Monday, April 30, 2012


Turkey Vulture headshot

I like crows.   I find everything they do, no matter how heinous, extremely interesting.  So today, as one flew low across my path as I was driving home, my eyes followed it.  I was amazed to see him slow down enough to bounce off the head of a turkey vulture roosting on a stump by the ditch.  That turkey vulture was one cool bird.  He just kind of hunched his shoulders as the crow's talons hit him and just kept  on roosting.  By then, the car was past them so I don't have any further information to help me figure out just what was going on.

It felt like a game to me; precision flying, ice-for-blood stoicism;  avian thrills and chills.Or was it a turf war over a piece of particularly choice offal in the ditch?   Did the crow wait for the car to come by for an added filip of adrenalin?

Sunday, April 29, 2012


I happened upon an old trip journal tonight from a family visit to England in 1988.  I used to write down every pub we went to, and what brands we drank.  I was also tickled by the different ways of expression on road signs.  Here are some that I wrote down.

WAY OUT--don't you just want to add, MAN! to that?, wait, that would be "Far Out, Man"....

UNSUITABLE FOR MOTORS--here you might see that on a protected lake, there it means, if you go
down here in your car, you will be very sorry, and quite possibly dead.

OLD PEOPLE CROSSING--are there any old people anymore?


DANGER  MUD ON ROAD--I want to say this one with a northern accent  MUHD ON T' ROAAHD



HEAVY PLANT CROSSING--makes me think of Triffids....

BEWARE OF TRAINS--wise advice

POSSIBLE QUEUES AHEAD--pigtails? lineups?  Neither one is particularly noteworthy.

But my two favourites were these: NO DOGS OR CHILDREN ALLOWED.  (Actually, this one was at a pub, and at the time made my blood boil--I love how dogs took precedence over children)  and



Sunday, April 22, 2012


Happy Earth Day, Everyone!  I've lived down here for nearly thirty years, but I still can't get used to seeing trilliums in bloom in April.  Where I come from they are a feature of late May in the woods.    But this year, I'm pretty sure they're early, brought on by that hot spell that had us stuffing our sweaters away in boxes,  forgetting that we'd be sure to have at least one more snowfall before winter was done with us.

This time, I'm not wrong.  My searches of the web reveal that other people, the people who actually keep track of these things in a regimented, organized way, have found them early too, a week early to be exact.  Accordingly, I have hung out my hummingbird feeder a week early too.  My youngest son tells me he has already seen two hummingbirds in two different locations.  Its easy to be fooled:  at this time of year so many small fast fliers are about; bumblebees, warblers. Its easy to tell yourself that the speed demon you caught just at the edge of your peripheral vision was one of the longed-for returnees.  But so early?  It couldn't be.  My earliest record of a male hummingbird in our yard is April 27.  Back when we lived in the Rideau Lakes area, it was more likely to be May 6 or 8.  There's no question that the seasons have shifted a bit.

Happy Earth Day?

Friday, April 13, 2012


Once a pilgrim, always a pilgrim....that's what I say!  Will I go again?  You betcha!  To Spain?  Yes, indeed, though I see there are a few choice walks in Japan and Norway too.  There are even some hikes that aren't pilgrimages that look inviting.  One thing is for certain; until my knees give out entirely, these boots are made for walkin'!


As it began, so it ended, with lots and lots of waiting.  I arrived at the bus terminal quite early, because I didn't know what the night time schedules were for buses to the terminal from downtown, and I didn't want to walk, (remembering the fiasco of earlier that day).  Eventually our bus was announced, and we descended into the smelly and chilly basement of the station to get on board.   The bus rumbled through the night.  In Arzua, we picked up a whole pile of senior citizens, dressed in their Sunday best.  One fellow in a pale yellow vee neck sweater was especially dapper.  Unlike me, they were full of beans and in high good humour; chatting.  The details are fuzzy now, but I think they got off in San Sebastian. 

I dozed a bit, waking with every stop in every little town.  Some of them I knew from the first Camino, so it was interesting to revisit them in the middle of the night. It was surprising how many people got on and off at three in the morning!  We reached Bilbao in the early morning.  I had various seat partners, but we were mostly silent.  Although my flight was not until the next morning, I was now in travel mode, and no longer interested in sightseeing,  so my experience of the city consisted of a breakfast in a beautifully appointed Art Nouveau Cafe by the theatre; one last reconnoitre of the old town, and the hailing of a cab to take me to my hotel by the airport.

I was horrified to find that the hotel had no real food.  There was a breakfast bar and vending machines with things like pasta which you could warm up in the microwave in your room.  I purchased several disgusting items with the last of my Euro-coinage, and settled in for a period of hermithood.  The plane left at the ungodly hour of 7.10 am; I was under the apprehension that I had to be there two hours ahead, and I'd forgotten how to set the alarm on my watch.  I just had to hope that my inner clock, which ran on apprehension,  would be working.

I had a long shower and used up thick soft white towels as if there was no tomorrow.  I watched Mysterios de Laura until the news came on telling of an earthquake shaking the town of Lorca in Murcia.  I watched the ancient tower of a church fall, live.  It was brutally fascinating.  But before long, I tired of the misery and turned off the set.  I watched the sky become grey and then black, and somewhere along the line, I fell asleep.

My internal alarm clock was right on schedule, and I had time for breakfast, along with the other travellers.  The first shuttle was scheduled for 6.00 am.  The airport didn't even open until then.  I guessed that the security couldn't be all that tight.  I probably could have walked it in 10 minutes, but if the doors weren't open, what was the point?  At 5.45, I was out under the portico waiting for that first shuttle.  With me were a Canadian couple from Halifax, a guy from Montreal and a Swede.  Must be something about Northern living that makes us anxious about being on time.  Eventually we were joined by some Germans and Spaniards.

When the shuttle driver showed up, the German girls rushed the line, but we beat them back.  In an uncharacteristic show of assertion, we said...Hey, not so fast, we were here first!  One of the girls whined, "But I have a flight at 7, 15!" "And so do we!" we chorused, as the French Canadian guy threw the girl's bag back out of the van.  I think we all felt a little impolite, but the Swedish guy (who came from the other end of the lake where my Great Grandma was born) assured us that we were in the right.   The  stunned shuttle driver just let it all play out.

Sure enough, there was plenty of time to get our bags sorted and even have a coffee together before they called our various flights. I was sorry to see the Swede and the Montrealer were going on a different flight  (though to the same destination), but I had a very nice chat with the Haligonians; a fish biologist and a retired teacher.

Then it was Frankfurt.  Ugh.  Lots of time spent waiting and spending money on food (which was pretty good by airport standards).  I bought a Sudoku book to pass the time.  I am very bad at Sudoku, but I didn't like the look of any of the books for actual reading.

On the Frankfurt-Ottawa leg, I sat with a scout for the Ottawa Senators.  I don't know where he was coming from but he was wearing shorts.  I knew he was a hockey player before we even spoke, because of his massively developed knees.  He was a charming, though quiet companion.  I gave him my nasty blue airline issue blanket so he could sleep.  I watched a couple of movies, True Grit and Made in Dagenham.  We had the seats by the emergency exit, so there was loads of legroom.  There was also quite a bit of turbulence.  Ugh.

Nick met me at the airport and I started babbling immediately; I haven't stopped yet.  In the parking lot, the dog greeted me with a perfunctory sniff, and lay back down in the back of the car.  In her case, absence had no effect at all apparently.  Oh, well.  I'm home safe and the dog still hates me.  All must be right with the world.

Thursday, April 12, 2012


After doing  all the necessary pilgrim tasks such as retrieving the things which I'd sent to myself from the Oficina de Correos; picking up my compostela from the Oficina de Peregrinos( I opted for the non-religious version this time)  I rapidly became a tourist.

Sitting on  a wall in the sun, soaking it up like an aged cat, made my knees feel well again.  I could have done without hearing a gaita, the Galician bagpipe, playing Amazing Grace.  Many things were the same as last time. I stayed in the same hostal,  saw the same waitstaff in the cafes; I felt almost like I belonged!

I was still  unable to see the Porta de Gloria without scaffolding.  One of these times when I'm there, it will be restored.  Until then, I'll be unable to see the full glory of  Maestro Mateo's creation.

The Palacio Gelmirez  almost made up for it.  The wonderful vaulting, which to me looked like whale vertebrae climbing into the gloom, made me wonder if this was inspiration for Gaudi's extravagant organic forms.  I loved the merry faces of the figures on the corbels --these certainly bore the touch of the master.

I tried to find things that I hadn't yet done in the city.  I made great strides towards conquering my fear of heights by going on a tour of the roof of the Cathedral.

   I walked through the Alameda in the early morning mist,

 seeing the beauty of the baroque towers for the first time.  Up close they are grey and heavy looking.    I followed that up by eating chocolate con churros for breakfast.

 That felt very decadent until I noticed the guy with the red wine for breakfast at a nearby table.  I ate fries with salsa brava (because you have to be brave to use it--hot!).  It was delicious, and I felt like it was probably the real thing because there were local police officers eating there too.

It was nice to see the odd pilgrim that I recognized.  The loving couple swayed down the plaza, laughing, oblivious to everything but each other.  Would they just get a room, already? At the second mass, I had the pleasure of seeing my Great Oregonian Women  and sharing the giddy excitement and jubilant abandon inspired by the swing of the botafumeiro and the swell of the organ.  That spectacle completed my pilgrim experience on a high note.

After that it was all about the business of getting home.  Nick was able to get me a flight that would bring me home five days early, but that meant I had to get my act in gear.   I decided to walk to the bus station to pick up a ticket back to Bilbao and my flight home;  I guess I wasn't completely at home here yet because I got hopelessly turned around, and had to take several buses to get back to familiar territory, but I was on the midnight bus to Bilbao that night.



I don't usually walk 20 km before lunch, but on this day, I woke up very early, just before 4.  Even so, my two European room-mates were already on the road.  I set off into the eucalyptus forest just as it was getting light.  These plantations of quick growing wood were started during the Franco era.  They were a bad idea for a couple of reasons.  It turned out the wood wasn't much good for building, and the species replaced the beautiful native oak forests.

There are, on the other hand, two good things about them; they are spookily atmospheric, and they smell wonderful.  Its like taking a lungful of Vicks at every step.  Invigorating.  It was a social morning.  I was soon walking with Australian Emily.  She was a special ed teacher who was wondering whether it was all worth it.  We chatted for a bit about that, and then I saw a cafe I remembered from last time, and suggested we go in for a cafe con leche.  

I'll admit it, I had an ulterior motive.  Last time, I'd been treated to my breakfast by that pack of rowdy Australians I mentioned on the day I saw the slow worm.  I saw this as a chance to pay their kindness forward.  Without telling Emily, I ordered the coffee and a piece of tarta de manzana (apple pastry) for us both, and paid for it.  It felt good to have that debt paid.

On the last leg of the journey, just before Monte de Gozo,  (the Mount of Joy), you pass through lands which belong to the Santiago airport in Lavacolla.  The last time they were a barren sand plain which had been bulldozed to make room for new runways or something.  This time, nature had done its work, and they were covered in bracken with, appropriately, native oaks growing amongst them.  That regeneration brought me tremendous joy.  What had brought me low last time was transmuted into a symbol of hope.  

At Monte de Gozo, where once, in the days before the twentieth century, the pilgrim could see the much desired spires of the cathedral, we saw groups of religious pilgrims unfurling their banners for the final push into town.  According to the stories, when the pilgrims spied the towers for the first time, they would break into a run, and the first one to Santiago was crowned King.  King of what, I wondered?

There was no running for me, but a happy companionable stride with my companera of the day.  We arrived just in time for mass!  My favourite nun was leading the singing, as always.

It was my fifth pilgrim mass.  I was sorry for Emily's sake that they didn't swing the big incense burner, the botafumeiro, but I learned from Maryanne, who had indeed made it to her goal, that except for festivals and high holy days, the censer swung every second day, and I passed that information (which proved to be true) on to Emily.

I also used the opportunity of seeing Maryanne, who was positively glowing with fervent joy, to put in my two cents worth with respect to the way she was living her life.  This is not something I do often or lightly, but I felt moved to do it, so I took a leap off the cliff of commonsense.  

The gist of the message is one which will be familiar to anyone who has seen and loved Ferris Bueller's Day Off.  Who would have thought Charlie Sheen would be anyone's spiritual guide? And yet,  the advice his character has for Ferris's sister at the end of the movie is sound; that other people's shortcomings, and whether or not they were getting away with things, was really not her concern; and that she should be living for herself.

I can't remember how Maryanne reacted at all.  It didn't matter.  I knew that it was my bounden duty to say that to her, and I felt great about it.  I don't think anything could have brought her down in that moment, in any case!


There is very little to do in Pedrouzo, or Arca do Pino, as it is also known.  Last time I went on the Camino, I had planned to stay here, and I missed it entirely.  This time, the highlight of my day was rescuing a drowning bee from the shower.

As in Arzua, there was very little left of whatever old Arca had to offer.  It seemed to be a bedroom community for Santiago, with not much of anything in the way of services; and not much to see.  I did my laundry, acted as translator for a lovely Japanese woman who wanted to express her gratitude to a Spanish pilgrim who had been kind to her and her family.  How many times had I told someone on this trip that he was a "buen hombre"?

The balcony/laundry room of the albergue hung out over the valley.  I hung out on the balcony with the drying laundry and watched swifts and butterflies swooping.  In the kitchen, groups of pilgrims were cooking lunch.  I had my standard banana and yogurt, along with some scrumptious Arzua cheese.  I felt lonely, and antsy.  I was only twenty kilometres from Santiago de Compostela now.   I had planned to stay just outside of Santiago so that I'd be sure to make it to the Cathedral in time for the pilgrim mass on the final day.  This would have made the next day quite short, and I was beginning to feel as if I was just marking time now.  I was now pretty sure I'd go all the way tomorrow, and if I happened to miss Mass on that day, there was always the next day.

The albergue was arranged in corridors.  I was in a little alcove at the end.  A Hungarian man and I had both been assigned Bed 11.  I let him have it, and took Bed 12.  He had not one word of English.  When I pointed to the darling red leather baby shoe dangling from his pack, he tried to explain that it belonged to his daughter, first, (and hilariously) by pointing at his crotch and then making a blossoming motion with his hands, and then, more decorously, by drawing a genealogical chart on a piece of scrap paper.  The confusing part about the whole thing was that he was also trying to tell me that the shoe had also once belonged to his mother or sister (though I never was sure exactly which one.).

Luckily for me, the woman with whom he was walking did speak very good English, and was good company.  She was Slovenian, but did not speak any language in common with the Hungarian.  They communicated in the universal language of smiling and pointing.  They had walked together like this for almost the whole way.  Both walked very fast, and liked to walk early and far.  She explained to me that  her favourite part of the day was the pre-dawn when they would hunt the yellow directional arrows using their headlamps.  It made it more of a challenge.

There was a young Australian girl in the bunk across from the woman. She wasn't feeling well, and seemed to be a little depressed.  We all tried to cheer her up and let her rest at the same time.  I would walk with her again the next day, but it would be almost a year later, ( in fact, just this second) when I would realize that she and my walking partner were the same person.  She had cheered up so much as to be unrecognizable!

Although I saw my Americans on my many trips up and down the long main street of the village, we didn't really get together on this day, apart from waving and smiling.  I had a solitary dinner in a bar, with one last arroz con leche. I wasn't sorry to be reaching the end; in fact, I couldn't wait to get home!  I had already worked out that there was probably an earlier flight I could get.  I rationalized that the extra cost of it would be taken up with shopping and hotels if I stayed on until my original flight took off.  I'd get on that ASAP, as soon as I got to Santiago.


Meeting Tamara reminded me of the power of visualization in healing, so on this day, I concentrated on thinking of my knees as well oiled joints in a machine.  I managed to make the first sixteen kilometres of nineteen with no pain whatsoever, and with only the left knee braced.  The result was that I made it to the day's destination in very good time.

I had a contemplative day.  I was alone for most of it, with the odd "Buen Camino"  thrown in here and there, as I met other pilgrims.  I passed through familiar places, and saw them in a new way.  Last time I'd been this way, I'd been distracted,  laughing and joking with a couple of Australians, and so this time I noticed things I hadn't seen before.  I even saw a legless lizard, a slow worm, something entirely new to me.

I passed a bit of graffiti in a tunnel going under a highway which said, in English:

We all come from the same place, we just have different maps to get home.  

This, and all those magical Virgin statues which abound here, had me thinking about what an honour and privilege it is to be the vehicle which allows a person to venture forth on one stage of that journey.

  I also found myself thinking about Maryanne, and wondering how she was getting on and what, if anything, she was learning in these last days.  I remembered the Danish woman from my last trip,  who had asked me  plaintively "when were the revelations supposed to come?" In the midst of all the logistics and pain management and tourism, when would she have the spiritual experience she'd been seeking?  Then, I had only been able to commiserate.  I didn't realize that I'd be mulling over my trip daily in a low key way, and then after a year in a more concentrated re-telling; and I didn't realize that when I did a second trip, that the process would repeat itself.  I didn't understand that having walked the Camino, there would be plenty of time for those revelations.  In fact, I'd have the rest of my days.  I'll bet she knows that now, too.

 Arthur Paul Boers, in his book, The Way is Made By Walking, has said it the best of anyone:

"The Camino works in me, step by step".  

It stays with you.  That is why, even after the walk is over, former pilgrims can say to one another, in all seriousness.  "Buen Camino!".  It sets you on a new path.   It makes you conscious of your relationship with all humans.  It creates tolerance.  It brings out generosity, both material and personal.  It fosters laughter.  It reminds you of your place in space and time.  It teaches you to go slowly, at the pace a human was meant to go.  It teaches you to value simplicity.  It reminds you of your mortality.  It does these things for everyone who walks it.  As for faith, and religion, and spirituality, each pilgrim will receive something different, depending on which map he is using to get home.


I'd been so lucky with the weather.  The rain in Spain stayed mainly off the trail when I was on it.  But in Galicia, (which any Galician will tell you is not really Spain), all weather bets were off.

I was finding it hard going on this day; the pack felt heavy; leaden like the weather.  The wet woods were beautiful though; the moisture saturating the greens to impossibly rich levels, and silvering the backs of the sodden cattle when the sun hit them.  It was still magic, but with a sense of foreboding thrown in.

After seventeen km, and no sign of the weather letting up, I decided to call it quits in Arzua.  I wasn't alone.  Here's an excerpt from an email home:  It was entitled "The Rain makes Cowards of Us All"

The albergues here in Arzua are packed, and have been since they opened at noon.  We´re all hiding from the rain, and stalking around like stiff legged cats with nothing to do.  Everyone is limping or rubbing sore muscles.  The damp weather (understatement) really takes it out of you.  I have washed my clothes, eaten a good lunch which included green beans (woohoo! Vegetables!) and am now having a Colacao ( a kind of hot chocolate) and waiting for it to be tomorrow.

  Arzua itself was nothing to write home about.  When the press of humanity got too much in the albergue, I went looking for the old town amongst the white brick monstrosities of the main street, but I found it not.  I did find the market, distinguished by the vast size of its pulpo stalls. There were two giant canvas tents full of tables full of people who were, by late afternoon, full of pulpo.   The best part of town was the street where I was staying in a converted medieval convent.    

It was here that  met yet another Canadian,  a redheaded new age gypsy, who was wandering the world in a pair of Converse knockoffs.  We chatted a bit while resting on our bunks.   Her name was Tamara, and she was following her muse, which told her that she'd be writing six books on healing. (She'd already written the first three, and had had the first one published, so I guess her muse knew what she was talking about).  Like me, she was feeling the heavy energy of the day and had  stopped early to rest.  Unlike me, (except on the downhills) she was walking the Camino in reverse.  She'd started in Santiago and was on her way over the Primitivo to Oviedo.   We shared a washing machine, and I tried to give her some of my larpeira, only to discover that she was gluten-sensitive.  In the end, she gave me some crackers she had bought, which didn't agree with her.  She had virtually no money, so I paid her for them.  I also tore out the section from my guidebook which linked Arzua with the Primitivo for her.  I wouldn't be needing it.

Internet access and food were my two greatest needs wherever I went, and today was no different.  The first bar was full of  angry looking guys in their undershirts.  Their internet had been knocked out the by thunderstorm earlier in the day so there was no incentive to stay there!  Bar Number Two had internet, but the computer keyboard was missing a few keys and the remaining ones were sticky with spilled coca-cola.  Bar Number Three had no internet, but I had a delicious lunch there.  Bar Four had internet, which was exorbitantly expensive, but pilgrims can't be choosers, so I stayed there.  On my tour, I saw a statue which expressed Galician fortitude very well; a giant lemon; and another convex mirror opportunity, which I took.

And then it was back to the room, full of German priests in their underwear, and orderly Japanese extended families, and snoring Slovenians; and then it was suppertime.

  In Bar Number Three I tried to translate the menu for a pair of German women who were highly incensed that the menu was only in Spanish and English.  If they'd been able to understand me, I could have told them that it wasn't really in English either!

 I was just settling in to decide what I would eat when the Americans arrived.   Luckily, one of them had brought her camera so I can show that menu to you.  We had quite a laugh about it.  We had quite a laugh about dinner too.  Our espagettis with tomato sauce, instead of being a riot of rich Meditteranean flavour, was bland, cut-up spaghetti in what looked like diluted tomato juice.  The fruit salad I looked forward to came from a can, and I didn't even get a cherry!  It was like a nursery dinner; except that five year olds don't usually down a bottle of Alabarino with supper.

My evening was spent re-reading my journal from start to finish, and talking to Tamara.  The night seemed to come down early because of the weather, and snoring and rustling notwithstanding, I was soon out like the lights.

Sunday, April 8, 2012


By being away last April, I missed our spring. So this year, it’s doubly exciting to me.  Today, being Easter, seemed like a good time to go and check on the progress of the Earth’s regeneration;  so I took my camera for a walkabout of the perimeter of the yard to see which brave species were leafing out and flowering.  We’re having an early spring; whether that’s due to La Nina or global warming remains to be seen.  Some things have lunged into life, while others seem to be biding their time.  Frost is the enemy of the boldest warriors; but so far, nothing appears to have paid for its impetuosity with its life.  Here are some of them:

spicy tarragon
Daffodils like Free Range Eggs
Can you spot the snake?
Bloodroot which I rescued from the bulldozers
Vinca Minor loving the heat from a lump of granite
Mmmmm, Rhubarb!

Bravest of the brave, honeysuckle.
Dependable Sorrel
Grocery Store Hyacinths that just don't quit.

Spring has sprung, I think.