Tag: Rhode Island

Spring Camino 14 June 2013: Wading Into The Ocean


Harvest apocalyse on the Camino

I met Dan McCarthy last Autumn – or Fall as Dan from Rhode Island would call it, when I was walking the Camino Francais. On May 6 2013 Dan left home to walk El Camino de Santiago for the tenth time. Having tried but failed to set up a blog for this landmark Camino he decided to share his journey by email. I have loved Dan’s insights and am honoured that he agreed to allow me to guest edit his entries and share them here on my Crossing Frontiers blog. Dan started on the Camino El Norte but after 7 arduous days switched back to the Camino Francais.

On 14 June 2013 just 3 days before he completes his tenth Camino Dan writes about the subtler but deeper realities of the Camino.  I too experienced the magical connections of dining with other pilgrims that Dan shares but walking the fallow land of the Meseta in Autumn after the apocalypse of harvest was quite a contrast to Dan’s rich experience of Spring growth.

Several weeks ago I was walking the marvelous, the magnificent meseta, the high plane that inserts days of quiet, flat, meditative walking into the struggles of the Pyrenees of the beginning of the Camino and those of the mountains of Leon that make up the greater part of the last third of the Camino. The Way was passing through fields of grain  that I could not identify, having for some time lost contact with Tracy the jolly Welshman and grain expert.

The grain was very fine, just a slender stalk, no leaves like the very green sprouts that support wheat, but tall and thin reeds, light green color at base but a rich blue green in their head with well formed kernels. I waded into the grain field to get a sense of the height of the grain. It was up to my chest. But standing in this  field with its dense growth, light green below, almost blue on the surface stretching for acres brought a sudden memory of wading into the ocean at Scarborough* on a bright calm day.

And I had an impulse to lower myself into this immensity as I do in the ocean. I resisted the impulse but was overcome with the sense that I have at the ocean of giving myself to something greater than I, the ocean, somehow the force of life, immense, beautiful, awesome. I felt the Camino as large, as forceful, as full of life as the ocean, as full of life as the mountains I had walked over, as the rivers who had gurgled and raced along side me as I walked the valleys, as the bird song and wild flowers that had gladdened my days. And I found that life in the pilgrims I walked with and, truth be told, in myself. I have felt alive on this Camino, strong, well, my body like a walking machine, my mind empty (nothing new there some will say) and at peace, alive!

Night before last I had the usual pilgrim cena (dinner) with people I had gotten to know along the way, Marcelo from Brazil, Deidre from New Zealand and Neil from Ireland. Neil apparently has made enough money on the Irish Tiger and kept it so that he can live 6 month a year in Ireland “to keep in touch with my roots” and live in India for 6 months ” a place where spirituality is alive, where you can always find people who take spirituality seriously”. and then he added that that Camino was like India in Europe.

One of the advantages of so many people walking is that every evening you will have several choices of which table of pilgrim to join for dinner. And so the wine will be poured and the intense conversation will begin, the day’s experience, what the Camino means to me, personal reflections on the meaning of the Camino etc, etc. And so the Camino gives life, experiences life, comes alive around the common meal, generous with wine each evening. The meal nourishes life, brings life. Pilgrims transmit life to each other.

Each of us will label this life source out of our own tradition. For Christians it will be the Spirit sent by the Lord Christ. Jesus knew what he was doing when he made wine the sign, the Sacrament of his sharing of life. That life is in all everywhere but more vividly available in sacred places as on the Camino de Santiago.

*Scarborough State Beach is in Narrangansett, Rhode Island, USA

You can contact Dan directly on daniel_m_02921@yahoo.com

Spring Camino 16 May 2013: Expect The Unexpected

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The scallop shell tells you are on track for the Camino

I met Dan McCarthy last Autumn – or Fall as Dan from Rhode Island would call it when I was walking the Camino Francais.  Dan invited me to join him for cena, the evening meal, in Puenta La Reina.  A two-bottle wine evening during which I discovered that Dan was an ex missionary priest and that at the age of 78 he was walking his 9th Camino.  A spiritual journeyer of substantial mettle and consistent will Dan slowly moved ahead of me over the coming days but by the magic of email he snuck me little gems of useful guidance from ‘the albergue in Ventosa is delightful, welcomes with Mozart and wakes us with Gregorian chant and Vivaldi‘ to ‘I always get the bus from Mansilla das Mulas to Leon. I think it costs 2 or 3 euros‘.

On May 6 2013 he left home to walk El Camino de Santiago for the tenth time.  The difference this time is that Dan is going to have a go at the less well known El Norte along the Atlantic coast.  Having tried but failed to set up a blog for this landmark Camino he decided to share his journey by email.  I have loved Dan’s insights and am honoured that he agreed to allow me to guest edit his entries and share them here on my Crossing Frontiers blog.

Dan’s daughter, Kirstin made for him, when she was about 15, an awesome photo album make up of pictures taken of her up to about the age of ten with one or both of her parents.  That album, given as a Christmas present, inspired him in a brave move to chose the Expect The Unexpected as the theme of this Camino.  In his words:

She titled each entry with enigmatic sayings taken from a book we had of pictures of Buddhist practices and sayings the practice implied. The book was A Monks Bowl, portraying that monks live on what is put in their bowl in alms each day.  One picture shows me holding a 3 or 4 month old Kirstin, obviously diapered. We are gazing adoringly at each other. The title she chose was “expect the unexpected!” Typical of  Zen, this has any number of meanings. I chose that title as the theme of  this Camino.

I wanted a new experience and it has been unexpected:
I expected the route to be poorly marked. It is well marked.
I expected few people to be walking. The hostels are full to over flowing.
I expected it to be difficult. Difficult imagined is worlds away from difficult experienced.

I walked 70 miles in 7 days, a rate much less than earlier Caminos.  This is a much more mountainous region as the guide books warn. Every day there are several long strenuous climb ups followed by steep treacherous descents. The trails are poorly maintained and turn to terrifying mud slides when it rains as it did 3 of the 7 days I walked the Camino del  Norte. Yesterday, after I fell 5 times trying to get down a particularly difficult area I decided to bid farewell and return to the Camino I know.

There were lots of positives to these 7 days: many interesting people, a stop in Gernika, but by far the highlight was the 6 hrs I spent in the Guggenheim. It  was truly one of the most exciting museum experiences I have had. There are not a lot of master pieces there. They do have a great i.e. tragic holocaust display especially the Vichy government’s part in it.  But the building itself is the master piece.

He finishes up – I am tapping this out on the little screen of my “smart” phone,  not made for my stiff 78 yr old fingers and as announces he is heading to Logrono by bus to walk a more reasonable way he wishes us ULTREYA a funny little Spanish word that originates from the Latin to mean onward! It has all the punch of capitals and an exclamation mark.

You can contact Dan directly on daniel_m_02921@yahoo.com