After the Fall

The innocent clump of thistle was the cause of my fall. The toboggan hill in the park has become my favorite training zone. I developed the habit of walking up and down as many times as I could. I go down backwards to stretch the backs of my knees. It’s good for my balance too – well, most of the time. I get in a sort of “zone” or trance when I’m doing the hills. Last Wednesday evening my trance was a little too deep. The hill is mostly rough grass or clover patches but there is this one clump of thistle right on the edge of the hill. I had been experimenting with going up and down the rough stone path at the side and for some reason was going down at the extreme edge of the hill. As I walked down backwards I stepped right into the thistle patch. I must have been a funny sight as I awoke from my trance and twisted around to try to get my footing. People look funny when they are trying to keep their balance on a hill and if the kids below who were playing soccer had only looked up they would have had a chuckle. I ended up on my rear with a bit of a bump and laughing at my predicament.

Later that evening I felt a little blue. What was I thinking? was I really going to go on this adventure, and come home unscathed? But the next day chance sent me a pick-me-up. I have a few plants on my city balcony, among them this cheerful nasturtium. I heard a faint buzz and glanced out to see a little bird. But he wasn’t sitting on a branch. No, he didn’t need a branch because he was a friendly little hummingbird who looked right at me and then flitted away. My plant only has two blooms but he had found them out and come to investigate. Something about his cheerful resourcefulness made me feel better. He wasn’t giving up. He was managing and taking care of his business.

Then today I had another lovely surprise. My flat is quite close to the big city park, Angrignon where I get out of the metro to walk home. I decided to take a path through the shady trees rather than my usual walk along a city block. No one else was on the path and suddenly a pale hawk or falcon flew up onto a branch in front of me. His solemn eyes above his hooked beak gazed down at me for quite a long time. Then I fumbled with my phone trying to take a picture and he flew off.

So, I didn’t get a shot of either bird. I won’t easily forget my encounters with them, though. I felt as if they were telling me to pick myself up and get on with things. So, I will

Look and learn

These pictures were taken after my “training” yesterday in the beautiful early evening light. I found clumps of wildflowers and noticed that some petals of the wild daisies were falling. The white flowers (help me out with a name, readers) were changing into seed pods and that chestnut trees were starting to form their prickly pods. I love the soft protection for shiny chestnuts inside these protective coverings. Not yet, not yet, I know. It is early days but all these signs mean that summer has peaked and that soon we will notice days a little shorter and other subtle signs that fall is on its way.

The park was still full of the cries of baseball players, young families out with their baby carriages and folks walking their dogs in the cooler evening air. Yes, it’s still summer, but something has turned, tilted and we are no longer in the full bloom phase.

Yesterday was the feast of St. James and there was a huge festival complete with fireworks in Santiago. I’m not much on big crowds or fireworks so I’m glad my own pilgrimage will end sometime in October when things will be cooler in all ways. As I ramp up my training, take better care of my diet and start to sort through my wardrobe (aka rags) for suitable items to take, I’m happy to embrace the reality of the changing atmosphere. Certainly, blazing hot days are not my favorite anyway and observing nature that never questions, never complains, endures, survives, I realize I have plenty to learn.

This week will be one of “ten hills” every day and checking the mailbox obsessively for my new passport. Buen Camino everyone!

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.