Camino Day 17 From a Distance
Today was a relatively short day for me; I travelled just under 13 miles from Fromista to Carrion de los Condes. My Camino guidebook, which basically gives me a map of the day, showing where there are villages and cafes (bars) to stop, telling of interesting historical things to see along the way or where there are fountains you can fill your water bottles, did warn me, however, that we would begin the “soulless” pilgrims route along the road. There have been places where the path has naturally paralleled roads before—even highways—but this, I guess, is a newer, intentional pathway that keeps close company with a fairly busy road. My guidebook suggested an alternate route that was a bit longer but went down a quiet, more shaded path.
I, however, was curious to see how the feeling of the Way would change, if at all, in a more—well, urban isn’t exactly the word; think driving from Salida to Manitou, COS friends, and you’ll get the idea—I guess more populated is the term I’m looking for. It’s not as if I were in a metropolitan center. The villages were few, and far between. In fact, the one village where I had been counting on taking my long, midway break, at about the 6 mile mark, turned out to be virtually a ghost town. The only (enchanting) action I saw was a shepherd with his flock.
But before then, when I was just starting out, I was curious to see how it would feel. I will say that, suddenly, as if springing sui generis from the hard packed earth, there were more pilgrims than I had seen in the past three days combined.
I crossed over a busy highway where a pilgrim sculpture greeted me and ushered me onto the “soulless” modern way. I have to say, at first I was very impressed. I had been fearing a cement path—given its modern roots—but it was a gravel and dirt path much like I had been walking for the past few days. The path was narrow, but not uncomfortably so. On the previous days, the Camino utilized secondary roads that were infrequently used by vehicles, only as wide as an alley in the United States. This path was about half that size but clearly marked with Camino signs on concrete stands that appeared with great frequency.
As I began my descent from the overpass, I could see what looked like construction workers on the Camino and I mused how even well worn Ways, followed by countless peregrin@s for over 1,000 years still must yield to the inevitable “road work” signs.
The workers wore orange jumpsuits and as I passed each one, I said, “Buenos Dias! Hola!”
To which they replied in kind, often adding, “Buen Camino!”
“Gracias,!” I replied.
As I passed by them, I was dimly aware of a sound more suited to my neighborhood, than an ancient pilgrimage: a weed-eater. One man was using that, while another raked the green remains off the path and onto the earth beyond.
It was only as I passed the point where they had been working and came upon what was next in their path that I had a realization that filled with me something akin to horror: they were mowing down the wildflowers and grasses that crowded the sides of the path!
I felt this knowledge like a blow to my spirit; it was visceral, and painful and tragic. I felt as if a relative, a distant one, perhaps, far removed from my normal, daily existence, had been brutally cut down in their prime. Tears came to my eyes.
Go ahead: roll your eyes. I probably would have done the same, a few weeks ago.
But what you need to understand is that over the past 17 days, these wildflowers, grasses, and rowdy plants of indeterminate husbandry had become my friends. Not just friends—my biggest fans, my cheerleaders, always rising earlier than me so that they could take their places along the path in wilder places, ready to cheer me on as I passed by, distracting me from my pain with their beauty, judiciously perfuming the air with their aroma which was much sweeter than I smelled.
I confess: I kissed more than a few of these succulent beauties as I passed by.
And here they were, being mowed down, for—what? Convenience? So they wouldn’t brush the skin of passing pilgrims? I was aware in a deep way, a way that I’ve never before been aware, of the need for this wild beauty in my life; in all of our lives. I understood, finally, at an atomic level that it matters what happens to these wild lives.
I thought how joyful my gf was to share with me, just a couple of days ago, a picture of a columbine flower near her home in Guffey. In our spring time hikes there, she had shown me the place where she looked for this particular flower to bloom each year. This year was no exception, although she told me there were tire tracks nearby—a careless driver almost taking out her girl. I had mentioned how glad I was she was safe. My gf said, “Me, too! I’ve been looking for her, and finding her, for the past 20 years!”
I thought of a good friend in Manitou Springs, who had successfully “rehomed” a poison oak plant from her front yard to her back. She had gotten a notice from the city that it was a “noxious weed” and needed to be destroyed. Her response was to move it to the back yard where, for all I know, it's flourishing now, feeling such love and acceptance in a world that normally avoids her like the plague.
And I have been grateful for both these stories of survival against the odds, of humans loving and being in relationship with our wilder, more vulnerable relatives. But today, I experienced for myself what a heartbreak it was to see such wanton destruction of such wild beauty.
As I walked the narrow path, where the wild flowers still grew, unaware of-- or perhaps, aware, and resigned—to their fate, determined to let their beauty be evident every moment of their brief life, I once again reached out my hands to touch their velvety beauty as I passed by. It wasn’t the ebullient high fives we exchanged on my birthday, but rather a more tender touch; a caress—or no, a reaching for one another in consolation, in recognition that, no matter how short our lives might be, we understood the connection between us, we saw the beauty in one another, we honored the glory of of our lives and the meaning that each life has, no matter how brief, or unseen. It was only when I (inadvertently) took the alternate route that I could finally let some of my sadness and horror go, here where I walked among the wilder, country cousins who had yet to learn the fear of the scythe.
And of course, I realize the wild flowers and grasses would grow back--that’s the nature of their lives, and certainly I understand the need to weed things out so that others might grow. I was reminded of the last class I taught with All Souls member, Jessie Trovik. It was the second in a four part series called Seasons and Cycles and it’s designed to help us frantic, techno-doped humans get back in sync with the earth. This class was created by my colleague, Ahriana Platten, and she graciously gave us permission to teach it at All Souls. The class we taught, the Saturday before I left for this adventure, was about summer and manifesting abundance. We talked about how our human tendency in summer is to play, take vacations, sleep in, but that, in the natural world, summer is a busy season of working hard. Even the plants reach out to the sun, and the garden and fields are lush with plants working so hard to reach fruition.
Part of the making room for abundance, we commented, involved weeding, and part of our class was reflecting on where we needed to work hard—what intentions needed watering, sun, fertilizer, and where we needed to "weed” our gardens, getting rid of ideas, thoughts, resentments, fantasies that were choking out the good growth in the areas where we were focused.
I knew I’d be thinking a lot about that this summer, as I walked this path; where do I need to weed out what might have once served me, but is now only a brittle dead stick, or worse—has taken over the rest of the garden?
Yesterday while I was walking in the hot sun, in the afternoon, sweat pooling and pouring down my face, a bee hovered right under the brim of my hat, sniffing out the possibilities and saying in that sly, nectar wise voice some bees have, “will work for honey.”
I thanked him for his generous offer but assured him that I had already pollinated my dreams with my sweat and that, even now, a garden of possibilities were riotously growing in my heart, in my spirit, with impossible colors, and fragrances, and blossoms, each one so full of life and wonder. And now it was up to me to weed out those that were beautiful but not feasible right now, those that were frenetically taking over the whole garden; it is up to me now, to weed things out so that what is wholesome and good, and enriching, and soul-thrilling and fulfilling can grow.
So I get the whole weed-whacking concept.
And certainly, my mind has been filled for these past several days, with things happening outside the quiet haven of my pilgrimage. My heart still aches with deep loss over the 49 killed at the Pulse, even while my pulse quickens with joy and pride at the sit-in staged by Democratic leaders, demanding we make meaningful gun reform laws now. My spirit is troubled by the “Brexit” vote and the xenophobic, exclusionary spirit of it, even as we move to an election here in the US that could have equally cataclysmic results. On a personal level, I found out that a friend and colleague died suddenly, apparently the result of a heart attack that caused her to fall, this happening while many of my colleagues were gathering in Columbus, OH for the annual Unitarian Universalist General Assembly. I thought of the comfort they could give one another, in the face of this shocking news, and how I am here, alone, walking this path, with no one to comfort me, or for me to comfort.
It’s a strange and marvelous and terrible world all at once, isn’t it? And yet I confess I am grateful to be experiencing the world’s valour and villainy from a distance. Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes—author of Women Who Run with Wolves—posted on her fb page yesterday that, in these unsettling times, we need to breathe, to return to our center, to see even just the tiniest piece of nature—either in the night or day sky, or in the fields or forests, or waters where you live. She said to go outside without concern with what will happen in 10 minutes or 10 days or 10 years.
That’s where your center lies, she said.
And maybe, I thought, as I walked on my way today, it’s not self-indulgent, or silly to be concerned with the plight of a stand of wild flowers, scheduled for destruction. Maybe, just maybe, that’s where hope can be found: when, in the midst of such turbulent times for humans and our concerns, we can cry over the rows of wild flowers cut down too soon, even as we reach with hope to their resurrection on another day.