October 25: 22km
It was 8am when we left, and still dark: the morning thick with fog and only Venus shining through in the eastern sky and the Tábara church tower illuminated on the muddy outskirts of the pueblo. I’m five minutes ahead of the mob who I can hear but not see. I’m walking well enough but my shin hurts. Last night I finally chose a different tactic because wishful thinking has run its course. During the afternoon I sat in the bar of the little hotel where we were staying with my leg up and ice on it. It’s a hard life, I thought, drinking my chamomile tea with anis.
The morning around me gets light so gradually, so softly, all around a big dense grey that has light breathed into it so gently. I have a clear feeling like being a hamster on a wheel, in that it seems like I’m walking on the spot and the featureless landscape around me is slowly moving past. It was like, yes! There’s only NOW. This moment, this posture, these thoughts, this attitude. I can’t wait until I arrive there for it to be different. There is no there. Pay attention!
Then I got fuddled in my head anyway. Stupid insipid melodies are going through me in time with my steps, over and over when I just want to be quiet. They are like bad major key songs from a musical. So I stopped and made an arrow out of yellow poplar leaves which are covering the path. Inside I’m still swinging from pole to pole with no steady centre. Prayed for grace and then a car comes and smooshes around most of the leaves of the arrow! So I’m belly laughing now and then a bird is laughing and all is well. I kept walking for a bit, softer now, and discovered that the fog had draped all the spiders’ threads in silver drops. As soon as I was looking, suddenly the whole landscape was full of spider webs so perfect, so flawless, they must have been only a few minutes old. Webs shining silver against the muted browns of dead thistles and leaf litter.
As I was photographing some of them in wonder and happiness, up comes smiley eyes Tony the surfer from Manchester and I didn’t know it, but it was the beginning of our day together. For the rest of the walk we were in and out of talking, sometimes walking side by side and sometimes apart. It was a wonderful and touching time of sharing. Some of the things we talked about were ash and rowan trees, the fact that elm wood has the most beautiful grain, reading nature and the signs of nature, watching the weather instead of the weather report, about our mums both reading to us a lot when we were young and what worlds this opens up. About side-stepping the ‘machine’ of society like by oh yeah, doing a pilgrimage of 1000km for instance and where does the power really lie? We shared chocolate, trail mix, a bit of banana. It was a really great day.
* * *
Here in Santa Croya we are a very happy bunch in one of the best ‘albergue turisticos’ of the Camino, Casa Anita. It’s Letizia and I, Tony, Michael, Tomas from Warsaw who likes Almodóvar films but not mushrooms, Sidonia from Austria who writes a guide book of the albergues of the Vía de la Plata and walks it every year to keep it up to date. Renato too, and Rudy from Zurich who is ‘jubilado’ which means ‘retired’ in Spanish, and what an excellent way of putting it.
Around the pueblo are monoculture plantations of poplar trees. They have bad juju and I don’t trust the artificial forest that has no understorey and is planted in lines. They are turning bright yellow and gold but it makes me uneasy. Give me the muted greens, the grey and acorn brown of the natural plants of this region.
In the afternoon Rudy and I walk a couple of kms across the beautiful Tera river to Santa Marta where there is a Romanesque church from the XII century. It has a statue of Santiago on the outside that is famous for being one of the first depicting him as a pilgrim. Pictures of this statue adorn guide book covers and way markers and make the poor guy look like a mad sailor with crazy eyes. But in the flesh he is much softer and a strong and humble figure of blessing. I got to sing in the church thanks to the wonderful Celestina, honorary hospitalera. Oh joy.
Buen Camino peregrinos todos,