Daisy and I currently sit here waiting. We have another hour. We arrived early for good seating. I figured if we are going to attend mass it would be nice to have front row seats. We are in a beautiful very old Cathedral dating back several centuries, decorated with large amounts of gold ornamentation and an organ whose sound I believe will fill this space that holds one thousand people. Actually the Cathedral holds more than that, there are folks standing squished in every corner possible. Daisy and I arrived here at 10:30am. Mass begins at 12:00. We have front row seats and so do many of our Camino friends. Because, Daisy and I checked in yesterday, our names are now on the church registrar as folks who completed the compestella trail. I do not know how many people completed the trail the same day as us but the church is full of attendees and there are walkers arriving all the time. They come into the church with their packs on like Daisy and I did yesterday. Slightly overwhelmed, they sit down and they also stay for mass. It is here that we are welcomed by the church.
We sit waiting in natural light that comes through the windows located high in the stone ceilings. When mass begins, the lights go on, and the gold ornamentation in the forms of angels and Saints of all kinds glisten everywhere especially in the front partition where the priests stand. It is stunning. What I look forward to is the swinging of the burners called botafumeiro which hold 45 kg of frankincense and swings 75 meters through the air. What fun! I do not think many churches carry on with this tradition any more and it is this tradition I have come to see. The burner. Full of frankincense swinging, permeating the space with smoke and scent. A tradition adopted to keep churches “sanitary” to prevent sickness that spread all over Europe.
Yesterday, when Daisy and I arrived Santiago we were In a bit of shock. We’re here. We made it. To what? To a church? It is raining. There are pilgrims, and bikers everywhere. Pilgrims who arrived days earlier and pilgrims who arrived minutes after us. Some how I felt disconnected to the nature, the intimacy of the land and towns. I also felt a slight disconnect from the easy comrodery between pilgrims who despite language barriers and who are from many different places in the world had developed ways to communicate with one another. Despite this disconnect, I also have a feeling of relief and grief that this phase is over. The yellow arrow we have been following and the shell, symbol of a pilgrim ended at the church.
Upon entering the church yesterday, I was struck by the smell inside the Cathederal. My first thought….. ,”I also walked this pilgrimage for the trees! The trees!” How many people come to mass for sacrament and how many people come to watch and experience the botafumeiro could be contemplated. This very special and considered sacred ritual is a huge expense to the church. It is performed only on special occasions, or if it is sponsored. The cost of sponsorship is 300 euros. Why so costly? Frankincense is expensive stuff. And truth told we will be lucky to have frankincense around in twenty or thirty years from now. The best frankincense trees are being over harvested. Income is such an important need that the old systems of tending the trees are being eroded. Trees are weakening and showily dying. Growing a Frankincense tree is not easy. I have no clue as to how they would be propagated, as all the pictures of trees I have seen look as if the tree itself grows out of rock and then it is so hot, and dry I do not know how they receive moisture. I have always considered the trees of frankincense to be a miracle of life because their life span is so very long- hundreds of years and they live in such an extreme climate. These sacred trees are dying. I will be one of the many to witness this ancient custom/tradition that cloud even predate Christianity.
Mass, was beautiful. Singing in Latin and Spanish led by a nun who’s voice was so beautiful this large audience was quiet. we wanted to listen to her. That beautiful. There was the Camino welcoming following more music, the sermon, communion, more singing and the botafumeiro. Seven men in maroon velvet robes arrive. Together they operate this massive piece of shiny equipment that I guess might be real silver. They add hot coals to the frankincense already inside the burner. Smoke. The botafumeiro is hoisted into the air by the men in velvet. Together they work the rope. One of the men calls it when it is time to pull. Timing is important to keep the huge now bellowing smoke botafumeiro correctly propelled through the air that it may cascade with out fault over the heads of hundreds of people, swinging back and forth. Wow! I love it! So does Daisy and everybody around. The air is filled with the sweet scent of frankincense. This is one ritual in this church that I do not think the priests tire of. Eventually the smoke begins to recede and the botafumeiro slows down. One of the men catch the botafumeiro, lands it on the ground, gets the shovel and takes out the remains of the coals with a small shovel. He then makes his way through the crowd somewhere outside the church to release the coals. The rest of the men then hoist and tie up the botafumeiro. This all takes no time and happens in a bustling crowd of folks now exiting the church. We are complete on every level. Done. Fini. We say our last goodbyes to new friends we may never see again. We go back to our little room in the hostel and sleep. Our next task is sleeping and healing our tired feet which for me will take some time. My tendons are sore. Very sore.
Compleation. We returned to our simple little hostel with our very own beds and bathroom. Privacy we had not had in a very long time and sleep. (Essentially we sleep for several days and when we are awake we walk around town feeling a bit like a zombie from space.) We meet friends for dinner and eat the local seafood: scallops, crab, shrimp,barnacles, clams, razor clams a seafood fare. The richest food we have eaten in weeks. I could feel it pulsing into my veins. Another compleation of a kind, the feast and grand good bye of new friends. Friendship on the Camino is special because there is a way in which one has to be seen. The nature of walking and negioating language and culture, sleeping quarters and meals invites a kind of intimacy. Though we are all our own ” groups or individuals”. We learn about each other. We run into people over and over and over and check in, have a meal, a good laugh or a good cry what ever is right there. Daisy and I recently ran into some one on the last days of walking and that person remembered us from the second day on the Camino. They exclaimed, “yahoo! You made it! I remember how hard it was for your daughter and how you had to leave her at the edge of town while you found an Alburgee with room in it for the both of you. I remember how you carried her pack and she walked along side slowly making her way to the Alburgee. I/we were worried for you and have been sending you good thoughts.” I thanked them and told them their good thoughts helped because we made it. Good thoughts always help.
So what happened? Why did we make it? Daisy finally hit a wall and I her mother helped her hit it. The day before half way point on the Camino. Daisy again struggling in a very big way. I can honestly say that her mental/ emotional well being was limiting her to such a degree that I was to the point of giving up. I had already considered several times. She was not a happy cookie and so the momma that I am sat her down in a cafe after taking a taxi (our first and last taxi to the next town) and challenged her straight on, “what is the deal girl?” We talked for a very long time and I pushed Daisy to speak. She finally spoke up, pushed back against me! This was important and good! She did not like my tough mom talk and when pushing back she began to crack. She said, “yes I am limiting myself”. A very hard thing to confess. I challenged and supported her to try and articulate what she meant. She knew how her attitudes were limiting and controlling the situation on some level. She knew that I as her mother had to bend to where she was at. I could not force and would not force her on the Camino. This issue manifested here is not a new issue. It was one of the reasons I with Alan’s support and even drive to make this happen. we knew that Daisy might have to face something very difficult in herself. Her own limitations of a kind and perhaps find release. I knew Daisy had the possibility of change but I was not sure she would let herself. Daisy was not only dealing with the physical challenges and complete shift of everyday routine, this new routine expected something of her. It required that she show up powerfully. To shift is a decision only she could make. Her confession was the stepping stone of something extraordinary for herself. I think sometimes when we realize something about ourselves that is enough to invite change. This was happening. It had to if we were to continue. Funny….., during this moment in our conversation with pained voices, and a few tears, a man at a nearby table began to ask us in broken English if we need anything. anything? Do you need anything a hot chocolate, a sweet, a coffee? He then said, ” there are tears. There is no need for tears and sadness or disagreement. You are on the Camino? Yes? You do not need tears on the Camino. Everything will be better.” So sweet and kind. The man was uncomfortable with our discussion. I had really pushed Daisy. sometimes on the Camino one of Daisy’s challenges was me & I her. This was a moment that was going to make or break our continuing. The man in his empathetic understanding of the situation brought love and compassion and in his own way encouragement to stay on track. He brought magic.
From that moment, our conversation, the kind caring man, there was change in Daisy. I can’t take credit for it. It was all her. I think I would call it expansion. She expanded. She learned to deal with the painful feet at the end of a day, how to deal with blisters, how to negioate culture, food, laundry, packing gear, walking with a brighter attitude, taking in and being in the present and looking forward rather than looking back at what was lost rather than what is gained. She laughed and sang and twirled her stick rather than walking like a cripple. Literally. She allowed herself to be in the moment rather than spending her time missing her papa and brother, and pets and friends and all the happenings of friends. Daisy embraced the Camino and it took her roughly 360 kilometers to do that. We hit the halfway mark the next day on the edge of a town. Stopped at the local pharmacy for more blister supplies, the local bakery for a baguette and cheese and continued on. Later, we herd others half way stories. I guess we were not alone. I herd that a few partners had horrendous fights and others giving up. Again a few people disappeared from the trail.
It was the mud. Seriously! the mud pushed people to their limits. People were seriously injured, fell, or became sick from the weather. People like us were pushed to their edges, and then the mud and injuries….. making the choice to leave or stay and rest was dependent on the severity of injuries, health or mental health for some. Truth be told Daisy and I were pretty lucky. Yes I developed a bad cough that lasted for many weeks. But no serious injuries. We were just injured from all the walking. No twists or sprains or serious falls. Ok! We had a silly and magical tool that helped us through all that rain and thick mud! A song called Rubber Ducky. We sang rubber ducky in every tone, every beat, rasta, rock n roll, romance and love…..We laughed due to the absurdity and simplicity of this song. I thank god for this song and and the companionship of my daughter who rose to the insanity of the occasion to embrace this song. We imagined large motorized rubber ducky boats that would carry us across the mud lakes. Cool little propellers that would spew mud out the back. Rubber ducky got us through days and days, kilometers of really gross mud. In fact the news on the television showed how the rivers around Pamplona were flooding a very serious issue! Huge! Homes flooding, cars washing away. People trapped. Daisy and I walked through those rains. (We send prayers to all the people and the beautiful towns and cities being effected. We send prayers to the landscape, farm animals and pets. For protection, and wise choices and help where needed.)
We made it and fell in love with Spain, its people, culture and history. To walk the Camino is like walking through a living museum. What we consider history is still so much alive that it becomes hard to differentiate between past and present when what has been such a strong influence like the knights Templar- considered a thing of the past, is kept alive in its own way, just different. To walk through a landscape Is a very intimate act. To walk in and out of towns and cities, to see how rural landscapes merge with non rural is to understand similar differences with all of modernity and yet the differences also emerge. Cleaner. Walking out of Leon we went uphill steeply and through streets of houses built into the earth. Beautiful hobbit holes. Cities that are designed or created in the round rather than the grid in the U.S.
The intimacy of the land. Plants, rock formations, roads and paths, birds, sky and the clouds, the wind and watching it everyday in the crops washing over the wheat like waves in an ocean. The smell. And wildlife. Fox leaving scats full of cherry pits in the middle of a trail. The little mice and oddly half eaten dead rats we would see. I did not see dear, or even a track of one. Nor did I see tracks of much wildlife. (I make an effort to notice things like animal tracks) I found myself questioning the amount of wildlife that exists in a well used mostly domesticated landscape. I would say anyway, ” I know you are there animal beings. I just don’t see you, but a hearty hello to you and all your friends”.
I fell in love with the storks. They are so funny. Big slightly awkward birds who build their nests on the highest pole like structures they can find. Storks love churches to build their nests on and I at one point witnessed five stork nests on one church tower. What I loved is that these giant nests of sticks litterally became hotels for other smaller birds. a stork nest was home to sometimes Hundreds of birds. no kidding! you could watch birds comming and going to their nests inside a stork nest. Mama birds feeding their young. Birds sitting and resting And chirping wildly over some local bird gossip. so entertaining and delightful. Every stork nest we could see close up, was always a huge habitat for the smaller birds. Then the baby storks in the middle of that big stick nest, they would back there huge baby stork buts up to the edge of a nest and send their waste flying! woohoo! Never stand under a stork nest or,…. your going to get it! Meanwhile mama storks feed their young. they would open those wide beaks and baby would pick out dinner. and sometimes there would be a rumbly humm…. a song? The critic in me began to judge a town when in stork country….ok, does this town have a stork nest? Yes? A good town, lets go for a cafe con leche. Our favorite. (The coffee in Spain is excellent.) Daisy and I took a museum tour in the city of Astorga. The tour was about the Roman history and archecture of the area and archeological digs and findings of roman remains. One thing that caught my interest was that the Romans believed that the storks we’re good luck. I have to agree. Those little birds that share the storks giant nests of twigs believe it also.