November 8, 42km
It was a day to leave together: Letizia, Lucy, Alberto and Renato in the cool and misty morning crossing the final stretch of ground before the ocean. Within a km or so Alberto and I in step began the descent into a river valley and all on the path are glassy dark green stones the kind of which I have never seen except for the last time I passed this way eleven years ago. It is a strong place. Alberto is telling me about the ‘Meigas’ or wise women / witches in Gallega tradition and how like in Ireland, the Little People are an acknowledged, if hidden element of the living ecology here. This morning in Green Stone valley with silver braids of fog wreathing the stands of eucalypts and oak, it is not so hard to imagine. It is a place indeed to acknowledge country and to remember the ancestors and custodians who walked these ways and nurtured and protected the life of the land here.
For me being a pilgrim is very different from other kinds of traveling because it supposes and strengthens the existence of a Way here, a trail, a line on the land. And walking that line is not an accidental or haphazard activity, but rather a purposeful one. One’s steps contribute to it and also give cultural and symbolic power to this Way. Unlike simply visiting a sacred place, which can be more of a consumptive activity, making a pilgrimage adds to its power, contributes to and strengthens its reality. This is maybe why we’re invited not to take photos in churches. And why the term ‘religious tourism’ leaves just a bit of a sour taste in the mouth. Mine anyway. It’s not that everyone must walk to Santiago. Lord no. The shift is one of the heart and of intent, even though a walking journey it cannot be denied, is powerful and works its magic sometimes in spite of oneself. But I do wonder what one can give to a place that is a contribution, and how one can dwell in and receive from a place without taking from it or consuming something of it.
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Mid morning and something lovely happens. A decent crowd of pilgrims, some dozen of us, accidentally end up having a long and feastly morning tea by an old church. It’s Nuestra Señora de Neves, or Our Lady of Snows, and I don’t know why but that feels important. Chocolate, slabs of cheese, dried figs, ham wrapped in grease-proof paper, hazelnuts and Principe biscuits are handed around. New meetings happen. Photos are taken in a silent realisation that we’re nearing the end. Renato jubilantly rings the church bell and Alberto proclaims it the last day of school. For myself, I just soak up the sweetness of the moment and slip away to have a few moments of walking alone – and a quick wee behind a bush, truth be told, trying to avoid hazards of both gorse and bramble. Actually, I think ‘the end’ never really comes at the end… I mean, when is the end anyway? The real endings are secretly wrapped in perfect, unadorned, largely unrecognised moments like this one.
Not long after and there she is, the broad-busomed, glorious ocean. A heavy line of silver against black rocks and curved bays and headlands. A great still being beneath the roaring sky. Everyone does what they need to do.
We four have lunch at As Hortensias a couple of pueblos round from where we first touch at the water’s edge. The guys strip off for their swim but it’s not the right time for me. I’ll want a wild beach. For now it’s beers and Caldo Gallego and a goats cheese and broccoli salad and ice cream and coffee. And Letizia’s gone on ahead now, while we laze and eat and chat as if there weren’t another good 15km to walk. Ouff, it’s a steep first hill that we drag ourselves up at the end of Corcubión! But caffeine is a good walking companion in cool weather and Alberto and I are soon racing on laughing and talking a million miles. We’re walking, we’re walking, one hour goes by, then two, and dear me, but isn’t the sun sinking rather quickly, and we’re not there yet! And we’re going fast and just a bit faster and now we’re in Fisterra and have picked up a waiting Letizia, but it’s still about 3km to the lighthouse where we’re of course heading, to watch the sun set. Alberto and I start jogging, egging each other on as the clouds are painted in rose and orange. It seems right to have a sense of urgency right at the last! He is hopeful still but I know from the light that that sun has already slipped down below. And we run and pant and stop and run some more.
And here we are finally at the lighthouse, at the 0km way marker, facing the rippling grey clouds and a horizon cool and heavenly, the colour of cream and honey. Instead of taking a silent and significant moment of prayer (my default), Alberto grabs some tourists or pilgrims and ropes them into doing a photo shoot with us around the 0km marker. It’s hilarious, annoying and wonderful. He is such an artist.
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You don’t get to know what happened later on the far side of the lighthouse and L and I didn’t even know what the men did, the fratelli de luce, with their headlamps down on the dangerous edge. That was men’s business. Most of it was on the inside, anyway, pointed to the west and leaning into something new that could only be spoken and listened to there at world’s edge.
With love and thanks for being the listening into which I could share my Camino. May your own Way be blessed and rich and textured as only a simple human life can be.
Wildgoose (Amsterdam, 11.11.12)
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Possible post scripts to come.