who said, “If you can see your path laid out in front of you step by step, you know it’s not your path. Your own path you make with every step you take. That’s why it’s your path.”

Buen Camino.

I Slept with a French Mens Cycling Club

The Camino is a traveling community and it for me it begins with the alburge experiences. This pilgrimage route is so well tended by volunteers (mostly) who manage a series of dormitories that are available only to travelers carrying the official pilgrim passport. Each night you check in and receive a stamp in your pilgrim passport and are assigned to a room or a bunkbed. So far the rooms I have stayed in have been very simple but clean and have held 10-16 people in one room. The first night I was given a bed on the top bunk. There may have been only 3 other women in the 16 bed room. The rest of the beds were occupied by a French mens cycling club. Picture this old lady on the top bunk admiring all the tattoos on these beautiful fit guys as they got read to turn in!

One may only stay one night at any alburge or refugio. You cannot come in until 4pm in the afternoon and it is lights out at 10 pm. Promptly at 6 am the bright overhead lights pop back on, and someone comes to unceremoniously rouse you if the lights didn’t do it. You must have your breakfast (coffee, bread and jam) an get out by 8 am.

I walked the first day from SJPP to Orrison. In Orrison I met my Camino family. We have dubbed ourselves “The Camino Nuts” recognizing that we are a very mixed bag of nuts for sure. (It’s a long story involving may beers and lots of laughter that explains our name.) Introductions that night over our pilgrims dinner proved that there were folks from, Japan, Scotland, Sweden, Wales, Australia, New Zealand, Brazil, Ireland, Romania, Spain, Italy, Korea, France, and the USA including CO,WA,VA,ID,IL,MA,AK,and CA. One person is 84 years old! We have also titled a few people – our Princess Leia, from Brazil, and Saint Jim from Boston, for example. I think there will be more titles before we arrive in Santiago.

Our conversations before lights out were so funny I thought I would… well you imagine… think of starting with a few ribbings followed with a scene from the Waltons – Good night…I love you, love you too, that switches somehow to dialogue from Brokeback Mountain and gales of giggles – summer camp Baby Boomer style. “What happens on the Camino stays on the Camino, right?” “No way!” I quipped, “Everyone has a blog!”

So the wonderful people I am meeting is such a sweet thing. Also sweet are the moments that I pull away and spend some time alone. I laid on flat my back on a very old stone wall and starred into the late afternoon sky trying to take in the joy I feel on this walk but also missing my dears so far away. I found myself seeing faces in the clouds and thought how every being on our little blue planet must have this in common. At some point who has not had this experience of taking a pause to feel how beautiful our word really is – to see faces in the sky and feel some peace?