The original title of this post, in draft mode, was “Training: use of technology and time management.” I know, right? Boring! But the truth of the matter is, I haven’t practiced creating a post using the technology I’ll have with me in Spain since September. (I wrote about that experience–in very brief fashion–here.) Since then, I’ve managed to roam and ramble, each post, seemingly, at greater length, editing, elaborating, editing, pruning–admittedly, seldom!–editing some more. No can do while I’m on the Camino.
This, then, is my attempt to write something succinct and more in keeping with what might be possible when I’m traveling. I’ve set a timer for 45 minutes and by the time it goes off, I’d better have sent this post out to the world. No frills, no fanfare, just the basics.
I want to comment on the highlights of a couple of walks I completed this past week. The first was a solo hike, and, at 16 miles, the longest of my entire life. The second logged in at 7 miles, a distance that might have seemed monumental many months ago, but which now seems more like a walk around the block with a bit extra thrown in for good measure. The second was a more social walk as it involved my Camino mate Barb and a restaurant stop mid-way. And sunshine rather than the snow flurries of the earlier outing.
What these two excursions had in common is that they took place within city limits, though neither involved running any errands or making any purchases (other than the lunch, and as it turned out, my lunch entree came complete with a few pieces of broken pottery which, fortunately, my teeth noticed before they–the shards–made it down the hatch. Result: my lunch was gratis.)
(I know what you are thinking: “elaboration” runs in my veins and there is no way I’m going to say anything of consequence before the timer rings and I need to post this. I’m going to try to prove you wrong.)
So what do I really want my readers–do I have any?–to know about the cityscapes through which I passed and my personal experiences while passing through them?
- Nature can still be found! At least in a town like Bloomington! Proof? I walked around a lake, crossed over a creek, saw cows in a field as semis whizzed by them, spotted a hawk high up in a tree, skirted a swampy area with abundant brush where sweet little birds flitted joyfully.
- Nature calls and woe to you if you don’t plan accordingly as there are precious few corn fields (especially in February…) and little privacy. On my 16-miler I found relief in one nursing home and one grocery store.
- We spend most of our time in our respective towns and cities rather than in the countryside, and we have a tendency to traverse the same tried-and-true routes. On both walks I/we shook things up a bit, adding spurs or linking neighborhoods in ways I/we hadn’t done before. Great way to keep boredom at bay and to challenge your sense of direction.
- For those who read my previous post on my struggles with silence and solitude, be it known: on my solo walk I didn’t make one phone call or listen to even one song. No electronics whatsoever. I conjured up all sorts of people–you may well have been among them–and smothered them with all manner of good wishes. When my mind strayed, I gently called it back.
- I was again reminded of the need to keep my eyes open. Sure, not to get run over. That goes without saying. But besides spotting three discarded syringes–they added such color to the drab sidewalk where they’d been dropped; such a nasty and dangerous temptation for kids who might happen by…–I spotted (and checked out) a new paved trail under construction, a wig stuck in a tree (there’s a story there, for sure!), and a sign outside a business which I just had to capture to share with you:
I mean, really, gives one a lot to think about, doesn’t it? And I wasn’t even at the half-way point of my 16-miler, so I had plenty of time to ponder the aphorism. (Conclusion: as I walked along calling to mind this person and that, each with his or her own set of problems and challenges, joys and heartaches, I suppose that I wasn’t minding my own “biscuits” at all. I think I’m more attuned to the philosophy that “No man is an island,” that we are all part of a greater community, a larger family, and that we can help each other tend our “biscuits” and perhaps, together, prevent them from burning. If that kind of “nosiness” keeps life from being “gravy,” maybe that gravy isn’t healthy in the first place…. That said, there’s more than one way to mind a biscuit, and some ways are definitely more acceptable than others.
Okay, so my timer just rang… and no posting because I have two more “sightings” to share with you, one from each of the two walks.
I mentioned stopping in a nursing home to use the facilities. In looking for a way out–the door I entered requiring a code in order to exit–I came upon a room labeled “relaxation room.” The door was open and I couldn’t resist. Oh, if only my friend Pat had such a room where she currently resides. If only we all did! Away from the chaos and distractions of daily life, away from “stuff,” from noise, from the need to “do” and offered, instead, the luxury of just “being.” You’ll see from the photo: comfortable chairs, no bric-a-bracs, low lighting, and a total of three lamp-type sculptures with slowly changing colors. Do believe me: I wanted to sit for a spell!
The next two pictures are of a tree. It might look like it is out in the forest, but I assure you, it’s smack-dab in the middle of the Sycamore Knolls neighborhood; the photos were taken from the sidewalk that butts up to the tree. Now I am used to coming upon the Little Free Libraries as I walk Bloomington’s neighborhoods, and I delight in the signage protesting hatred and welcoming diversity in our neighborhoods, but to my knowledge this is the first time I’ve seen poems thumbtacked on trees for the pleasure of passers-by.
Because I know you are wondering, and I don’t think this page is going to let you expand the photos: the poem on the left is an English translation of Estonia poet Jaan Kaplinski’s “We Started Home,” from his 1987 collection, The Wandering Border. Nature reigns supreme as father and son notice the moon, a bright star, snow, a marsh, a river, and the chimney of home on a winter’s evening.
On the right is a poem by Mary Oliver, the beloved poet who left us just a bit over a month ago. In “Stebbins Gulch” from Blue Horses (2014), Oliver evokes water descending rapidly down a gulch. She observes the rocks over which it washes, the fish who splash, and the kingfisher who watches them with more than a little interest. Of the rushing water and the gulch itself the poet comments:
its only industry
and to be beautiful
while it does so;
as for purpose
there is none
it is simply
one of those gorgeous things
that was made
to do what it does perfectly
and to last
as almost nothing does
Ah, that we humans could figure out what we were made to do, and then do it, perfectly, beautifully, almost forever…. Now there is food for thought for even the longest of walks.
As for this post, it is shorter than most of mine. You’ll give me that, won’t you? I’m not there yet in terms of brevity and concision, but this was, after all, a “training” exercise, and you know what they say about practice making perfect. With effort and practice, aided by lack of time to be expansive, there’s hope that my missives from Spain will not, like Stebbins Gulch, “last/ as almost nothing does/ almost forever.”
I see that you’re deep into water, Cousin dear.
Until you included Mary Oliver’s poem about water, I’ve never read anything about her except in the last week or so when I picked up snippets of her writings. For instance,
“It is the nature of stone to be satisfied/It is the nature of water to be somewhere else.”
Also, what looks like one of her most notable lines:
“Instructions for living a life. Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it.”
Inspirational, I guess, is one word to describe the little I’ve read. But as you know, I rely on the prosaic for words of wisdom—my loss, I know. Nonetheless, I put a hold at the library on a collection of poetry.
As for the prosaic, let me mention one quote from one of my favorite philosophers, William James, about water:
“Time itself comes in drops.”
More on water:
“One realizes how we take water for granted and how important it is to stay alive. Beyond the drinking of it, let’s not forget the hygiene.”
And . . .
. . . in poetry, I am in deep water
Katy who, oh, yea — Ken’s wife……. hehehe. I am so envious. 500 miles, wow, kilometers? Now for metric to become the normal for one who is just a bit abnormal…. ah, ha. By the way who is going to provide a map for you, even some sketches???
Maybe a bit more serious, Katy, I am really envious. I still walk my 2 mile each morning when in Florida while in Indiana I am so busy I skip some of the walking and dig in the garden, mow forest trails, trim trees and keep up all the repairs a woodland in Indiana introduces to its owner.
We will be up on the 18th of March. Our grandson Luke is having a wedding April, 27 and his family is hosting a shower for Prescilla March 23. Grandma does plan to be there.
Our son Todd continues to have back issues with lots of pain. Marc and the twins are doing great, have their own home in Alabama close to their work in Chattanooga, Tn.
We are both doing good and look forward to going North.
We will keep you in our prayers….. Ray
You seem to like challenges: there’s the one back in ’75 when facing your doctoral exams and now there’s a 500 mile trek across the Pyrenees. (To say nothing of the challenges in between.) And you always write.
You write (beautifully) in your early posts about your expectations in meeting people from all over the world. In a world you hold in your hands despite the silence and suffering so many must endure in the face of injustice and cruelty. It is daunting.
The 1975 sonnet you sent to Professor Gitlitz however, was something very different from anything you’ve written before. It is hard for me to imagine you in such a very, very dark state of mind, this negrura inpenetrable. Yet—and this is what’s significant—you still kept writing. In fact, you dealt with your depression by writing a poem of quality instead of, say, seeking relief in a bottle in a bar around the corner while trying to pass a bar exam.
And you’re still writing beautifully. I am enjoying your posts very much. I encourage you to keep writing, especially for those among us who have only our imaginations to cross the Pyrenees. Oh, by the way, a small thing: your reputed wordiness.
Well, first off—No—you are not wordy. You have the same sort of obsessiveness I admire in certain other writers (I suppose I would go too far by mentioning, dare I say the name, Marcel Proust). You resemble him in having the same incredible precision and focus, and the same sense of nailing a moment in time. No, you are not wordy, just rigorously unpretentious. You always start with a thousand disclaimers and end with a thousand more, often humorous, usually self-deprecating, almost always about being wordy. Which, must I repeat, you are Not. Do I need to say more about being wordy? (I didn’t think so.)
Here’s a question I ask myself: Do I have a duty to follow you on this pilgrimage? This seems a good question and the answer is: Maybe. Sort of. Probably, in some way. But if I think it is my duty to follow you, it’s because we’re interested in epic, writerly ambition. We’re fascinated with what can be done by a person with enough time and focus and sturdy feet. Stop, look around, write about it, as your Mary Oliver wrote. The point is that we’re interested in human possibility, when we are able to cheer each other on to leaps in science and athletics and art and thought and music . . . well, the list goes on.
And now, unfortunately, I’m back to the impression that this pilgrimage is daunting. Which it isn’t, really. It’s long, but there are pleasures everywhere. There is humor everywhere. But there is also a very quiet but very sturdy and constant tragic undercurrent that concerns people who are lost, who are lost within their families and lost within their nations, and lost within their time, and who only want some sort of direction, or path, or camino, or way to a sense of community or love. Daunting, yes. Do I have a duty to follow? I think so, yes.
In fact, it would be an honor, even though you’ve quoted those who’ve said I could also go to a desert and simply sit still for three days, or choose among a thousand ways to kiss the ground. What’s left unsaid is that this pilgrimage is also an Adventure. This is supposed to be fun, verdad?