Visions of Tineo Valley

Today I’ll just share a poem about my ascent from Tineo:


On the dusty road that clings to the mountain hill,
Hanging branches cast ambivalent shade,
And a scattershot of blinding flecks of light
Lies embedded in the dancing shadow.

So when I look out under the strobing sun,
My dazzled eyes can somehow scry
The spirit of the valley
Flickering and reforming as the light flashes.

Shimmering clouds, writhing ’round mountains
And engulfing whole hills
Look like a second flood,
With all the low places swallowed up
And valleys invisible.

The morning mist conjures dreams of fairy forests
And the old ones empowered to return
As long as the obscuring fog lingers,
As long as the rising sun allows.

I squint to make sense of the swimming shapes
And blink out the elven vision in my dawn-lit eyes:
The light-stories blur and clarify,
Until I see only a slowly waking valley.

Ahead the trail twists away,
Behind me the specter-clouds
Burn away in the daylight,
A violent shiver leaves me,
And the magic of the morning is forgotten.

travel light

Today began with a few miles through the first true forest of my walk so far. The morning was quiet and I did my best not to disturb it with any clumsy steps or kicked rocks. As the quiet gradually receded, the trail began climbing steeply, leaving the forest behind and below, and then leveled off around halfway. I stopped at a cafe in a friendly little town called La Espina for coffee and toast (and to rest my back), before continuing to Tineo, where I am staying for the night.

At this point, my feet are fine. A few blisters here and there, and there are some aches near the end of each day’s walk, but they are fine. Now my sorest parts are the muscles on my back, which ache from hauling my over-packed backpack. I tell myself that the extra weight is making me stronger, but I know that a lighter load would make for a more pleasant Camino. Realistically I could get by with about half of what I packed, or probably less.

Traveling makes me think about possessions, and I think in almost every part of my life I have too many, to the point of obstruction. If I can live out of a backpack for three weeks (or five or eight, as in the last two summers), then I really don’t need most of my things. I’ve heard someone say you shouldn’t have more than you can pack in a car, and I agree, with the stipulation that the car should be no larger than a sedan. So that is a goal for me to work toward.

I can feel how much an unused fleece or a pair of pants physically weigh me down, but I suspect that the possessions I’m not carrying on my back can weigh me down too. A famous guy once said to sell everything and follow him, and told his followers not to bring even an extra shirt when they traveled. He said something like this:

“Come, all of you who are weighed down by so many things, I’ll show you a deeper kind of rest than you’re used to. Try traveling my way, you won’t regret it. My load is easy and my pack is light.”

Or maybe I misremembered, but anyway, next time I’m packing light.

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“Life and Food”

“While here I stand, not only with the sense
Of present pleasure, but with pleasing thoughts
That in this moment there is life and food
For future years.”

These lines come from a section of Tintern Abbey that I memorized today, and they seem to speak to my experience on the Way of St. James. These hours walking, and the bright, substantial moments interspersed have the potential to inspire, teach, and sustain me in the years ahead. I hope that I will look back and feel the encouragement of a fellow pilgrim who lent me supplies, or remember the joy of a brilliant vista and smile often. At the very least I know I will benefit from the patience that the trail is teaching me, mile by mile. And so I am absorbing each moment as best I can, living into each one with the hope that I will live it again many more times after the walk is over.

I slept late today, so I didn’t start from Oviedo until after 9:30. Many pilgrims rise hours earlier, before the sun has even risen, but I still haven’t left before 8 o’clock. I’m always the last one out of the albergue. I roll out of bed and guiltily rush to get on the road, but a constant refrain in my mind is “This is your Camino and no one else’s.” I stay up a little later, reading usually, or writing, and sleep later. But I still finish my walk each day.

My way is unique, there is no hurry, I will walk my own path. On the Camino the vista-pauses and the recollections and reflections matter more than pace or mileage, just as vocation, joy, and fulfillment should always trump GPA, salary (one day), and status. So with each day I find myself resting more, walking slower, and looking for “life and food” in the moments as they come.

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Mom

It’s my mom’s birthday and as I walked today I couldn’t stop thinking about how blessed I am. My mother has given so much, invested so many hours and so much money and energy in me. And more of it than I’d like to admit has been thankless, although I do try to show appreciation and gratitude. But every gift I give is already outnumbered 100 to 1–there’s nothing I could give my mother that she hasn’t already given me. She has made sure that I receive an exceptional education. She’s provided for me and all of my basic needs plus so many luxuries and “wants.” My mother has encouraged me to travel, pursue my interests, invest in my faith. Anyone with a mother like mine is extraordinarily blessed, and should tell her so. (Thanks mom, I love you.)

Celebrating my mother’s birthday leads me to think about the millions around the world without mothers, or whose mothers are severely disadvantaged. I’ve been reading a book called Half the Sky, which discusses the injustices that women live through every day, from human rights violations to abject poverty (disproportionate to men), denial of maternal health, human trafficking and sex slavery, lack of education, and the list goes on and on (and on). I wonder how we as a society, or as a world, can disrespect women this way. I won’t point fingers, because I know I’m part of the problem too. But still I have to ask–how can we treat a person who has the ability to create a human life with so little dignity? The book also discusses some solutions to the myriad crimes we have perpetrated against women, and I’d encourage anyone who reads halfway to check out the book¬†or at least spend some time thinking about these issues, and how to help.

Visual stimuli from the past few days as a reward for reading my reflections:

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Sept. 5, 2016

For most of the morning I walked along cliffs overlooking the Atlantic, but the majority of the afternoon walk was along the shoulder of a highway. I walked part of the way with an older woman from Berlin named Zabina and an Austrian PhD student named Daniella. My feet are starting to feel the miles and I’m still learning how to treat the aches and blisters. Tomorrow when they start to really ache I will switch from hiking boots to running shoes and see if that helps.
Tonight I’m staying at an albergue in Llanes, a coastal town with a population of 4,000 or so (which is big compared to most of the villages that the Camino passes through). The albergue is connected to the train station in Llanes (hence the name, “Albergue Estacion”) and there are a few older French men staying in the room with me. They and many others I’ve met harbor the typical European disdain for Americans, although they’re still kind. I suppose we Americans have earned it, but it’s annoying to already be seen as a stereotype before I’ve even introduced myself. I suppose that feeling is ~.0001% of what it’s like to experience real racism, although I would never claim to know what that is like.
Some more fun pics:

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A hodgepodge for dinner, including some of the region’s famous cider (“sidra”) which I didn’t particularly enjoy. Must be an acquired taste.

Sept 4, 2016

I walked about 16 miles total today (a lot of it back and forth in San Vicente de la Barquera, the city where I stayed last night), and about 14 on the trail. Tonight I’m staying in an albergue in Colombres, just 2 kilometers inside the Asturias region of Spain. My feet don’t feel good, but it was a beautiful day for hiking.
Every day as I walk, I plan to pray, reflect, and work on memorizing favorite pieces of literature. Right now I’m just through the first section of Tintern Abbey by Wordsworth. My creative writing professor impressed on me how enriching it can be to learn literature, especially poetry, by heart and I’ve done by best, but so far I have only a little to show for it. With all of this time in my head, I think I can memorize a good chunk before I reach Santiago.
I saw God in simple ways today through some easy, cheesy metaphors on the trail, but I’ll spare you. To put it simply, I can see that this journey will challenge me to build my perseverance, my patience, my flexibility, and hopefully some other important things too. Callouses, certainly. By Santiago I hope that I will have a deeper connection with God and a clearer understanding of my calling to love and serve people.

Enough words, here are some pretty pictures from the trail so far:

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This is one of the markers on the ground that shows me I’m not lost (yet). More often they are just spray painted yellow arrows on signs, polls, walls, etc.

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I’m mostly hiking through farmland when I’m not passing through villages or cities.

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Low tide

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High tide

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Boats

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halfway

preparing for the walk

In a few days, I will begin my pilgrimage on the Camino de Santiago in Spain. Beginning in Comillas, I will walk along the coast until I reach Oviedo. Then I will cross to the “Original Way” through the Cantabrian mountains and finish in Santiago de Compostela. If I can stay on schedule, the total distance will be around 300 miles and I will walk for 21 days. Later I’ll share more about the history of the Camino and my reasons for walking.

I’ve chosen to create this blog as a place to express my thoughts over the next few weeks and perhaps afterwards, including my term abroad in the UK. My reflections will likely include my day-to-day experiences, lessons learned along the trail, thoughts on faith and social justice, and possibly some creative writing. You are invited to be in conversation with me via halfway as I walk.

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