The Things I Never Dreamed Of

When I took my first writing class at the John C. Campbell Folk School, I never had the intention of becoming a published writer.  I just wanted to write down some of my family stories.  And take a week doing so at a beautiful place in the mountains of Western North Carolina.

Four years later I find myself accomplishing something I would have never predicted.  I have not only been published, but will actually get paid for things I’ve written.  I’d heard the stories of all the rejection letters one receives prior to first publication.  In February, my first writing teacher Glenda Beall helped me to get up the courage to submit my first piece. A few months letter, I got my first rejection letter.

“While you’re waiting to hear back, submit something else,” Glenda had told me.  “That way you’re always hopeful that maybe the next one will be accepted.” That was great advice.  So I submitted another piece.  That was accepted “space permitting” so I’m not sure yet if it will be published.

In the meantime, I wrote to a web site about an article I read on their site.  In the response I received, I was asked my writing background and if I’d be interested in writing something for the site.  Could this be happening?  Was I actually being solicted to write something? Indeed I was.  And today you can read that article by clicking here.

In the meantime a friend put me in touch with a web site she had written for.  “I think they’d be interested in having you blog from the Camino.”  Indeed they were.  You can find my posts for them here.

I’ve often said I think it silly to ask me where I expect to be in five years.  I always say I have no idea – because there are so many experiences out there, I’ll probably be doing something I never dreamed of.  And so it is with writing.  Five years ago I never would have predicted I’d have a blog and be a published writer.  But here I am.  Isn’t life grand?

A Down Day

Walking the Camino, like walking any other path in life,can sometimes have its “down” days. Today was one of those days. I just didn’t feel like walking anymore. I opened my pedometer to see I’d only walked 200 steps since last I checked it. The route was descending steeply and full of rocks. It took not only physical but mental energy as I had to focus on each individual step. I walked with others, but even their company didn’t help — I was just ready to be finished. For the day. Or with the Camino? I wasn’t sure.

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Learning to Walk

“The book says it’s good to walk with two walking sticks – better for your balance than just one.”  My mother sat in the chair in the corner of my bedroom reading my Camino guidebook.  As she read, I tried to organize my pack.

“I’ve only ever used one, but I guess I’ll bring both and see how it goes.”  Walking sticks are not allowed in carry-on luggage so the next day I bought a mailing tube and prepared to do something I rarely do – check something at the airport.  Twenty-two days into my Camino I can say that borrowing those (two) sticks from my friend Kate and taking them with me was one of the best decisions I’ve made.  But when I pulled them out of their tube at the Biarritz airport, I didn’t yet know that I didn’t really have a clue as to how to walk with them.

I plodded up the Pyrennees the next day appreciative of the help they offered.  But it wasn’t until my second morning on the Camino, shortly after leaving the hostel at Orisson, that Franco, an Italian I’d met the night before, showed me how to use them properly.  He moved his right hand and stick in time with his left foot, and vice versa.  I found it difficult at first – felt like I was learning to walk all over again.  I’d often stop moving all my limbs in order to start over again trying to get them all in sync.

Franco walked on ahead.  An hour later Michel came up behind me.  He walked quickly, but slowed his pace to mine.  After a half-hour of conversation in his native French, he felt he knew me well enough to ask if he could offer some advice: perhaps my sticks were a little too high for me.  He adjusted them to my height and I couldn’t believe the difference it made.

Walking down the steep path into Roncesvalles that afternoon, I met Philipp. He was young German guy who started his Camino in LePuy, France.  As I carefully pushed my sticks into the ground with each step, he cautioned me that my quads would burn tomorrow from our descent. I was surprised by this as I thought my walking sticks would help relieve some of the pressure on my quads.  Philipp didn’t have walking sticks. Thankfully, Philipp’s prediction didn’t come true.  I have yet to feel any tightness in my quads.  My Achilles, well, that’s another story…

By the next day, I realized I’d become a four-legged animal: able to walk with all of my limbs.  Today (Day 23 of my Camino) it’s second nature to pull out my sticks, adjust them to my height, and walk with them in sync with my feet.  But hardly a day passes that I don’t silently thank Kate for lending me her sticks and for Franco and Michel for teaching me how to walk with them.

Sights and Sounds

I was just two miles from my destination for the day but needed a rest.  My left foot felt every rock despite the thick soled hiking shoes I was wearing.  My body asked gently for a break, then it pleaded, and I gave in.  I tossed my walking sticks to the ground.  I dropped my pack from my shoulders.  With a thud my pack hit the dirt path, standing upright for a second and then falling over under its own weight.

I sat myself down beside my pack and pulled out the folded 8″ x 14″ folded pages I use as my journal. I wanted to capture the sounds of the Camino, what I felt, what I saw.

I listened.  Wind through wheat fields.  Birds chattering to each other.  Bees buzzing.  German conversation as two pilgrims walked by.  I heard, too,  their walking sticks hitting the ground in time with their steps.  A lone bike rider whooshed  by – I heard his tires roll through the sun-dried earthen path.

I continued to record the sights, sounds and feelings.  The sky was blue and white, nearly endless.  The sun shone bright overhead but I wore my long pants and long sleeves as the coolness of the wind prevailed  over the warmth of the sun.  Down the way I could see more pilgrims coming toward me.  Some walked alone, some in pairs.  Some used a lone walking stick, some used two or none.

A friend e-mailed me yesterday to say he was enjoying my posts thus far, but didn’t have a picture of the Camino.  He reminded me of what one of my writing group friends told me before I left: to listen, to see.  So today I went back to my journal for May 26.  On that day, I recorded the above sights and sounds and wanted to share them with you.  That was on Day 16 of my Camino.

Today is Day 22.  I am more than half-way finished.  The weather is much warmer.  Today was the first day I walked out of the hostel with just my short-sleeve shirt and shorts on.  Every day up until this point I have had at least one or two more layers over my shirt.  I wear convertible zip-off pants each day, but today was the first day I left with the pants portion already zipped off, my face, arms, and legs covered in sunscreen.

Today the sun heated the day early.  By 9:30AM my dry-wicking shirt was working full-force.  It was nearly 80 degrees – unusual even for Spain this time of year.

The path I walked today was still packed earth, but it was beside a road.  There was little breeze and no wheat fields.  In addition to birds and fellow pilgrims I could hear – and feel the slight breeze from – the few passing cars.  On occassion I walked alone, but most of the day I was in conversation with other pilgrims.  All morning I talked to Vincent, a young man from France deciding what to do next with his life.  In the afternoon, I enjoyed trading life stories with Marie.  She thanked me at the end of the day for our time together.  I repeated the thanks back to her.  We both agreed the walk on this long, hot day was made much easier thanks to the conversation with the other.

Stories abound here on the Camino, as do sights and sounds.  Thanks to you all for journeying with me:)


My Day-by-Day Spiritual Journey

At the parish hostel I stayed at in Tosantos (population: 20) we all went up to the third floor chapel after our shared meal. The hospitalerios (a volunteer who runs the hostel) led us in a prayer service that included readings, blessings, songs, and prayer in French, German, English, Spanish, and Italian (representative of the countries from which the nine of us pilgrims had come). He then had a message to share with us: The Camino is not so much about the outward physical journey as the inward journey of our hearts. He encouraged us to take this message with us along The Way. Having just passed the half-way mark on my journey along the Camino, I thought now would be a time to reflect on that inward journey.

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