The Journey Starts

It started a long time ago

It started when I began to walk up this toboggan hill in my local park, when I started to stomp around the track using my hiking poles (see them thrown down in the grass?). It started when I saw on Facebook that a friend I had met on a winter break in Mexico was walking the Camino. If she could…… It started when I found out what Gallicia was. It started when I realized I could be broken into pieces and yet be whole. It started with reading, with watching You Tube clips. It started when I booked tickets in 2020 – but Covid 19 had other ideas. All that wrangling to get my money back, that despair before a vaccination was available, all that feeling so old and hopeless crystalized my determination. Just as heat and pressure change coal into diamonds, the past two years have worked a change.

Was I really ready to walk in 2020? The world and its vagaries had other ideas. Perhaps I will be thwarted again, who knows. My days of saying “I’ve made up my mind” are done. I have learned the lesson that other people, world events, co-incidence can really throw me, bat me aside, show up “my mind” for the little thing it is. Still I’ve set another date and even booked one night’s lodging at Orisson Auberge, half way up a mountain. I don’t have a plane ticket. I don’t even have a valid passport (every day I check the mailbox and I really think I’ll get it next week) but everything will be planned around that first day’s walk in mid September.

Even when I had no real hope of getting to the Camino de Santiago in Spain, I still kept on doing my laps and climbing up the toboggan hill again and again. I’m not a sporty person and normally I hate exercise but something made me keep at this even through a Montreal winter.

I have to fight my own moral compass too. With the terrible fires and floods all over the world I considered making a vow never to fly again as a sort of personal effort to show our dear world that I respect it, that nature should be cherished. I’m not ready yet though. This might be my last big trip. After all, I am 73. “But at my back, I always hear Time’s winged chariot hurrying near.” (Andrew Marvel) I will keep on trying – but no more “I will do it!” The ego of that is better controlled.

So although the slope looks gentle and easy in the photo, I assure you it is not! Yesterday I climbed up ten times. Sometimes I come down backwards for balance and to save my knees. Sometimes I practice the zig-zag path that minimizes the jolting on the joints. The day before I loaded a back-pack and walked around the huge park close to my house. After all, one has to practice carrying weight too.

I have set my foot on the path again. I did it with that reservation for a bed at the first stop on the climb over the Pyrenees Mountains that is one of the traditional pilgrimage routes to Santiago de Compostela. Part of my discipline will be writing this blog too. I invite you to accompany me on my preparation to walk along one of the oldest pilgrimage routes in Europe.

Life from Death

I have been fortunate over the past few weeks to spend time in the Pacific Northwest on Vancouver Island. Part of my almost daily routine has been walking trails along the beach. The beach here is nothing like the bucket-and-spade golden sands we associate with summer holidays. My path often takes me down through a pine forest beside a rushing river that spills into the sea. The sea-shore is mostly large pebbles where nature’s fence of huge driftwood tree trunks and roots mark the border between land and shoreline. Over the past few days I have seen wonderful birds; a bald-headed eagle who swooped down to carry away something from between large stones on the beach, a hummingbird sucking nectar and a stunning fan-tailed kestrel hawk who flew up from a field close by.

Most of the driftwood trunks are white, scoured by rain, sea water and sun. Some are crumbling and these provide a habitat for a whole miniature world. Besides the long empty shore, the vista of snow-topped mountains and the restless water of Georgian Channel, there is a miniature world of brave little plants that find sustenance from the fallen giant trees. Here are a few of the tiny ones of the sea-side world

Blessing of the waters…..I never really understood the religious ceremony of blessing water. After all it is water that blesses us. It is us. Our sweat, our blood, our tears, mucus, saliva, our eyes, our sex, our digestion and elimination. Life is moist and blooming, full of sap and dew. Death is dry, barren, the inner desert. Here is water from the high mountain rushing to the salty sea, to temper and dilute it and in time to rise as a rain cloud to fall again on the mountain. Yes, the water blesses us and reminds us of what we are.

Oyster River

Favorite Wildflowers

One of the unexpected joys of visiting my daughter on Vancouver Island is recognizing wild flowers familiar to me from my childhood in Wales. Among the most spectacular is this golden broom. Real bluebells are growing on my daughter’s lot and this combined with holly made me stop in my tracks. The sweetest memory was evoked by these beloved daisies. It has been one looong time since I made a daisy chain. Once you know, it seems, you never forget.

On the trails of the Pacific North-West

There is something so Canadian about this notice. As I prepared for an awe-inspiring hike on the East coast of Vancouver Island this provided a chuckle. Also very Canadian but not so whimsical was the note on the trail-head notice board that zero days had elapsed since the last bear siting in the park. Since I have a visceral fear of bears it was only my even stronger stubborn streak that drove me on. A trail fringed with immensely tall and straight coniferous trees finally delivered me to aptly named Miracle Beach. The vista of snow capped mountains sitting across the Straight of Georgia on the BC mainland was literally jaw-dropping and I had to sit on a fallen titan to recover. My country, ’tis more than little me.

On the West Coast

Big Moma Tree

On Vancouver Island what strikes me as so different from my home in Montreal are the trees, the shrubs in gardens, the whole green vibe of the place. “Vibe” huh? Into this West Coast thing already! I am here visiting my daughter who has just got in under the barbed wire fence that is current Canadian real estate. If she had not bought this modest home on a little over half an acre of land when she did early this year, we agree that her chance would have been gone. The West Coast is different. The local grocery store is full of “spelt” and “kamut”, obscure cereals and organic coffee. When I bring home popcorn I am reminded that Liz does not own a microwave. I’ve only been here three days and already I’ve been introduced to a Pilates instructor and a flooring guy who showed up on a pristine vintage Harley Davidson.

I went on a hike in a coastal park the other day and came back with this picture. This is what I feel like sometimes – the old mother tree hosting younger growth. I just love the coolness and shade of this place. Off to a beach scene today where I expect to see snow-covered mountains – from the beach!

Young Lady of Spring

In the park, one hundred steps from my new home this beauty stands next to a small artificial lake. Today for the first time I saw a heron in that lake but this young tree caught my eye. I think it is a chestnut. All the flowering trees in our town are putting on their pretty dresses. White and pink they stand against the pale filigree of leaves emerging from fine branches as the sky changes from Spring blue to dark clouds. This one is like an awkward teenager, hanging down her tender leaves. I wonder if I will see one day white candles of bloom among branches that don’t look like an Ikea coat stand. She is very sweet though, no?

Good Friday for Eastern Christian Churches

I took this picture in the lane behind the little church where I sing in choir. Sometimes, like today, I am asked to read. Today it fell to me to read a piece from the prophesy of Isaiah 53:7. “As a sheep before his shearers is dumb, as a lamb to the slaughter. Just as I was reading this the picture of a big Greek party at Pascha flashed through my mind. People from long ago appeared, cooking a lamb on a spit and dancing to music, cracking red eggs and sitting out in the sunshine as Spring finally uncovered her changeable face. Pascha, like everything else is mixed up, full of the profane, the profound, the mystical and the banal.

This sight summed up Holy Friday for me. Dark, obscure, full of nature’s tears and yet holding out the most beautiful promise of blossom, color, joy.

Mother, May I Take a Step?

May I step a little closer to hope, to openness? Hey, young security guard, is it my turn yet? Yes, I’ve sanitized my hands – three times since I got off the metro and followed a guy with a cane, a middle-aged son with his mother, two friends laughing and walking a couple of meters apart. My card is ready. My list of meds is in my hand, my sleeve is rolled up to my shoulder. Nobody can see my grin. Lucky they didn’t have canned music in the Palais de Congress last night or I might have grabbed that security guard and waltzed him, tangoed him, sashayed him right around the tables manned with all sorts of people ready to jab me. Yes, you may take a step. You may take a seat and get vaccinated against Covid 19. It is your turn.

Damned Covid. It looks like those spikey balls the knights used to swing around their heads on chains, hoping to bash the enemy’s brains out. We can’t see it, yet it held us hostage for so long.

Alright now, Isobel, you’re inclined to get fanciful, to let your imagination run away with you, to pick up on some sort of giddy vibe that is not often felt in the Palais de Congress. Everyone is smiling. Well, I assume so even though their mouths are still covered by masks. There’s something about their smiley eyes though that makes me look around and watch as people nod to each other, as the first contacts take their time explaining things and tutting about what we’ve all been through. Everyone is asking me what language I speak. We’re all so polite to each other we end up speaking Montreal French/English word salad and laughing.

It smells like Spring in here. It smells like Hope. Do I dare to say it smells like a little victory in a world too full of defeat.

Before I leave a young man with dark curly hair and an French from France accent gives me an appointment for the second shot. July 1st! I squawk and joke that maybe if I slip him an envelope he’ll give me an appointment closer to today’s date. He laughs when I tell him that’s Canada Day and ask if vaccinations will be done on our National Holiday.

“We will work every day, don’t worry.” Don’t worry – advice that has been hard to imagine let alone follow over the past year – yes, a whole year! As I walk through the dark park on my way home I’m singing a little song under my mask. The navy-blue sky is decorated with small while clouds and I think about all the people who are going to get their vaccinations in the coming days, all the people who are going to turn down the worry dial. Spring is a beginning but it’s an end this year too. It’s an end that was a long time coming and that is welcome.

Welcome Home

These two darlings came to the tree outside my window today. One even hopped onto my balcony and turned his head this way and that, wondering who was so interested in him and his mate. I have been in this apartment, my new home, for eight days and I am starting to feel a little more comfortable. The arrival of these two, however, lifted my heart in a special way. I love the song of the robin in Spring. It is a sort of fluting, longing note that sounds like a yearning coming straight from the heart. Frankly, I have had enough of yearning, enough of longing and so was so happy to see these two, already set up as a pair – or so it seemed to me.

As I left my old home, where I had lived for almost twenty-two years, I noticed two dreadfully neglected flower pots. I know they had not had a drop of water all winter as they were in a stairwell leading to the back yard which I had not used at all during the snowy winter. There they sat, quite forlorn with a few withered leaves hanging down. What made me notice tiny green shoots in both pots I wonder? Without hesitation I picked them up and hauled them to the new place. They seem to be turning into tulips.

There is a hopefulness about the two beloved birds, about the neglected flower pots harbouring new life, about the tree near my balcony that will soon be full of fresh green leaves. I’m going to emerge from this long winter into something that looks like Spring too.