So here I find myself, departure day looming, my to-do list still full of tasks…. Many of those tasks are merely “wishful thinking,” as I know there is no possible way to get them checked off. They are more of the “wouldn’t-it-be-nice-if-I-could-possibly-do-this” variety. Like so many things in life, I need to greet them with warmth and tenderness and compassion… and then let them go.
Among those to-dos are the ones I have labeled “blog-related.” Some of them have been waiting patiently in line for months, others are relative newcomers. What they share is 1) the hope that they will be turned into bona fide posts rather than remain wanna-be stories and 2) the sinking realization that time–or rather lack of same–is not on their side; the remaining sands in the top of the hourglass are fewer with each passing day.
But then it occurred to me: what if I were to spread the net and see which ones I might catch in one post, even if in a manner less developed and polished than I might like? Better than letting them get away from me entirely, right? Well, we’ll see what happens. Feel free to sample from the buffet below, bits and pieces from a mind that raged and refused to let some thoughts go gentle into that good night.
HAZARDS, Part Two
Back in October I wrote a post (find it here) about my first fall–as in “tumble”–while training for the Camino. (Wish I could say it was my last, but ah, between my clumsiness and the plentiful rocks and tree roots half-hidden by fallen leaves, there have been a good handful.) No sooner had I published that post than I decided it needed a follow-up. To the hazards awaiting a pilgrim/hiker that I had mentioned in that post, I jotted down additional ones as they came to me. (A mind looking for something to worry about always manages to do so, right?) Because my list continued to grow, I never got around to writing “Hazards, Part Two.” Until now. Fortunately, time crunch means less elaboration than the usual. The bullet points that follow come directly from notes I’ve collected since October, though they are not necessarily presented here in the order in which they were originally written. Some hazards apply to both the training walks and the Camino; some more to one than the other. You’ll figure it out. Among the hazards:
- getting lost; missing a blaze or a fork in the trail or a signpost
- the cold! One of my biggest enemies!
- getting caught in the dark, or in a freak snow storm, or in gale-force winds, or in drenching rains…
- territorial dogs
- running out of food, water, energy
- running out of spirit…
- losing essentials: forgetting my phone charger or leaving it behind in some outlet; forgetting my poles after stopping for a pee break; keeping track of money and debit cards (and those darn PINs!); misplacing passport or train/bus/airline tickets; forgetting to pack up clothes left to dry on a courtyard clothesline; etc., etc. (these are the “sh*t!” moments I described at the very end of an earlier post
- forgetting any of the essentials in the first place!
- foot problems and/or shoe problems that could bring my Camino to a halt
- pickpockets and their ilk; I’ve been warned by natives that “this is not the Spain you knew back in the early 70s”
The biggest hazard at all, though, the granddaddy of hazards is not on that list, though it has been in the notes I referred to above and it comes round to haunt me fairly often. My unpolished, unedited notes describe the danger of
missing the forest for the trees or the trees for the forest. Perhaps the biggest hazard of all: being so full of my thoughts–so full of myself–that I fail to notice the beauty around me or being so focused on the beauty that I forget about the “soul walking and stretching” that I hope will be a big part of my Camino. The challenge is to find a balance. And when I speak about “beauty,” I really am taking into consideration not just the natural landscape around me but also the people I’ll be encountering along the way. The challenge of remaining “present, mindful” at all times…. The Camino is not meant to be just a journey for the feet, nor solely a feast for the eyes–though surely it is that. Surely it has the potential to be a journey for the heart and the soul. To miss that journey while walking the Camino might be the biggest hazard of all
Am I beginning to sound paranoid in my cataloging of hazards? I trust I will have every reason under the sun to write a much more developed post entitled “Blessings” upon my return. Or better yet, multiple posts elaborating the blessings along the way. As it is, I look back over nine months of training and I’m bursting with gratitude for all the potentially negative things that have not happened, for the beauty that I have seen, and for the companions I’ve had on the journey thus far. Counting my blessings!
Time flies when…
On my lists of posts to develop is one called “Welcoming snow” or “Let it snow” or–again, my notes say this, as obviously I wasn’t quite sure where my focus would be–“Changing perspectives” or “What a difference a day makes,” or “Time flies when…” I must have jotted this down sometime in late November or early December when a light layer of snow covered a path on which I was hiking. I remarked at the time: “seems like just yesterday that we were watching out for ticks and edible mushrooms, meeting at 6:30 am to beat the heat….” Heat and tick season had barely passed when we began wearing blaze orange so the hunters wouldn’t mistake us for deer or fox or squirrel.
Nothing revolutionary here. Of course time flies, for all but the very young and, perhaps, the very old. Is it time once again to take out the garbage, fill the pill box, do the laundry, pay the bills, buy the Easter ham, pay taxes, have another colonoscopy? Already? How can that be? Not just the days, the weeks, the months, the years, but the darn decades, too! I remember what I did on my 40th birthday–remember, Rie, the lake cottage and those 40 gifts hidden around it?!–and on my 50–a silent memorial parade down the streets of town in memory of a Korean killed in a hate crime–and on my 60th–went to see The Wizard of Oz on the big screen. The 40th seems a bit distant, but the others? Twenty years ago? Ten years ago? Seems like yesterday!
I never wrote the post about welcoming snow. We had very little of the white stuff this year. That’s good and bad. We needed the moisture, and it eventually came with a goodly amount of rain. I would have preferred snowy walks in the woods rather than muddy ones, but we survived. It’s out of our control anyway. So for this little blurb, I chose the title “Time flies when…” to reflect not only on how amazingly fast these months of Camino-prep have gone, but also because we all know how that “time flies” phrase ends. Yes, “when you’re having fun.” I have been, indeed, having fun! These have been wonderfully purposeful, engaging, delightful, months. Would I like them to have flown a little less quickly? Yes and no. Do I wish that the months had been equally fun, equally wonderful for all those I love and for all those reading this now ? Oh, yes, with all my heart!
Now, care to join me in a chorus of “Sunrise, Sunset” from Fiddler on the Roof?
Sunrise, sunsetSunrise, sunsetSwiftly fly the yearsOne season following anotherLaden with happiness and tears
Help me to be less fearful of the measure of time, and more fully alive in the time that simply is. Help me to live time, not just to simply use it, to breathe it in, and return it in acts of love and presence. -Avis Crowe
The two thieves… and JOY
(Folks: this one really almost got away. I had finished this section and: Poof! Cyberspace stole it! Talk about a despised and all-too-familiar thief! No promises that this mini-post’s recreation will match the original. But it’s no longer around for comparison’s sake, is it?… Another lesson in letting go….))
So, I was driving–yes! I do occasionally get in a car!–to nearby McCormick’s Creek State Park for a hike when I came upon a sign that caught my attention and gave me food for thought for a good bit of my afternoon’s meandering in the woods. Was it in front of a church or a business? I couldn’t say. It read as follows:
Comparison is the thief of joy
I’m sure that on many days I might pass by a similar sign and not give it a second thought. This one, however, got my attention, especially in light of my upcoming trip. My Camino. A path on which there will be thousands of walkers (as many as 300,000 people–I’ve also heard 400,00, but I don’t know how reliable that source is–will arrive in Santiago from different paths this year alone!). Each one wanting to have his or her own Camino. Some stronger, fitter, more agile, faster, younger, more knowledgeable, dedicated, and experienced than I am. More gregarious. Along with others who will be slower, less prepared, older, fussier, even more reserved. We will be, no doubt, a motley crew, with noted differences in our motivations, our personalities, our talents, and our skills. Hopefully we will have in common the desire to find joy in the journey. Comparison has no place on the Camino, just as it has no place on the journey of life. It zaps enthusiasm and energy and joy. With its emphasis on better and worse, more and less, strengths and weaknesses, it fails to highlight individual talents and the richness that our differences can bring to the mix.
And yet even as I say that “comparison has no place… on the journey of life,” I wonder to what extent that is totally true. I know that in my own life, I try to surround myself with people whose skills, personalities, and outlook on life I admire. Sometimes I am content just to value them for who they are and to celebrate their talents; other times I hope that they will serve as models to emulate, especially with regard to the way in which they face life’s challenges. Is there something to be said for comparing ourselves with others if that leads to positive change? How similar are “comparison” and “imitation”? And what about comparing ourselves with…. with ourselves? Our younger selves with our present selves? With the selves we hope to become? Isn’t self-reflection a part of growth? (You see, a solo hike of 8 miles allows the mind to wander into many corners!) Let’s leave it at this: “comparison” can be a real killjoy. Mostly it is to be avoided for peace of mind!
And the other thief, the second one of this mini-blog’s title? I’m betting there are, in reality, a myriad of would-be thieves capable of stealing joy. The one I had in mind: worry. Right? About kids, about money. Health, lack of time, climate change, the latest news report, the sorry state of the world…. Oh, sorry for any wounds I’m opening. Worry is the ultimate thief, isn’t it? Robs you of sleep, of peace of mind, of joy. Blocks trust. Erases hope. Causes lost sleep, lost–or gained!–weight. Loss of friends who tire of hearing your woes.
Like “comparison,” though, maybe “worry” has a second, less criminal side. Worry can lead one to take preventive measures, to be cautious, prudent, pro-active. There is “worry” and there is “awareness.” At any point in time we can be somewhere on that spectrum. As a result, we buy insurance policies, try to stay informed, take our vitamins, schedule annual visits with the doctor, say our prayers, “consider the lilies of the field” and the birds of the air, cross our fingers. We then either hope for the best… or… we continue to worry.
Perhaps the verdict isn’t totally in, then, on these two thieves. In general, though, I’m in favor of calling for the sheriff, rounding up a posse, finding these culprits, and throwing them in the slammer. Parole possibilities after serving time and showing their better sides.
As for joy? Try this:
In my notes about possible blog posts, I have written this: “two quotes about dreams.” Ha! The joke is on me because I only wrote down ONE of the quotes! The other one fell victim to one of my many “senior moments” and I don’t expect it to reemerge from the shadows anytime soon. I could find a gazillion quotes about “dreams” with just a few keystrokes, but that wouldn’t seem authentic. So, I leave you with just one quote, attributed to Ellen Johnson Sirleaf (winner of Nobel Peace Prize in 2011, first woman to be elected head of state in an African country [Liberia, 2005 and again in 2011]). She wrote the following that resonated with me:
If your dreams do not scare you, they are not big enough
My Camino dream has scared me and excited me from the beginning. Am I shaking in my boots from fear or excitement? Heck, I’m not shaking in those boots, I’m walking in them. For the moment, I think my dream is as big as I can handle!
I hate to even mention this here, but it fits. You may have already seen my “Hazards, Part Two” mini-post earlier in this smorgasbord. One of the “hazards” on the list: pickpockets. So what do I find myself dreaming about in the early morning a week or so? A bag of some sort in which there was an empty “case” where a passport should have been…. A dream I could have easily done without….
Afterthought: might the second quote I referred to in my notes have been a reference to one of the few poems I know by heart, Langston Hughes’ “Dreams”?
Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.
Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow.
Step by step, keep on keeping on. Step by step, keep on dreaming. Remembering always to seek joy in that journey. And forget the nightmares about stolen passports. Ain’t gonna happen!
Are we hAPPy yet?
Yes… and no. No! No! No! Yes, I have LOTS of APPs. Four full screens of them on my phone, plus two additional rows on a 5th screen. But hAPPy? Hardly! APPrehensive, yes. Do my APPs give the impression that, armed with technology, I am ready to take on whatever this trip throws at me? They lie! False APPearances, for sure.
Please tell me that you are nodding your head with empathy and understanding, with compassion and recognition. Even if it’s not the case. I need to know I am not alone.
Through the years I’ve acquired this APP and that one because friends have suggested them or businesses have urged them. My APPle device hold APProximately 90 APPs, some with overlAPPing functions and/or APProximately the same purpose, each one reached by the tAPPing of a finger or two. Several APPs to tell me the weather, others to help me manipulate photos, read books, make to-do lists, keep track of expenses, locate and navigate hiking trails…. And yes, I do mean several for each one of those tasks. You might APPreciate the APPsurdity of some of the following: I have an APP to help me find my car when parked at the Kansas City airport ()?!) and one to make the photographed criminal on a wine bottle tell his tale of woe (you’d have to see it to believe it…); I have an APP to facilitate my use a Jawbone UP (which I’ve never owned), another to help me find deals at local restaurants (who goes out to eat?), one to help me find my keys (though little good that’ll do me if my keys and phone are hiding together), one to open the lock box of reserved Airbnb homes; another to activate a SIM card I bought to prove that the refurbished phone I bought was indeed “unlocked.” (I hope you don’t even know what I am talking about because I sure don’t!)
I do not expect you to APPlaud my abundance of APPs. DisAPPointment in my poor judgment is inevitable,disAPProval is called for, undoubtedly. I APPeal to your compassion, however. It’s not that I’m goofing off and playing all sorts of games. In fact, I don’t believe there’s a single game on my device if you don’t count Duolingo. Angry Birds and Words with Friends are long gone. No, I have “serious” APPs… but here’s the thing: I don’t know how to use even half of them, handicAPPed as I am by the hAPPenstance of my age and my lack of an intuitive nature.
I could go on and on poking fun of myself… but you may be wondering what all this has to do with the Camino. I’ll try to APPly myself here and get right to the point: I’ve acquired new APPs to facilitate my activities for the next couple of months. New to me for the upcoming trip:
- three banking APPs to keep tabs on one credit card and two debit cards (such items recommended by travel guru Rick Steves) and to be able to transfer money from one account to another when one well is getting dry. I have practiced and practiced with remembering logins and passwords and pins. Time will tell if I’ve got them down or if I’ll have to pay my way through the Camino by helping out in the hostels
- a Camino guide to maps and lodging and sights that appears to be as complete as it is complex; my mastery of it is dubious, or shall we just call it a “work in progress”?
- the much-touted WhatsAPP that supposedly I can use to text or to phone anyone else who also has the APP, free of charge; I’ve actually put it to the test a few times and… APPrehensive though I was, it worked!
- one APP to keep track of my bus ticket from Pamplona to St. Jean Pied-de-Port in case I lose my printed paper version
- three APPs with white noise sounds to induce slumber and block out the snoring of fellow pilgrims (none of which I have even tried…)
- an APP that will allow me to convert euros to dollars, kilometers to miles, meters to feet, Camino time to Indiana or Oregon time, etc. Celsius to Fahrenheit, or vice versa. Assuming I can figure out how to use it…
You are APPsolutely right if you are feeling APPrehensive about my ability to master these APPs. You are also totally in the right if you think I’m having trouble wrAPPing my mind around the notion of SIMPLICITY, the idea that LESS IS MORE. I know in my heart of hearts that these APPs have the potential to complicate my life. Have already complicated my life. Maybe post-Camino Katy will be more than ready to delete a good half of her APPs, considering them–and many other possessions–useless APPendages.
For the time being, though, at least the following thought gives me comfort: a phone with nearly a hundred apps has no more physical weight than one with ten or twenty. Weight, I’m afraid, is huge on my mind as I try to eliminate pounds from my backpack. Just as friends have recommended certain APPs to me, they have recommended a lot of other “essentials” which, unfortunately, are taking up physical space and adding significant weight to my pack. Those ounces certainly add up! Hey, maybe there’s an APP to grAPPle with this problem! (Do you think I’ve totally snAPPed? I’d better APPandon this mini-post before it becomes any more APPsurd!
I’m just quoting… (Do you need a mantra?)
If you haven’t figured it out already, then it’s time: I LOVE WORDS. In and of themselves they can be quite lovely When they are brought together in harmony and wisdom, I can’t resist them. Here are a few that were possibly going to be part of longer, individual posts, but will have to be content for a little side show here. Maybe you’ll find them useful or thought-provoking as well.
In Rick Steves’ book Europe through the Back Door, 2017 edition, he writes
Of course, travel, like the world, is a series of hills and valleys. Be fanatically positive and militantly optimistic. If something’s not to your liking, change your liking!
Don’t you love that last bit? Could be my mantra for life!
Benedictine sister Macrina Wiederkehr, in her book Abide: Keeping Vigil with the Word of God, shares her poem “Is there a lost child in you?” from which I’m sharing the final two stanzas
There are days
when my adult ways
turn tasteless in my mouth
and the child of long ago
pressing on my soul.
On days like that
I long to touch the child again
and let her take me by the hand
and lead me down
a path that has a heart
and show me all the things
I’ve stopped seeing
because I’ve grown
Thanks, Macrina. I definitely want to be heading down “a path [a “way,” a “camino”] that has a heart, and I want to do it with my eyes open wide. Maybe even skipping a bit?
Ever hear of a writer (and teacher and poet) by the name of Mary Jean Irion? Nor had I, until a short quote attributed to her showed up in my inbox from a “daily inspiration” site (the first three sentences of the second paragraph below). I was both moved and intrigued and did a bit of research. The quote as it was sent to me is, apparently, widely known and quoted in certain circles; you’ll find images of it on Google, available for download or purchase. I chased down more of the passage, and include below the final two paragraphs of an essay which may have first appeared in McCall’s magazine in the late 1960s and subsequently appeared in Ms. Irion’s book Yes, World. A Mosaic of Meditation (1970). The essay, “Let Me Hold You While I May,” ends with these sobering, poignant, insightful lines:
A normal day! Holding it in my hand this one last moment, I have come to see it as more than an ordinary rock. It is a gem, a jewel. In time of war, in peril of death, people have dug their hands and faces into the earth and remembered this. In time of sickness and pain, people have buried their faces in pillows and wept for this. In time of loneliness and separation, people have stretched themselves taut and waited for this. In time of hunger, homelessness, and want, people have raised bony hands to the skies and stayed alive for this….
Normal day, let me be aware of the treasure you are. Let me learn from you, love you, savor you, bless you before you depart. Let me not pass you by in quest of some rare and perfect tomorrow. Let me hold you while I may, for it will not always be so. One day I shall dig my nails into the earth, or bury my face in the pillow, or stretch myself taut, or raise my hands to the sky, and want more than all the world your return. And then I will know what now I am guessing: that you are, indeed, a common rock and not a jewel, but that a common rock made of the very mass substance of the earth in all its strength and plenty puts a gem to shame.
The day is over, and now I will sleep.
Wow! A great reminder of just what a treasure “ordinary” can be! For me, six weeks or so–God willing!–on the Camino will indeed mean a somewhat repetitive routine: rise early, load the pack, set out in a westerly direction, walk and walk and walk, seek shelter and food, check out the town (albeit a new one each night), and when the day is over, sleep and begin all over again. To rephrase a well-known biking tour aphorism: Eat Sleep Hike Repeat. And yet, though even the extraordinary can become the norm, what a gift normalcy can be.
My final quote was given to me just a few days ago. I stopped in for a visit with a friend who had just celebrated her 91st birthday. It was 30 years ago when Jo and her husband through-hiked the Appalachian Trail in celebration of Harvey’s retirement. Jo has been nothing been enthusiastic and encouraging as I’ve shared details of my upcoming trip with her. From her now sedentary position, she didn’t mince words when she told me, back in June: “Do it while you can!” Today I expressed some of my worries/concerns to her (much as I try to fight them, they have been trumping some of the excitement of late; the traveler’s version of stage fright?…) Anyway, Jo shared what she often used as a mantra on her 2,000+-mile hike. She gave the Lord “marching orders” with regard to her feet:
You lift ’em up and I’ll set ’em down.
So there! A positive attitude, childlike wonder, a celebration of the ordinary, and a little help from above. What could I possibly add?
This mini-post was going to be called “See it! / Read it!” but then I realized that one of the books I was going to recommend is still on my hold list at the library, so I haven’t even cracked its cover. Haven’t even seen its cover except on Amazon. When you see the title, your suspicion that I have a one-track mind will be confirmed. The book is Never Stop Walking: A Memoir of Finding Home Across the World by Christina Rickardsson (2018). If I ever stop walking and read it, I’ll try to let you know my opinion.
The other book had an equally inspiring title: Walking to Listen: 4,000 Miles across America, One Story at a Time (2017). I mentioned this book in a letter I wrote in late May of last year, explaining to a 20-something hiking partner that I was reading about a young man who, upon graduating from college, set out on foot to ask people for advice on “how to grow up” and become, once and for all, an “adult.” I started out reading a library copy, but ended up buying two used copies from Amazon, one for myself and one for my hiking friend Jo (the one whose quote ends the mini-post just above this one). May, 2018. But guess what: the Camino idea had already taken up residence in the backwaters of my mind by then and as it made its way to the forefront, this book was set aside in favor of getting out and walking. I’ll pick it up again someday.
I have this fascination with young people–“young people” currently being defined by me as anyone under the age of 40–who set out on ambitious walks. Here’s where the “See it!” title of this mini-post comes into its own, as I’m going to recommend two films.
The first of them is a 2018 release that is, as of this writing, playing in local cinemas and is also available for streaming ($4.99 at Amazon will get it for you). At least look for the trailer and make your own decision. In this documentary, 30-something Matt Green, tired of his desk job as an engineer, takes on the project of walking every single street, pathway, cemetery, bridge… of all five boroughs of New York City. We’re talking more than 8,000 miles! He plans and walks those miles with endless curiosity and enviable joie de vivre. The movie isn’t about New York so much as it is about having a passion and running (well, walking…) with it. It may not be everyone’s cup of tea (“waste of time,” one viewer commented), but… I found it inspiring enough to see a second time. If you see it, I dare you to forget Matt anytime soon!
The second film, a 2017 contender in the Heartland Film Festival, and, like The World …, a documentary, is called I’ll Push You. It chronicles the 2014 journey of two lifelong friends on the Camino. The “pushing” of the title refers to the fact that one of the friends suffers from a rare neuromuscular disease and is wheel-chair bound, totally dependent on his best friend–and others on the trek–for all his physical needs. The tone of the film is amazingly joyful as what might seem to be insurmountable obstacles are dealt with, if not overcome, with faith and hope and a good deal of laughter. As one (Amazon) reviewer says: “This is one of the most inspiring stories of altruistic love you’ll ever see. If this doesn’t warm your heart, you probably don’t have a heart.” Another states: “So surprising and just a joy beyond any other that I’ve watched, read or listened to about the Camino and honestly, maybe any other journey of discovery. Simple and powerful.” If you live in/near Bloomington, know that the public library bought a copy at my request. Otherwise…. currently available on Amazon for $14.99…
Is there any need to mention a third film, the one partly responsible for sparking a growing awareness of the Camino in this country? I didn’t think so. You’ve seen the 2012 (fictional) movie The Way, right? Americans have been flocking to the Camino in much greater numbers since its release.
There are more! Oh yes! However, I’m stopping here.
Where’s the big bad wolf?
Back in late October the kids and I did a walk on the Sycamore Loop in the Deam Wilderness. I wrote a note to myself at the time that it was a Mary-Poppins-Pippi-Longstocking-Pollyanna kind of hike as opposed to a Big-Bad-Wolf or a Hansel-and-Gretel type. “In other words,” I wrote at the time, “it was friendly and joyful rather than ominous. The sky probably had a lot to do with it, and the mild temperatures.”
Well, about five months have passed since I wrote those words. I was going to write a post once I’d had the opposite kind of experience, a creepy one on which I felt threatened or exposed or lost. Imagine: the trees “squeaking” as a dead and leaning one rubbed against the tree that had impeded its fall to the forest floor; the wind whipping; the thunder rolling in; the far-off sound of hunters’ firearms as their owners fired them off in quick succession, eager to bag something before the storm was totally engaged; realizing that, in all that confusion, I was utterly lost and… was that a mountain lion I heard behind me?
I never had occasion to write that post because… I never had any experience to prompt it. Pollyanna lives!
As do some of these muddled thoughts that have crossed my mind and almost slipped away without being caught and shared. Whew! I reeled them in just in the nick of time. One week from tomorrow: we’re off!