Seeking Light in Darkness

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I went to bed in disbelief and woke up in tears, my fight or flight response on high alert. At about 4 p.m. yesterday before any election returns were in, it occurred to me that I hadn’t even considered the possibility that Donald Trump could be our next president. Perhaps that is because I live in the progressive “Portland bubble.” Perhaps that is because all of the polls and pundits predicted a Clinton victory. Perhaps that is because I just couldn’t fathom this country would elect a misogynistic, racist, xenophobic megalomaniac over a calm, experienced, intelligent and highly qualified, albeit flawed, woman.

As I sat with my anger, frustration and utter sadness this morning, I recognized that what I am experiencing is grief. And not because my preferred candidate lost the election, but because America lost. By electing Donald Trump, we have validated sexually demeaning language and predatory actions towards women. We have sanctioned barricading ourselves from the rest of the world. We have endorsed bullying as a means to get what you want. We have countenanced blatant racism and anti-semitism.

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Seeking light in the darkness, I took to the trail this morning. I needed to surround myself with beauty, to immerse myself in calm. I hiked six and a half miles through Forest Park, in awe of the forest as it prepares itself for winter. The fall forest forces you to pay attention. Its allure rests in the sound of a raven’s wings, the stark contrast of bright green moss on a brown trunk, pearly white snowberries clinging to a leafless twig.

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My grief weighs heavy on me this evening, and I still feel caught between fight and flight. But for a brief moment today, in the forest, I was free.

Tonight I will gather with friends and family, to grieve together, to find strength in our bonds, to hug them tight and re-affirm our commitment to support each other in the dark days ahead.

 

 

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Categories: Friends, Hiking | Tags: , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

A Walk in the Wild

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There is nothing quite like bathing in a sub-alpine lake at the end of a long hiking day, I thought to myself as I stood naked and refreshed having just shed layers of dust and sweat.

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The sun warmed me, and a cool breeze kissed my skin. Craggy Bowen Peak stood watch to the east, flanked by the ridge line we had just zig zagged, huffed and puffed our way up and over. Alpine larch trees (the northwest’s only deciduous coniferous tree) towered above me, and a tiny pika “meep”-ed from the boulder field plunging down the mountain.

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I felt another wave of contentment wash over me as I drew a breath of crisp mountain air deep into my lungs.

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For our 11th annual anniversary backpack adventure, we chose North Cascades National Park, a relative newcomer to the national park system, designated only in 1968 after a hard fought battle to protect its rugged landscape. (The park was further protected in 1988 when 93% of it was designated as the Stephen Mather Wilderness.) The iconic, singular peaks of the more southern Cascade Mountains give way to jagged ridgelines and dozens of glaciated peaks here.

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Although much of our 35-mile loop hike was in the shade of grand old growth ponderosa pine, douglas fir, larch, sub-alpine fir, western white pine, and Engleman spruce forests, we were treated to breathtaking views that spread across entire watersheds on a daily basis. Gunmetal grey peaks rising from unbroken forest, topped with massive glaciated ice fields. Clear, cold streams tumbling down rock faces or cutting their way through wildflower meadows.

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Nowhere else do I feel quite as happy and serene as I do when I am miles from a road or a town. There is something so pleasingly (and perhaps deceptively) simple about a walk in the wild. In the backcountry, there are no “shoulds” and there are very few musts: food, water, warmth, and shelter. That’s about it. There is something about wide open spaces that allows me to open myself to the present moment. By shedding the “shoulds” I am able to embrace whatever is in front of me, right now, without getting bogged down with the chatter that usually fills my brain. And by focussing on the present, I can rest in my heart rather than my head. For me, self-reliance breeds contentment.

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We didn’t have any encounters with big wildlife on this trip (although we did get a good look at an American marten that sat in the middle of the trail before darting off into the forest) and we missed the peak of the wildflowers (but with some notable blooms, including the somewhat rare monkshood, one of my favorites).

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Yet, I wasn’t in the least bit disappointed because I got to spend another wonderful anniversary with the love of my life where I am my best self, in the wild.

Categories: Hiking, National Parks, North Cascades National Park | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

All Good Things Must Come to an End

Ronda Rainbow

The last few weeks of our gap year adventure were quite the whirlwind. Alex and I were reunited in Fisterra, Spain where we spent a few days in total relaxation at a beachside hotel with perfect sunset views.

Sunset over Fisterra

Although we had a rental car, it sat idle for three days. I just couldn’t not walk. So we explored the peninsula on foot, sinking our toes in the warm sand, climbing the hills for panoramic ocean views, strolling into town for provisions.

We shared Beltane with fellow pilgrims at Albergue Sol y Luna, where I last laid my weary pilgrim head. The owners and volunteers prepared a beautiful feast, followed by singing around a fire, where we ceremonially shed our burdens and set our intentions for the new season by burning pieces of paper that contained words representing that which we desired to leave behind and that which we intended to carry forward.

Beltaine in Finisterra

Before our year away, I wasn’t really one for ceremony, but I’ve come to appreciate the importance and power of ritual over the last year.

Sufficiently rested, we then headed off for a road trip through Portugal and southern Spain. Sitting in the car that first day felt incredibly surreal. I hadn’t traveled any faster than the speed of feet in over a month and here we were cruising down the highway at 120 km per hour. To my great surprise, it only took a couple days before traveling this way felt entirely normal.

Highlights of our road trip included sipping port in Porto…

Port Tasting - Vinologia Porto

Real Campanhia Velha

Exploring castles in Sintra…

Pena Palace - Sintra

Pena Palace - Sintra

Quinta de Regaleira - Sintra

Birding (and finding hoopoes) in Doñana National Park…

La Donaña National Park

La Donaña National Park

La Donaña National Park

Touring the souk in Tangier…

Tangier Doorway

Moroccan Dates

Exploring the white hill towns of Andalucía…

Grazalema, Spain

Puenta Nueva - Ronda, Spain

We ended the road trip with one night in Madrid where I got to meet Sparkle Goat, and Alex got to play tour guide, showing off his favorite parts of the city.

Sparkle Goat!

We spent our last two days in Paris where we did our best not to sink our entire trip budget in 48 hours – dang that city is expensive!

Musee D'Orsay

And then the long flight home via Iceland where we made the most of our 8-hour layover by soaking at the municipal thermal pools.

We’ve been back in Portland for a little over a week where we have spent our days and evenings re-connecting with family and friends. Thus far, the experience feels a bit odd, like we are visitors in our own city. We suspect that once we move back into our own house in a few days, we will feel more settled and at home here. I can’t wait to cook my first meal in our own kitchen, snuggle up to our sweet kitty on our own couch and enjoy a fire in the backyard of our own little urban oasis.

I must admit that although there were certainly times during our travels that I ached to come home, when the time came, I didn’t feel entirely ready. There were obviously things I missed about home. Yet, I had become accustomed to life on the road: the joy of exploration, the anticipation of the unknown. And there is so much of the world yet to explore.

George Keeps Up on Current Events in Spain

For now, we have to shift our focus a bit. Portland is an amazing city, surrounded by beautiful, wild places with endless opportunities for exploration and discovery. We just need to make time for the experiences. Captivating encounters await us!

Spain Bird List: monk parakeet, rock dove, eurasian collared dove, european magpie, european starling^, white stork, blue tit, european goldfinch, black kite, european robin, eurasian blackbird^, blackcap, white wagtail, black redstart, crested lark, cirl bunting, winter wren, sardinian warbler, great tit, great crested grebe, eurasian coot, european stone chat, atlantic canary, black shouldered kite, yellowhammer^, common firecrest, eurasian nuthutch, house martin, song thrush^, jackdaw, common raven^, european greenfinch, corn bunting, collared flycatcher, northern wheatear, barred warbler, linnet, european green woodpecker, great bustard, eurasian jay, rock bunting, red-legged partridge, pied avocet, european bee eater, long-tailed tit, barn swallow^, azure winged magpie, golden oriole, little grebe, feruginous duck, common waxbill, purple gallinule^, hoopoe, spotless starling, crested tit

Categories: birds, Camino de Santiago, Iceland, Paris, Portugal, Spain | Tags: , , , | 5 Comments

Reflections from the End of the Earth

Finisterra

A few years ago I saw the movie Adventureland, a forgettable teen rom-com, that nevertheless stuck with me. I left the theater in tears. For me, the movie perfectly captured the bliss of youthful freedom, those amazing high school summers when I had no responsibility and the world was my oyster. I mourned the loss of my youth that day, realizing that I would never again experience that same freedom and fun, first kisses and fast friendships.

Ciprian, me, Quinton and Charlie in Cathedral Square - Santiago

I walked the last 90 kilometers (56 miles) of the Camino to Finisterre in two days. I felt strong and full of energy, and the miles just flew by.

My first glimpse of the ocean from a rise in the trail is a moment I will never forget. A I gazed out at the water, tears began streaming down my face: tears of joy at the realization that what I felt on the Camino was as close as I could remember to that lost feeling of youthful freedom and tears of sadness that this experience was coming to an end.

Finisterra

Finisterra

Yet, I also know that my time on the Camino was far more powerful than anything I could have experienced in my bygone youth. With age, comes wisdom, strength, and a sense of self that we nuture over time. My walk was nothing short of transformational, in large part because I experienced it at this time and this place in my life. I connected with myself in a way that I never have before, relishing time alone with my own thoughts, my own wonderful self. And I connected with other people in a way that I never have before, meaningfully but in such a short time.

The generosity of spirit, thought, time and kindness shown by the incredible people I met along the way, for others they barely knew, is unparalleled in my life. I will forever cherish my time with each and every one of them, whether it was just for a meal or for days spent walking, talking, and laughing.

Sunset over Finisterra

Several days into my walk I told Alex that I didn’t understand why people walk the Camino over and over again. Now I do. What I experienced on the Camino is unlike anything I have experienced anywhere else in the world. The friendship, community, support, and selflessness of fellow pilgrims just doesn’t reveal itself in everyday life like it does on the Camino. I am going to miss it dearly.

Finisterra

Finisterra

Now the work begins to figure out how to manifest the transformation I feel, to maintain this feeling of  joy and my connection to myself and others in the “real world.” I guess the journey isn’t really over.

Finisterra

 

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Day 29: Salceda to Santiago de Compostela

I was awake at 4 a.m., too excited to sleep. (My “don’t worry I don’t snore” snoring roommate didn’t help.) I laid in bed for two hours trying to coax my body back into slumber and then listening to music on my iphone until it was a respectable hour to get up and walk. At 6 a.m., I couldn’t wait any longer. I quietly and mostly in the dark, so as not to wake my roommate, got dressed and packed my backpack.

By 6:45, I was ready to go. Dawn was just beginning to light the blue-black sky. The moon was bright, only a couple days past full, and a few stars were visible as I set out.

I walked in silence until it was light enough that I didn’t feel I needed all my senses for safety. Then I popped in the earbuds and put my Prince collection on shuffle. I had 29 kilometers (about 18 miles) to go to Santiago de Compostela. I was hoping to get there in time for the Pilgrim’s Mass at noon in the cathedral. I had to push to make it and I knew the music would give me a little extra speed.

Last morning sunrise

For the last few days, the number of pilgrims on the trail had increased significantly. Many started in Sarria, the last major town before the 100-kilometer mark, the distance required to receive your Compostela in Santiago. Another long-distance pilgrim from Denmark had labeled them “tourist pilgrims.” But this morning, there were no pilgrims in sight for the first two hours, a welcome change.

On the road to Santiago

The sun shone brightly in the cloudless sky, the first such sky in a month of walking. I relished the warmth and the light, walking in just my t-shirt for only the second time in 29 days.

Lavacolla

Nearing Santiago

I thought that my mind would be full, processing the last four weeks, my long journey from France. But it was surprisingly easy to turn it off, let the music envelope me and just walk. And walk. And walk. That last 29 km felt like 100, especially the last two after I entered the city of Santiago and wound my way towards the Cathedral.

I caught a glimpse of one of the Cathedral towers from blocks away between the tall city buildings. I let out a little laugh and a huge grin spread across my face. By this time, it was just after noon and I sped up a little. I was so close.

First glimpse of the Cathdral in Santiago

I made it there by 12:15, and luckily it only took me a few minutes to stash my backpack at the luggage office across the plaza. I entered the Cathedral to a crush of people, the most people I had been in contact with in weeks. An older man I had walked with the last few hundred meters was waiting in a large line, but said he didn’t know what the line was for. I investigated and determined that the line was to enter the large, gilted crypt of St. James. So we exited the line and walked past it to the nave where the mass was still in progress. The Botafumeiro, the world’s largest incense burner, which historically was used to fumigate and cover the smell of the unwashed pilgrims, hung from the center dome, just above and in front of the priests.

Catedral de Santiago

Catedral de Santiago

Any and all available seats were full; people stood five or more deep surrounding the pews. I noticed a security guard letting some people with pilgrim credentials through the ropes to get closer. I showed mine and did the same. My feet and legs were aching, so I took the only seat I could find on the stone base of a huge pillar. This blocked my view of the priests and altar, but I didn’t care. I sat down and started to cry.

I was actually surprised by how little emotion I felt entering the city, which is when I realized that, for me, this pilgrimage was about the journey, more than the destination. But once I rested at the base of that pillar, I was overcome with emotion, with gratitude, with joy.

After communion was given, I noticed that the priests had moved the podium back, and there was a lot of chattering among the crowd. I got excited. The Botafumeiro isn’t used everyday any more, primarily on holy days or if a large enough donation is made. Six men in dark robes, walked to the center of the nave, holding a large rope with six smaller ropes dangling from it. The Botafumeiro began to smoke and they began to yank the rope with their whole body, up and down, up and down, as the Botafumeiro began to swing, only slightly at first and then higher and higher, until it was nearly horizontal at either end of its arc.

It was definitely one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen inside a church! The crowd was electric with excitement. One of the priests even had his smartphone out taking a video.

Botafumeiro at the Catedral de Santiago

After the mass, I went back out into the bright sunshine-y day. I saw a few other pilgrims I had met along the way, including Jeff from Milwaukie who enveloped me in a big bear hug. Finally, I made my way to the Pilgrim’s Office to get my Compostela, the certificate of completion of my journey. It is beautiful and a lovely commemoration of my accomplishment, but it pales in comparison to the beautiful people I have met and country I have just crossed.

My Compostela

After a rest day in Santiago, my journey will actually continue the final 90 km to Finesterre (“end of the earth”) at the coast where Alex will join me. I look forward to those final three days, the time to process this experience before re-entering “the real world.” And I can’t wait to sit on the beach and watch the sun go down over the Atlantic.

Catedral - Santiago de Compostela

Catedral - Santiago de Compostela

Today I walked 18 miles.

Categories: Camino de Santiago, Spain | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Days 26, 27, 28: A Balsa to Salceda

Sarria

Prince died. I know this is probably not news to any of you at this point, but I’m three days behind in my blog posts, and it hit me hard. I found out via text from Alex at the end of my rest day in A Balsa.

Day 27: Vilacha to Casnova Mato

I was with a few other pilgrims: two from Spain, one from Germany and one from Romania. I left out an audible gasp when I got the text and everyone asked what was wrong. When I told them, I got blank stares, no reaction (I had to explain who he was to the two Spaniards), which made it sting all the more. At that moment, I wanted so desperately to be with my friends, to turn up his music as loud as possible and dance my butt off, to celebrate his amazing talent and what his music meant to me. For the first time in months, I wanted to be home.

Day 26: A Balsa to Vilacha

I can remember loving Prince since I was very young. I used to turn up the car stereo whenever “1999” would come on. I recorded “Pop Life” from the radio on my first ever mix tape in seventh grade. My first dance with Alex at our wedding was to “Adore.” And luckily, I got to experience one of his amazing live performances, the night before my Contracts exam my first year of law school. I got an A.

That night I went to my bed, put in my ear buds and listened to “The Beautiful Ones,” my favorite of his songs, and smiled, grateful for all the memories, all the fun his music has brought to my life.

Ancient Chestnut tree near Sarria

The next morning, I woke up to an email from my mother-in-law saying that their cat, Boris, had died. I was a wreck. Boris’ death dredged up memories of losing my own cat, Caspian, at the end of 2014. I was sitting at the breakfast table with people who were basically strangers, trying to hold back tears, unable to let out the emotions inside. I desperately wanted my own space to cry, to grieve. I wanted my husband. I wanted my own bed. I wanted my cat to curl up with and make me feel better. But I had to walk.

Day 28: Casanova Mato to Salceda

Luckily, I had my new friend Chip to walk with that day and for the next two days after. Being with someone, talking and walking, helped take my mind off things and made me feel better. The sun shone brightly on us that day, followed by rain the next, and then sun again.

Ciprian and the pink guitar - Sarria

It is the most concentrated social time I’ve had on the whole Camino, but it came at the perfect time, and I am grateful to him for making me laugh and making the time and distance fly by.

Cheese Plate in Arzua

Melide

Ruined Casa

Tomorrow I arrive in Santiago de Compostela!

Sarria

Day 26: Today I walked 23 miles.

Day 27: Today I walked 21.7 miles.

Day 28: Today I walked 22 miles.

Categories: Camino de Santiago, Spain | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Day 25: Triacastela to A Balsa

Pilgrim Statue - El Beso

There is a saying on the Camino: “The Way has a way.”

I left my albergue later than normal, feeling a bit tired after such a long day yesterday. I hadn’t planned to walk that far, but the day was beautiful and when I got to my intended destination, I decided to walk to the next town. Unfortunately, the albergue was closed there, so I had to walk even farther, and before I knew it, I had walked 40 kilometers.

I also hadn’t planned to take a rest day today. But The Way has a way. I stopped after just 2 kilometers this morning to have breakfast in an ecological albergue that a friend had told me about. The old farmhouse was cozy and clearly renovated with an attention to its enviromental footprint.

Albergue El Beso

It was heated via a wood fire under a large metal drum filled with volcanic rock, highly efficient. The ceiling was insulated with cork, held in place with crushed metal cans. Seedlings rested in repurposed wooden crates waiting to be transplanted to the organic garden. As I sat enjoying my piece of apple torta (yes, I ate cake for breakfast), I decided to stay.

I took a walk with Jeff, a volunteer from South Africa who has lived all over the world. He has spent the last month in this tiny little village of 15 people and is hoping to make it his permanent home. He took me up the hill on the other side of the valley, where we enjoyed picturesque views of the town I had come from this morning.

View of Triacastela

We explored a ruined church that a local tried to buy from the Catholic church in order to renovate it, but was denied.

Ruined church near A Balsa

I enjoyed lunch with Jeff and another volunteer, Kai, as well as the couple who bought and renovated this place four years ago, Marijn and Jessica, who met on their own pilgrimage and decided to open an ecological albergue.

I walked down to the creek and around each of the few buildings still standing in the village.

A Balsa

It was fun to explore at my leisure and without a pack on my back. I sat next to the heater most of the day, gazing out at the sylvan scene through the old leaded glass windows, petting Joanne the cat, chatting, rejuvenating.

Joanne the Cat - El Beso Albergue

The day was restful and peaceful, and I enjoyed every minute of the break.

A Balsa

Today I walked 3 miles.

Categories: Camino de Santiago, Spain | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

Day 24: Trabadelo to Triacastela

Day 24: Trabadelo to Triacastela

A couple of nights ago, I had dinner with two pilgrims from my albergue, Michael from Ireland and Caroline from Germany. Before our food came, Michael asked if I was vegetarian. For 25 years, my answer has been an immediate “yes.” However, at that moment, it wasn’t so easy to answer.

Firewood Collectors near Trabadelo

Truth be told, I had ordered the trout on the menu because it was the only option listed as “local,” having come from the river right outside our door. After weeks of eating vegetables, eggs, and fruit that came from who knows where, but certainly not anywhere nearby, the fact that the trout was caught locally was more important to me than the fact that it was indeed a fish. Another night I ate fish soup, because despite being told a vegetarian meal was no problem, this was in fact the only option presented at the communal dinner table. Am I a vegetarian? My heart says I am, even though I have not been strict about it over the last few weeks.

Native lilies - Between Trabadelo and Triacastela

This conversation and my struggle to answer a simple question, got me thinking about labels. We use labels everyday to categorize ourselves and others. Labels are an easy way to explain yourself, to recognize whether you have something in common with someone else. But we are all unique, and it strikes me how absurd labels are in trying to communicate who you are as a person. They are certainly a useful tool. Yet, by choosing one label over another, we omit important information about ourselves.

Day 24: Trabadelo to Triacastela

So which labels to we choose? One of the first questions we usually ask or are asked when meeting someone new is “what do you do?” We know instinctively that the person is asking about our job, but our jobs are not the only thing that we do; for many, they are not the most important thing. Yet, we answer: “I’m an attorney;” “I’m a journalist;” “I’m a project manager.”

Day 24: Trabadelo to Triacastela

None of these answers fully explains what it is that we actually do 40 or more hours per week. And certainly none of these answers adequately tells another person much about us other than what we do for money. And yet we keep asking, and we keep answering, typically with a one word label.

Day 24: Trabadelo to Tricastela

The professional label is a hard one for me these days. In May, I left my law practice, not knowing whether I would return. Although I remain passionate about the subject of my work as an public interest environmental attorney, I knew back in May that sitting in front of a computer in an office everyday, just wasn’t sustainable for me.

Day 24: Trabadelo to Triacastela

I do what I do because I am passionate about the natural world, but I only get out to enjoy it maybe one day on the weekend. I think I’ve known deep down since May that I won’t be returning to my law practice, at least not anytime soon. Yet, I’ve had a hard time letting go of the attorney label. What I’ve come to realize is that there is a lot of my ego wrapped up in that label. It is a label that carries a lot of weight and prestige in the U.S. (despite the lawyer jokes). And it is a label that has defined me in some way for the last 11 years.

Letting go of that ego and that label is one of my reasons for walking the Camino.

Day 24: Trabedelo to Tricastela

I am an activist, wife, traveler, pilgrim, gardener, hiker, native plant enthusiast, reader, blogger, cat person, birder, wine lover, foodie, Oregonian … I can let go of one label. I have so many others to choose from.

Day 24: Trabadelo to Triacastela

Today I walked 24.5 miles!

Categories: Camino de Santiago, Spain | Tags: , , , , , | 4 Comments

Day 23: Ponferrada to Trabadelo

Day 23: Ponferrada to Trabadelo

You’ve heard the rhyme. Good night. Sleep tight. Don’t let the bedbugs bite.

But did you know that bedbugs are a very real threat on the Camino? I’ve seen some pretty bad bites, talked to people who had their albergue shut down the day they were leaving due to an infestation, and heard from a friend that one couple gave up after two bedbug attacks.

I was actually pretty freaked out about the bedbug thing when I started my walk, which is why I treated my backpack and sleeping bag with permethrin, and I check the mattresses regularly each night. Yet, despite my best efforts, two big bites appeared on my neck today and then two more on my face.

So I am now sitting in my dorm room in a T-shirt and boxer shorts while all my clothes, backpack, and sleeping bag are washed in hot water and dried. (The clothes I’m wearing will go in the laundry next.) I’ve gone through everything else I’m carrying (e.g. each page of my passport, each item in my first aid kit, removed my phone from its case) to make sure I didn’t have any stray hitchhikers.

It wasn’t my best day. The only bright spot was a care package I picked up at the post office along the way from my hubby (who is awesome). But it was a scenic walk. Enjoy the photos!

Day 23: Ponferrada to Trabadelo

Orchard Blossoms near Villafranca del Bierzo

Day 23: Ponferrada to Trabadelo

Day 23: Ponferrada to Trabadelo

Bud break

Care Package in Villafranca del Bierzo

Today I walked 20 miles.

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Day 22: Rabanal del Camino to Ponferrada

Descending Monte Irago

After days of walking across the flat Meseta, I was excited for the climb today to the highest point on the Camino Frances at 1515 meters (about 4,970 feet) above sea level. A thick blanket of clouds hung over the mountains this morning, obscuring any broad views of my surroundings. Fog danced and spun in the valleys ahead of me, shifting with the wind.

I started to curse myself a bit for not walking further yesterday to take advantage of the clear sky. But instead I shifted my focus to my close surroundings, appreciating the beauty I found there.

Withered leaves clung to the oak trees. A mat of lichens held fast to their trunks.

Oak Leaves on the way to Cruz del Ferro

Lichen on Oaks heading up to Cruz del Ferro

Tiny webs encircled a purple flowering shrub, and a few diminutive wild flowers poked from the ground.

Heather on the way to Cruz del Ferro

Wildflowers near the top of the Camino

My first stop was the Cruz de Ferro (Iron Cross) that sits near the top of the Monte Irago. It is a small cross attached to a large wooden pole, circled by a mound of stones, left by pilgrims over the years. Typically, you bring a rock from home, but since I haven’t been home in ten months, I brought a rock that Alex gave me from the banks of the river next to Fairy Falls in New Zealand.

Cruz del Ferro

I climbed to the top of the mound and placed my rock there, leaving behind other spiritual burdens as well.

Leaving my rock at Cruz del Ferro

I had purchased a small stone decorated by a local artist in the tienda in Rabanal del Camino the night before. That stone represents the lessons I have learned (and continue to the learn) on this journey. I will carry that stone and what it represents forward.

After reaching the high point just past the Cruz de Ferro, it’s down, down, down to the valley below. I was worried that my knees would give me trouble, but with the help of my poles, they carried me without complaint.

The clouds broke into layers as I descended the mountain. A few hung over the peaks behind me; another thick layer blanketed the valley below. But it was blue sky above me.

View towards Ponferrada

As I neared the bottom of my descent, the sun was shining brightly and wildflowers blanketed the sides of the trail.

Wildflowers on the descent from Monte Irago

Wildflowers on the descent from Monte Irago

It felt as if I had just walked out of winter and into spring.

Donativo cafe near El Acebo

Today I walked 21 miles.

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