Fall is settling-in here in Connecticut in its usual way, with a few summer-like days here and there just to make it interesting. But the cooler temperatures and shortening days have served to signal me back to the writing desk. It has been awhile, so there are a few things to share.
The book Into The Thin, A Pilgrimage Walk Across Northern Spain continues its birthing process. The cover design is completed, and I'm looking forward to sharing it (though I can't just yet). For now, I can only say it has exceeded any reasonable expectation I could have had, and captures the spirit of the book beautifully. I'm told the cover matter, book description, and author information are circulating among the sales folks prior to the release of advance reader copies of the book in November (publication date remains September 15, 2020). I'm awaiting the typescript proofs any time now, and there are some last minute design matters to address. In short, it's getting real.
I've been working on some new non-fiction material lately - something in the way of a long form essay. We'll see where it goes. Sometimes I wish I could work from an outline like a grownup, but this is how it comes for me. I'm grateful for that...serves to remind me that the source of the words lies somewhere beyond the synapses. Good thing too.
Poetry has made itself more present in my work lately, as the last few posts here would indicate. This seems to have been inspired by the passing of a couple of people close to me during the summer - very different circumstances indeed, but both quite significant. The following short verse came about as I was working with the aforementioned essay...
The vail falls across my eyes
A lifetime passes and then
The vail lifts and once more.
The dreamed remembers he is the dreamer.
Something to ponder perhaps. More to follow.
I first noticed it this past Saturday morning with still another full week of August remaining. Late on Friday, the humidity had lifted. Stepping out of my house into an early gray light, there was a chill riding on a breeze coming from the north, just enough to lay a fair surface ripple on the nearby lake. Nothing dramatic—maybe a little catch of something in the way of autumn—the first, if only brief, exhale of summer. The sugar maples have been showing some color at the fringes for a short time, the summer-greens of everything else just beginning to pale a bit. I reason the maples are busier trees, and so get an early rest.
This is not to imply summer is over. The clotted, humid air will return, albeit for briefer spells, the water still warm enough for a swim. The lake will stay busy a while more even as the camps close with school on the way, and I’ll continue to indulge in a few-too-many ice cream cones. Late afternoon light will still linger into evening.
I live in a place of four seasons…deep ones at that. I’m grateful for gentle transitions and the fair warning they allow. Soon enough we’ll be adding some layers, sipping on warm drinks, gathering wood, and lighting our fires as we draw closer to the next solstice. Then the world will draw down into winter and rest. Late afternoons, the light will dim and soften and break our hearts just before it leaves us to the moon-lit snow, the icy lake, the warm glow from kitchen lights. This is the real beginning of things, and the violence of early spring will remind us of that too.
So now, in late August as summer fades toward its ending, I’ll stand reminded that all of it is perfect, all of it belongs—the things that bring warmth and joy and light, and that which brings all else. Grateful for it all. Grateful for it all.
This morning at 3:00 - unedited save for one word... S.
Dearly departed we are gathered here
Always and forever
Under all the moons and stars
there ever were or will be,
in air and breath
in water and thirst
beyond time and place and matter.
Beyond what matters
and what does not.
There can never be a way
of no you
God help me,
there just is... us.
My dearest one’s voice said…
This is the day
the day I knew would come.
The day I would join you
in the fellowship of the wrecked and devastated.
The day I’d know
the wondering that will not end.
Some days will begin with blackened thick and clotted skies
until suddenly a gentle breeze blows.
And in the holy instant it lifts,
the dawn will become a wispy pink and lovely affair
fresh and new
as I join you and say,
this is the day
the day I knew would come.
The day I would join you
in the fellowship of the healed and blessed.
When I’d know
the wonder that will not end.
You said it would come along in waves like this
so sloppy and tangled and twisted.
You said it all belongs
and promised me all will be well
along the Way we now go.
We will recognize the others,
see it in their eyes
always in their eyes,
the only place left to look.
Our fellows of the
wrecked and devastated and healed and blessed,
along the Way we all now go
our hands joined always.
On a dusty ancient far-away road
And marveled at the biggest sky we'd ever seen
rimmed by mountains north, open plains south.
toward a distant unknown coast.
of what we'd find along our Way.
of being called to this
and wondered, why?
to return forever and again.
One would summon the other
and the answer would be
Forever and again and always
This past Saturday of Memorial Day weekend, I found myself in the mood for a walk – a long one. I could have gone anywhere, but given the nature of traffic on a holiday, decided to leave the car parked and remain in town. The resulting meander included some road walking beside Bantam Lake, along trails that led to a hilltop meadow with distant views of a cloud-mottled landscape, then deep into woods fully dressed in summer green. I rounded lush, deep wetlands, and passed through cool, shaded pine groves.
Mostly, I was able to be alone and in good quiet. The prayer of walking on this day was a listening prayer. That kind always seems best because its source really doesn’t need much in the way of input from me. It knows. More importantly, I don’t. In silence I can realize this at depth, chastened and humbled by what surrounds me as I move through it. Sometimes, actual answers will come from these attempted flights into stillness. At other times, there is but a vague sense that something has shifted around, and what remains is to rest in knowing all is well. Such was the case on Saturday. Rest then.
Reflecting on this as I walked, I began to consider this place in which I live; a place that allows for such wanderings on any day in any season. I first came to the northwest corner of Connecticut as a 12 year-old on a vacation, next as I ran errands for an employer the summer before leaving for service in the Navy. I remember thinking back then how much I longed to live here, but couldn’t say why. Knowing comes from the underneath of things - must have been an early lesson in that. But perhaps there was some conditioning, some softening and opening of the heart required first.
I’ve lived here for eight years now. My ninth spring is nearly behind me, the solstice coming soon. Of all the places I’ve lived, never have I loved one more. I had finally arrived here seeking refuge from a savage emotional storm of loss and change I could not yet even fully comprehend. It may, in hindsight, have been an unreasonable expectation of something so fleeting as place. The fact that it didn’t let me down has made it, at last, home. I travel from here. I return. I stray and then re-center, always here. I center in the quiet of the forest in the still air of summer, and lakeside when the ice is thick and sunrise makes it moan and rattle and echo against the hills all around. I center in the resting autumn chill when everything exhales and the colors make my heart hurt. I center in the great commotion of the wind and rain that brings on the springtime. And it was just down the road from my place that the calling to the Camino de Santiago came to me in mid-step while walking.
To be so inextricably linked to a place seems odd to me in one sense, yet in another I think I’m being shown that I am inseparable from everything. Everything.
Three years ago, I walked into the Praza de Obradoiro and turned to face the Cathedral of St. James. This last day of walking the route had started with driving rain, exactly as had the first day in the French Pyrenees. Beginnings. Endings. Curious things. The end of a very long walk - the beginning of everything else.
From Into the Thin, A pilgrimage Walk Across Northern Spain (Sept. 2020 from Homebound Publications):
...I walk into the open plaza, turn, and regard the iconic western façade of the Catedral de Santiago, the Cathedral of Saint James. It is partially covered in scaffolding, undergoing cleansing and restoration; like its tired pilgrims, a work in progress.
The Camino de Santiago is an experience of body, mind, and spirit, and these tend to correlate to sections of the route. Most pilgrims would agree that the vast Meseta, which comprises the middle 150 miles of the French Way, is the realm of the mind. Those who are young often dread its mostly flat sameness, while the older pilgrim will find it to be the perfect place to mine the experiences of a lifetime. I walked it essentially alone as was my intention. It proved to be fertile ground for remembrance and contemplation.
Here are some images along with a few sentences from Into the Thin, a Pilgrimage Walk Across Northern Spain (coming September, 2020).
...Though known for the desolation of the landscape, its perfect secret is the endless sky, big as all Montana where storms are seen from hours away and the clouds can come in so low as to be almost within reach.
...The sky is full of countless shades of textured gray with impossibly deep blue breaks between the clouds, as the rising sun lights the earth in warm tones leaving long shadows. There is something new about the air after it rains, as new as springtime, as peaceful as the fall. The colors seem deeper, the contrasts sharper, any dull finish on the world made bright again, all scrubbed and perfect.
Last evening, I silently walked on a candle-lit labyrinth. There were more than 50 of us. The air was still and felt a bit close, an early note of the summer nights to come. A harpist played from the center of the labyrinth, accompanied by a chorus of peepers from the surrounding woods. Our footsteps on the fine gravel surface of the path were the only other sounds. Silence has a way of reminding, of allowing. So too does shared movement.
From Chapter 7 of the upcoming book Into the Thin, A Pilgrimage Walk Across Northern Spain:
...No longer do I see pilgrims, I see pilgrimage; a movement toward something, a movement away, a movement of Grace. I realize in this moment I am not apart from them, or they from me. I am in no way living in opposition to them. I am them. And in the larger context of life beyond the Camino, all the competing needs and desires, all the conflicting interests, all the wounds inflicted and received, all the differences of body and thought and language and most certainly of religion, are revealed as only mistaken notions of things. Elegies of separation become expressions of compassionate oneness along this thin, magical road to Santiago. Realization loves to dance here, to be glimpsed even if only in the briefest of flashes.
Here’s to thin, magical roads. And here’s to the one of us.
Street scene in Pamplona, mustard blooms at Guendulain-just west of Pamplona, and Puente la Reina (Bridge of the Queen).