I’ve uploaded a higher defnition version the 21 minuite video of our pilgrimage from Arles to Toulouse in the Fall of 2019: https://youtu.be/c0_f8mQGebM
My husband and I set off on our usual 3.5 mile walk along the North Valley ditch banks.At first I was busy talking with him, since we had been working separately all day and had lots to catch up on. By the time we got to our turn-around spot overlooking the Candelaria Fields toward the Rio Grand Bosque with the volcanos beyond, I had been quiet for quite a long time.
I never tire of the view from there, where we often see cranes, geese, small birds, and sometimes coyotes or hot air balloons. It is a special, perhaps even sacred place. The ditch points straight to Vulcan, the largest volcano. I wonder for how many centuries ditches, paths, or lines of some kind have pointed from this spot to the volcano. What had this land looked like 400 and 500 years ago, before the first Spanish came?
I took some deep breaths. It had been a busy, difficult day. I raised my arms and clasped my hands over my head while focusing on Vulcan. From the corners of my eyes I saw my open hands as they rose, framing the volcano. “Maybe now we are in better hands.” I was thinking of yesterday’s inauguration. Maybe I will breathe easier. Unbidden, the song, “He’s got the whole world in his hands,” came to me, and I clapped and sang as we turned toward home.
At the Alameda Drain, I let my husband hurry ahead. I walked to the edge of the deep ditch, peered down, and was happy to see there was still a border of ice along the edge at its bottom. I spent a long time looking at the assorted trash in the ditch, thinking of the muskrat I’d seen swimming and disappearing into a hole in the bank last summer. There was no water now.
The sky was patchy with dark clouds, white clouds, and bits of blue. The elm tree behind me was already showing signs of swelling buds. Birds flitted in the trees across the street. The mourning doves called. Snow covered the distant mountains. I studied the many grasses and small shrubs that lined the ditch. I was happy and at peace. Suddenly, right in front of me, I noticed two long narrow leaves that formed the unmistakable shape of a cross. I would have taken a photo, but I’d sent my phone home with my husband. I recited “Our Father” more than once. The world was so beautiful.
As I walked a few steps toward home, a bright blue speck in the dirt caught my eye. I thought of the Virgin Mary’s cloak. I bent down to pick it up. It was a little piece of glass. What it had come from and how it had gotten there; the only piece of blue anywhere? I recited a “Hail Mary,” and recalled some of some of the many images I had seen of Mary while walking caminos in France, Spain, Italy, and Portugal. Then, I spied something purple. It was a tiny fragment of brown glass (likely from a beer bottle) that had oxidized to form a purple sheen. This, too, seemed special. A piece of trash thoughtlessly discarded along the path had become something beautiful.
I continued walking, warmed by the sun, which had broken through the clouds. I looked at the yellow fruit of the nightshade that also lined the ditch, and I picked a small stem. At the corner where the ditch meets the street, I noted a new fence and gate of golden wood, topped with a wrought-iron sun with wavy rays. As I turned onto our street, South Peak was centered at the its end, the sun hitting its top. In my mind’s eye I was transported to that also sacred place I have visited at least twice after a long hard climb. I don’t know whether I’ll get there again; not now in ice and snow for sure. As the warmth of home enveloped me, I was grateful for my pilgrim walk. The frustrations and worries of the day had faded away and I looked forward to a peaceful night.
Sunday, January 9, 2021
Inspired by a Zoom meeting with a small group from the Albuquerque Chapter of American Pilgrims on the Camino, Kent and I embarked on a small pilgrimage on Sunday afternoon. Although we usually prefer to walk in the natural areas in the bosque (woods) along the banks of the Rio Grande, I thought that an urban pilgrimage would be interesting for a change. The last few times I had been to the tiny Chapel of our Lady of Guadalupe in the Plaza Escondido in Old Town, it had been closed – probably a good thing, as in years past it had deteriorated with 24-hour access. Hoping that it would be open during the day, I chose it for our destination.
Google Maps said the chapel was about 2.2 miles from home. Years ago, I had walked along ditchbanks, crossing I-40 at Rio Grande, and then picked up a railroad track east of Rio Grande, south of the freeway. I could not see the railroad track on the map anymore, but I could see a bike path paralleling I-40 and figured we could access a way south from there.
It had snowed during the night, a bit of a novelty in Albuquerque, and as we set out clouds increased, threatening more snow. We put written prayer intentions in our pockets, snapped a selfie and repeated the morning meditation that begins, “I give thanks for the journey” as we set off on foot toward the recreational path along the Alameda drain. At the intersection with the Campbell ditch, we turned south toward Indian School, taking a slight scenic detour onto a smaller ditch that also took us to Indian School Road. Along the way we passed a cactus garden of prickly pears and chollas covered in snow and walked under a broken tree limb that hung dangerously over the path. At the intersection with Indian school, we found a grocery cart piled with the possessions of a homeless person, but there was no person in sight.
We continued on the Campbell ditch to the south., where we had an unobstructed view of the snow-shrouded Sandia Mountains. We paused here to read my first prayer of thanks for the sustaining earth and a plea for help to protect it. Across the ditch sits a lone house in the midst of empty space. It belongs to the Anaya family, whom I got to know years ago when the children were in 4-H activities and choir with my daughter. The family has been engaged in lawsuits over the property, zoning, and development. I’ve lost track of the status of these cases and have made a note to follow-up.
We saw that a chain link fence now closed off access to large vacant lots ahead of us, and that continuing farther south along the ditch would probably lead us into an area of no-return. So, we cut west sooner than we would have liked, coming out along the north side of Cut-Bow Coffee on Rio Grande Boulevard. To my surprise the coffee shop was open, with one couple waiting outside a for pick-up and another couple sitting at a colorful table along the south side of the building. I was reminded of happening upon groups of pilgrims gathered at outdoor cafes along the Camino in Spain.
Our route grew grim as we crossed through the freeway underpass, which was littered with trash and refuse that indicated a homeless encampment high up under the roadway.
On the other side, at the foot of an art installation celebrating Albuquerque’s 400th anniversary, we found another abandoned homeless grocery cart. Here, we took the bike path toward the east, passing some lovely mosaics (some with sections broken and removed). To our right a wide cut had been made through a chain link fence – an overgrown area behind it strewn with trash. Who knows how it all got there and how many people have camped there? An irrigation ditch lay beyond the fence, so we walked through the opening to reach the ditch, pleasant, with some lovely trees. We crossed a small footbridge and came out onto a street with truly lovely, creatively designed homes. Farther south at a cross street, chain link fences again blocked our way, closing off huge empty tracts of land behind buildings and warehouses.
We stopped again for prayers, and I noticed a nativity scene in a nearby yard. Farther east we reached a street that took us south to the Sawmill Market, where a few people ate at outside tables. This new development opened just as the pandemic was starting, and we have not visited it, but now of course, much is closed. We continued south past the beautifully landscaped Hotel Chaco to reach Mountain Road and the sculptures of the Albuquerque Museum. We took San Felipe south into Old Town, where to my delight, the lovely little chapel in Plaza Escondido was open. I spent more time inside than I usually do, sorry I had not brought something to leave at the altar where flowers, photos, and other offerings had been set. A Bible on the lectern was open to pages from Revelations. I took time to read some of the carved wood inscriptions on the walls. For more information about this chapel and its origins (which I had not known) see the webpage.
The clouds had cleared – there would be no more snow. Across the courtyard I noticed a shop selling “up-cycled” items – “make an offer” the sign said. We passed a “Breaking Bad” shop and continued toward the plaza, thinking that San Felipe de Neri Church might be open. It was not: but, to my great joy I discovered the dead tree with the carving of the Virgin had been placed in front of the church, part of its roots and all. For years the carving in the dying and dead tree had survived in a parking lot behind the church, where only those who knew to look could see it. I had shown this secret treasure, as well as the hidden chapel, to many people many times. On a recent visit I was sad to discover that the tree was gone. Even today, I looked with longing at the pile of dirt left where the tree had once stood. But here it was! The lost had been found, my pilgrimage rewarded. There must be a story about how this carving came to be, and how it was rescued.
Since publishing this I discovered another blog post about the “Madonna in the Tree:”
We headed toward home along Rio Grande rather than backtrack to the small neighborhoods and bike path. I would not choose that return again as it seemed long and noisy, but there was one interesting sight: large Camino 66 signs at the place that had once been Rowland’s Nursery. We again passed the abandoned cart near the historic marker. Now a young woman with a sign, probably asking for a ride, stood at the freeway exit, her belongings spread beside her. She did not look at us, but at her phone. As fellow pedestrians, I suppose we had nothing to offer her.
We were relieved to be back on the ditch again, where I noticed a memorial we had somehow missed on the way south. During our brief pilgrimage, we had seen much to contemplate, both lovely and sad. We don’t need to cross an ocean to walk a pilgrimage.
My phone said we walked 12,953 steps, or 4.8-5.7 miles depending on who is counting.
Inspired by reading Dianne Homan’s Walk Your Own Camino and a recent hike close to home.
The Physical Camino
September 24, 2020
Yesterday Kent and I took a walk in the Sandia Mountains on a trail I always thought of as moderate, although it goes steadily up for a couple of miles, and the switchbacks start to seem endless before the trail reaches a lovely flat spot where we once camped. From this place, where a large long-fallen log provides a place to sit, one can choose to continue up on the South Crest Trail which winds around and if followed far enough will lead over 20 miles to the north end of the mountains; or one can take, a bit to the right, the CCC trail, an unmarked, unmaintained (although none of these trails seem to have had any maintenance in the 20 years I’ve been walking them) trail that is much shorter than the Crest Trail, but heads straight up the mountain, providing a real test of stamina and, especially on the way down, a challenge to the knees. A third choice, the Upper Faulty Trail goes right and north, passes through some lovely stands of Ponderosas and makes fairly gentle ups and downs across some small arroyos and through pleasant open woods, eventually intersecting with the Lower Faulty Trail, which can be taken farther north or back to the Lower Crest Trail, meeting it below the switchbacks, a quarter-mile or so above the travertine falls. There are a couple of steep descents on the Lower Faulty, the worst one on loose scree that descends precipitously to the junction with the Crest Trail. That was the route we chose, and it was at that last descent that I panicked.
I was already very hot and tired and my knees, feet and even my hip joints were beginning to hurt. I was terrified of slipping because there was nothing to stop a long slide to the bottom, so I braced myself with my poles, testing them each time I planted them, hoping they would not slip, and that my feet would not slip when I placed each foot carefully in what I hoped was the next safe spot. I was so hot on the sunny slope that my eyes began to burn from the salty sweat that ran into them. My shirt and shorts were also damp. Why had I not brought my bandana, that could have doubled as a face mask and kept the sweat out of my eyes, or at least wiped it from my face? The face mask hung uselessly from my wrist, as there were no other people on the trail, and I was so hot. My lips were dry, but happily I found a chap-stick in my waist pack. My water was almost gone. When I finally reached the end of the descent I was shaking and lightheaded, so we paused for a while in the shade. We had another mile or so to go to the parking lot. The trail was rough with irregular rocks, requiring careful attention to the placement of each step. At the travertine falls there is a short-cut with another steep descent in full sun – this one not so slippery, and not so long, but I was terrified going down, all the same.
By the time I reached the shady rock at the bottom where Kent waited for me, I felt terrible. Shaky and hot, I took off the hat that was stuck to my damp head. My hair was wet and stiff with salt. I panted, felt lightheaded, and suddenly nauseous. We had only a tiny bit of water left. I drank most of it and wanted more. We sat there for a very long time, watching the birds (Red-breasted Nuthatches, Stellar’s Jays, a Townsend’s Solitaire) flitting through the trees and visiting the slight the trickle of water in one small section of the dry travertine. A gorgeous Abert’s squirrel, his light tail waving and his black ears erect, scampered up the rough stone. I leaned forward and rested my head on my hands on my poles, wondering how I’d gotten so out-of-shape and so old that this trail was so hard. After what seemed like a long time, I started to feel better, took deep breaths, stood up and slowly continued the rest of the way to the parking lot without feeling worse. There was an unopened bottle of water in the car, and although it was as warm as hot tea, I gulped down half of the bottle. When we got home, Kent made a pitcher of lemonade and I downed 3 huge glasses. I looked up my symptoms on the internet and read about heat exhaustion caused by dehydration and overheating during strenuous exercise. Next time, I will take extra water, some electrolyte tablets, and my bandana. According to my phone we walked just over 6 miles in about 5 hours, although the trail guide gives the distance as closer to 4.5 miles.
I thought about moments on the Camino, when I faced similar challenges and moments of despair. The most recent Camino from Arles to Toulouse just one year ago had many steep ups and downs, often very rocky. Steep descents in loose rock are my least favorite parts of any walk, and there were many on this route. I remember standing at the top of a hill, seeing the village we were heading for a heart-sinking distance below, and wondering how I would ever manage to get down. My despair was deepened by the fact that the last sign had said it was only 4 km to the village, leading me to think the day’s journey would soon be over. I was not expecting two km of precipitous descent.
During these times of physical trial on the Camino and on other walks, I often wonder why I am doing this. Perhaps because it feels so good when I stop? But I think there are other reasons. I am testing myself and my endurance, and I’m putting myself in the position of many walkers who are walking now and who have walked in the past who have had no choice, whose way Is hard, life-threatening and challenging. I remember walking through endless mud on my first Camino, ten years ago, thinking I was paying for my sins. If our Caminos were just “walks in the park” we would have no stories to tell, and no challenges to test ourselves and make us strong. We experience humility and awareness of our human frailty, which I hope brings us closer to all life and to God.
17 March 2020
Grief: For the world transformed by the coronavirus pandemic, grief for the world we didn’t think we’d lose so suddenly, and perhaps irretrievably. I grieve for the loss of my freedom to travel, to visit friends and family, to live as I please. I grieve for the people of the world who are much more impacted than I have been so far: for those who are ill, those who have lost their incomes, and their loved ones. For Those who cannot, as our president admonishes us, “enjoy your living room.”
Yet, as I walked the ditch banks this afternoon, I thought of my life as a pilgrim, and how the pilgrim learns to accept whatever happens – learns that there are things that can be controlled and those that cannot. The hardy group of American Pilgrims on the Camino who gathered last weekend on the shores of spectacular Lake Tahoe, adapted to ever-changing circumstances as news of the pandemic and subsequent regulations assailed us. Travel to Europe was suspended, the Spanish Camino de Santiago closed and all pilgrims ordered to return to their homes, while a series of ever-bigger snowstorms caused many, including me, to depart from Lake Tahoe before the end of the Gathering, when a break in the snowfall presented an opportunity to cross the mountain passes.
So, here I sit, home now for twenty-four hours, thinking of all this as I listen to a recording of the great John McCormack singing Irish songs I’ve known and loved since my youth. They are melancholy, as the lovers are parted by distance and death. I’ve put on my shamrock necklace, even though I am not Irish, despite a hint of Celtic in my DNA. But I have children who are one quarter Irish, and my first husband Ed had an Irish twinkle in his eye and a lilt in his voice that perhaps came from his mother, Ellen Mildred Courtney.
My intention for this Saint Patrick’s Day was to celebrate with my daughter Psyche, her husband Saad, and my two adorable grandchildren, ages almost three and almost four months. But, alas, San Franciscans are “sheltering in place,” and to visit seemed foolhardy, if not impossible. I long to be with them, because despite my lack of Irish heritage, the days surrounding Saint Patrick’s Day are important ones that are associated with momentous turning points in my life.
In 1973, in Tucson, Arizona, I celebrated completing my comprehensive exams for a master’s degree in English literature by throwing a party for which my mother made Cornish pasties and I baked a cake which I decorated with a picture of Saint Patrick driving the snakes from Ireland. A reference librarian searched at length for details or an image of this legend, which we never found. I begged her to stop looking; and was embarrassed to tell her it was only to decorate a cake – not for some serious research project. Only after I became a reference librarian myself did I understand how librarians love the thrill and challenge of such searches and don’t want to to quit even when their patrons say, “Enough.”
Just four years later, on March 16, 1997, I first laid eyes on Ed Philips during my very first meeting of a Unitarian singles group in State College, Pennsylvania. We had a brief conversation, but there was something about him that caused me to write in my diary that very evening, “If God wants me to marry Ed Philips, so be it.” We were married on May 29 that same year, which was both of our birthdays, eighteen year apart.
In my kitchen hangs a beautifully framed group of photos. An inscriptions reads: Paquimé, near Casas Grandes, Chihuahua, Mexico, visited by Linnea Hendrickson, Helen Williamson, Jeanne Howard, and Ross Burkhardt, March 17, 1999.
The day before we departed on this trip, we found a puddle of oil under my car in Jeanne’s driveway. Helen and I stayed an extra night in Las Cruces, so the car could be repaired. We had had a celebratory traditional Saint Patrick’s Day dinner with Jeanne and Ross and assorted family the previous day, topped off with Irish coffee. Now, as Helen and I drove alone across the remote, windswept roads of northern Chihuahua, we sang lustily along with John McCormack, a poignant memory, now that Jeanne (friend, adventurer, and trip and party organizer like me) is gone, and Helen (the first person I called upon Ed’s death) speaks to me no more.
Almost three years after Ed’s passing in June 2007, it was time to fulfill the vow I’d made while he was dying, to walk the Camino de Santiago de Compostela. I was planning to walk in September, starting somewhere in Spain, depending how far I thought I could walk in three or four weeks. But in February 2010, I began reading Conrad Rudolph’s Pilgrimage to the End of the World, which filled me with a burning desire to walk from Le-Puy-en-Velay, in France, a distance more than twice as far as I’d intended to walk.
At a Christmas Eve party in 2009 – another event organized by Jeanne – I had met Kent, the “typewriter man.” In February, he had driven all the way from Las Cruces to Albuquerque, and I’d guided him to the junk stores and antique shops to look for typewriters. We had continued to correspond via email. Then in March, I decided it was time I hosted, as I often had with Ed, a Saint Patrick’s Day dinner, with corned beef, cabbage, Irish songs I had printed so everyone could sing, and even a Saint Patrick’s Day trivia quiz. As I assembled my guest list the ratio of men and women was unbalanced. Why not invite Kent? He could always say no. I sweetened the invitation by suggesting he spend the night and we go hiking the following day. I was still pondering whether I could possibly fit in a walk starting in France in April and May, before I had to be home for events in June and July.
Kent came, and that evening everyone had to leave the dinner party early, leaving the two of us alone by eight p.m. What to do with an evening stretching before us? We visited, then went to bed in our separate rooms, to be ready to arise early to hike. We took two cars, leaving one at the Embudo trailhead and another at Three-Gun-Spring. It was a fairly strenuous hike up over the pass that connected the two trails. I was testing myself, my new boots, pack, and hiking poles. Could I really take off to walk in France? That hike decided it – three weeks later I was walking alone in France, and writing to Kent (on computers with French keyboards that had z’s where the a’s should be).
That afternoon after our walk, we sat in my backyard eating leftover plum cobbler before he headed back to Las Cruces. He looked around the large yard and said, “I really l like your place.” It was so comfortable and companionable having him there, my heart gave a little leap, and I felt, “I think he belongs here.”
It would be another year before he came to stay, but that Saint Patrick’s Day was a turning point, and the beginning of a new beginning.
So now, after our ditch walk, and be-decked with shamrock necklaces, we are about to sit down, not to corned beef and cabbage and cobbler, alas, and without the company of friends, but to bacon-lettuce-and-tomato sandwiches, still happy to have each other in this broken world.
We were walking in the woods along the canal, then minutes later were on a shiny metro train jammed with people, and suddenly found ourselves in the middle of bustling Toulouse, where less than an hour before we’d been in a place with no shops, restaurants, or restrooms! Culture shock! We’d emerged into the 21st century!
With increasing wind and black clouds, we left the Canal du Midi perhaps 6 km short of the last lock (Bayard) near the Toulouse train station. We had walked much of that route last year, and were ready to be done.
Our Hotel Wilson Square is basic, but comfortable, and our room has windows on two sides. The staff at the Réception has been friendly and helpful.
After cleaning up and putting on clean clothes, we headed to the Basilica Saint Sernin to pay our respects and get a final stamp on our credentials from the Pilgrim Office. While there we encountered Jean from our gite in Saint Gervais, who had arrived yesterday.
We toured the crypt, which we must have done last year, with its series of altars, tombs, and relics which I found curious and without meaning to me, although I knelt at the one dedicated to St. Jacques Major, “our Jimmy” as our friend Margaret Brasuel calls him. I also was happy to see the statue of my pilgrimage companion St. Roch in one dark corner, with a single candle at his feet.
We sat together in silence (not everyone coming and going in that huge Romanesque basilica was silent) for a very long time. I had a lot to think about, not least about the history of the organized church, and what it had to do with my experience of the divine (quite little) and with what Jesus taught and meant — I somehow don’t think he had grand buildings and relics of saints or wealth and political power in mind. But it was an impressive space where worshippers had gathered and carried out traditions for over 1000 years, and I felt and honored the presence of those traditions.
We walked down the Rue du Taur, taking a quick look inside l’Eglise de Notre Dame, and sat in the expensive Le Florida cafe on the impressive square facing the Capitolium, where we decided on small coffees accompanied by “boules” of ice cream to celebrate our arrival.
We later walked to the Garonne to wait for the sunset, which was pretty much swallowed up by low clouds. We had dinner at Aloy Thai across the street from the hotel, and we couldn’t stay awake any longer.
A word about the last day’s walking. We followed a hilly path from Ayguesvives to Montigiscard, and then rejoined the Canal. We enjoyed seeing a few boats, and passed two or three locks, none of which had toilets or drinking water. A lockside cafe was closed up tight, whether for the season or because it was Monday there was no indication. We stopped there, sat at one of many tables and chairs, and ate the sandwiches we’d carried for a day and a half.
Just after that last (Castanet) lock we had to detour to the other side of the canal, where we took a rough path eventually past many boats that seemed to be permanent dwellings— not posh — more like the trailer camp we’d come upon much earlier on the walk. Later we saw abandoned boats, covered in autumn leaves.
There were many runners and cyclists, and few bushes to hide behind for a bush toilet.
At last, after skirting a yacht basin and high rise complex of dwellings, which had a couple of closed businesses, including a pizza place, we reached a small path to the Metro station. The Toulouse map we’d received at the tourist office in Port Lauragais enabled us to find this unsigned path.
Suddenly, our Camino came to an end. A kind man pulling a suitcase helped us buy our tickets from the machine, and showed us where to get off on the Metro map. Even as our Camino was ending, the kindness of strangers continued.
Our hotel was just steps from the Jean Jaurès Métro stop, as we made our rather dazed way to the hotel door, assaulted by the noise and numbers of people and vehicles, Burger King, and food shops and restaurants lining the streets, all open and busy. Such a shock after the quiet and deserted Canal.
Tuesday, October 15, 2019
Today, we slept in until after 8am, found coffee and croissants at a very busy Starbucks, made a few other stops, and had lunch at the Imperiale upstairs from the Marche Victor Hugo (where i delighted in looking at all the displays of food).
The lunch (cassoulet for me) was more food than I could eat. We returned to the hotel for a nap, then paid a long visit to the tomb of St. Thomas Aquinas at the Dominican Couvent des Jacobins, a place dear to my heart that I’d first visited with Ed in 1999. We spent at least 45 minutes in that lovely, quiet, soaring space that is now enhanced by an art installation of colored lights that I did not find intrusive.
This evening we enjoyed a picnic from the grocery store in our room.
Tomorrow, late morning, we catch our train to Barcelona.
We said good-bye to Isabelle, set out on the way back to the Chemin as she directed, but ended up at the the Cathar Fort, instead, which was quite moving. Many men, women and children chose to be burned to death here in 1211, rather than to renounce their faith.
When we reached the Rigole, not by shortcut, we soon saw the German sisters, who had left after us, ahead of us.
We encountered them later, as they took a break, then lost sight of them as we took a shorter alternate route, which involved about 6 km of gentle, but numerous and sometimes long ups and downs on small roads in sometimes heavy wind.
At last we joined the main Chemin at Montferrand, part-way up a hill where we stopped to eat the ham and bread sandwiches Isabelle had provided for us. We then descended to join the Canal du Midi, at the Écluse or Lock de Ocean, where we watched a boat pass through.
I was excited to reach this historic canal, which we would follow for the remainder of our walk into Toulouse.
However, as we rose from our bench at Montferrand, I felt a sharp pain in the metatarsal arch of my left foot, and could only hobble very slowly.
I took off my boot at the lock, and massaged and wiggled the foot and toes, which helped somewhat. We ended up following Google maps to the Relais FastHotel, which turned to take us a very long way around to the left by road. We looked down on a tangle of roads and parking lots, all designed for cars and trucks, of course. We were separated from the hotel, which we couldn’t see well, by a loose fence , a ditch, and a lot of brush, so we had no choice but to keep walking in a long loop to a driveway far past the hotel, into which we finally made our way, with me limping quite badly.
The hotel was fine, with a basic small room with bath. We managed to stay awake after showers and explore the area a bit. There was a helpful tourist office with a shop selling all kinds of delectable local produce, none of which we could carry, of course.
We later had a nice dinner in the Dinee Restaurant.
I took Ibuprofen to ease the pain in my foot and left knee. Fortunately, all felt much better in the morning, and except for a twinge now and the, the foot was good, although the left knee grew more painful as the day wore on.
The first half of the walk was truly enjoyable, as we made our way from lock to lock along the tree-lined path beside the water. We encountered a few walkers, many cyclists, some rowers,a few larger boats, and many mallard ducks.
By noon we’d reached the lock near Gardouch, which didn’t even appear on our MiamMiamDoDo map. A large restaurant right near this busy intersection was closed until ‘printemps 2020,” but a pizza place would soon be open half a km away in the town center.
We had a lovely lunch at Pizza Gauloise, after which increasing fierce wind picked up. It was after 4 pm by the time we’d finally followed our way via helpful signs to the Gite Saint Jacques in a remote corner of Ayguesvives the end of a 20 plus km day.
We learned we’d been erroneously informed that there would be no store open that Sunday afternoon, but in fact there was! However, we had soup packets to use up, and bread and croissants from the bakery in Gardouch, plus sandwiches we’d purchased the night before.
The German sisters were also at the gite, and we enjoyed visiting with them as we added hot water to our soup packets, and they prepared a nice-looking meal of squash, onions, and walnuts they found in the woods.
They, too, will be in Toulouse tomorrow. Meanwhile, foot feels OK, but left knee still hurts.
I hope a good night’s rest will make all better for tomorrow, our last day of walking!
Of note: there are occasional public restrooms and drinking water at the locks on the canal.
I just received an email from my friend Roz informing me of the death of the wonderful author-illustrator Mordecai Gerstein whose The Man who walked Between the Towers received the Caldecott award from one of the committees on which I had served.
On This weekend of walking I thought much about long-time friend Karen Nystrom, whose memorial service I was missing, as well as the many folks I pray for as I walk.
It’s hard to believe we will finish this Chemin tomorrow in lovely Toulouse on our 23rd day of walking.
We stood in the chill beautiful morning yesterday at the bus stop on the highway at the entrance to En-Calcat Abbey in Dourgne. Five-minutes after the appointed time, we were relieved to see the big beautiful bus round the bend and pull up beside us. We settled back into plush seats, our packs beside us, and gazed out the window as beautiful hills, fields and charming villages flashed by. Time had speeded up. Twenty minutes later we were again on our feet in Revel, trying to figure out where we were.
We purchased a sandwich and two chocolate croissants at one shop, then picked up the red and white marks, heading to the path along La Rigole, a curvy small canal built to feed water into the Canal du Midi.
A young student helped us find the right direction to the town center, where we delighted in the old covered market, and were overwhelmed by finding a boulangerie, café or shop at every turn, all open!
We followed the Rigole all day, until we turned off to Les Casses, where for over a km we climbed upward on a country road to reach our night’s destination Isabelle Bosc’s La Passeur-Elle.
The ruins of a Cathar Fort loomed above one side of the road.
The walk along the Rigole was pleasant and uneventful. It was difficult to get photos with the stark contrast between sunlight, shadow, and reflecting light on water.
At one point the canal bordered a field divided by a double row of plane trees. As we sat on adjoining rocks for a break, a beautiful fox ran across the row of trees. The first we’d seen—probably the first in the wild I’d ever seen.
We stopped briefly at a restaurant just before a small lake, where we were in time to get salad and a beer before
Closing, and were informed it was just three km to Isabelle’s place.
Isabelle was warm and welcoming. A pilgrim herself, she knew just what pilgrims needed. There was a sort of « mud room » downstairs, with benches, where we left our packs. There was an adjacent toilet and shower, and next door an « atelier » or workshop, with a small kitchen, a fridge with some beer and other drinks, and a comfy couch.
Upstairs in an airy room were 4 single beds with bright yellow sheets. There was a toilet with small sink down the hall, and a little room with a chair, desk, and Compostelle posters and information, along with the « Livre d’Or » or guest book. We had dinner that night with Isabelle and her mother-in-law « Bonne Mama » and Bonne Mama’s husband. Two German sisters,very young, shared our room, but cooked separately in the kitchen.
We were able to wash a few clothes, which dried quickly in fierce wind and sun.
We had intermittent strong gusts of wind that came from the southeast as we walked, sometimes almost blowing us over.
All and all it was a pleasant day in which everything went as planned, with no unhappy surprises. We are definitely out of the mountains now, in farming country, but the little villages nevertheless lack shops of any kind.
First, we woke from a comfy sleep in our big bed to find rain pouring down on the glass roof over the stairway. So, we took our time getting ready and tidying up the gite.
The rain had let up by the time we headed out the door about 8:45. I decided we should take the road to Noailhac, mostly to avoid what looked unnecessary hills, but also to save time and avoid wet, muddy trails.
We tried out the coin-operated bread dispensing machine along our route through Noailhac, putting in 1 Euro and receiving in exchange a perfectly fine pain au chocolate, which we stuck under Kent’s pack cover to share later.
Before we exited Noailhac, the rain returned in full force. We decided to take another road shortcut.
We passed an amazing chateau, and then as we neared its second gate I spied an enormous spread of lavender and white flowers covering the grass within the gates. I thought at first they were crocuses, but they are not. Does anyone know what they are?
A while later, as we sat on a stone bench beside the road to eat our croissant, a man wearing nice leather hiking boots ambled by, and spoke to us in English.
We asked about the possibility of catching a bus from a nearby town. He wasn’t sure of bus schedules, but pointed out another road on our map that would get us to Castres without highway walking.
We debated briefly. The sky seemed lighter, so we took the suggested road, which had a few significant climbs. Perhaps an hour had passed, and the gentleman appeared in his car. Would we like a lift to Castres? Yes, please!
In perhaps 15 minutes, we were speeding along a major highway lined with big box stores, the likes of which we hadn’t seen on the entire trip.
Alain, it turned his name was, drove us into the town center to the tourist office, which for some « special reason » was closed for the day. « We are sure you’ll understand, » or something to that effect, it said in French. Sure! I told Alain he was a Camino angel,and that we would find our way from there. We had him call Madeleine, with whom we thought we had beds reserved, and again got no answer.
We thanked him, and headed into the Eglise to consider our options. Lunch at a nice restaurant, since the Goya Museum and most businesses were closed for lunch. O Victoria was right around the corner. We feasted on an appetizer of canard in pastry, a main entry of poulet with a broccoli sauce, and a dessert of pear tarte, finished off with small coffees.
With the help of Google maps, we made our way to Madeleine’s address, and anxiously waited for an answer to the doorbell, which was long in coming. Ah! A noise within, and a beaming, small, white-haired woman welcomed us in.
Our accommodation was in a large attic divided into 2 or 3 sections, low-ceilinged, with cushioning on the beams between the sections to soften head-bumping.
Madeleine did not speak English, so I did my best with French, and with both of us using translation helps, we managed. It was very good for me—I later told her that if I stayed longer, I’d soon be much better at French.
We spent the next hour or more sitting at her kitchen table, lining up places to stay for the next nights—something I’d hoped the tourist office could do. It turned out my Friday booking was going to be too far for us to walk at well-over 30 km — not too far for some, but for us, yes.
So, instead of changing the reservation, she pulled out a bus schedule that will take us a bit over 15 km in 20 minutes, saving us about four hours of walking.
By the time we’d finished, we had only an hour before the Goya Museum closed. It was a 20 minute walk, so by the time we got there, we had only half an hour to spend, but we paid our entry fee and enjoyed the too short visit.
On the way back, we passed a flower shop. We were going to buy some fresh flowers, but the young woman in the shop was constructing a beautiful arrangement of dried flowers. I asked for another like it, which she made, wrapped in red paper and tied with a bow.
Madeleine was a pilgrim herself, and had walked from her home to Santiago in 2005—I suspect after the death of her Italian husband.
She had invited us to have dinner with her. She kept bringing out one dish after another, each of which we thought would be the main course. There was a casserole made with cabbage, potatoes and cheese, which would have been enough. She wasn’t sure we understood choux, but I remembered the song from a beginning French class, and soon we were both hilariously singing, “Savez vous planter Les choux?”
The bed in the attic room was a bit short for Kent and small for the 2 of us, but I slept OK after awhile. Kent not so well.
I was truly sorry to say good-bye to Madeleine, who wanted to send us off with even more food, after a breakfast with toast, butter, jam, and pain au chocolat—more than I could eat, so we went off with part of a croissant and pieces of pear tart, as we’ll as sandwiches we hadn’t eaten the day before.
She wanted 15 Euros each for bed and said dinner was “donativo”— we insisted she take 70, which she didn’t want to accept, but was only slightly more than we’d been paying for so much less.
There was lots of road-walking, some hills, and a few interesting small villages. We ate lunch in a bus shelter at an intersection of country roads.
We were in farming country now. No longer in the mountain forests. We reached the peaceful Oasis of En Calcat via a couple of other nerve-wracking highways. We were warmly welcomed, and have spent a pleasant evening, enjoying our simple room with its own bath, a vespers service, and silent dinner with other guests.
Walking on the outskirts of Castres had us going along the edges of some busy roads—not at all pleasant, although there were some lovely corners of quietness, including one with another house with yard full of those wonderful flowers. This time I got a closer look.
There were two other pilgrims, a couple from Vancouver, Canada, but we barely had time to talk with them.
I was also able to book our train tickets to Barcelona and one last hotel for the walk. We have yet to decide on our last two nights in Toulouse.
Four more days of walking, at least three of them mostly along canals—no more big hills!
Anglès was good to us. We started the day with a lively discussion with Paul about the area, its history and changes. For the first morning in several days we started out in glorious sunshine. The green moss in the forests glowed.
We took a short cut on a forest road cutting a km or two from the walk. There were ups and downs, a few rough spots where the dirt tracks had eroded, but nothing too challenging, although the long descent into the ravine just before Boissezon shook my faith that we were on the right path. But, lo! The village , which was sizeable, did finally appear, both below and above us through the trees.
Again, we had the gite, which was extensive, and even had a room with stuffed chairs and a sofa, entirely to ourselves. First time I’d sat in an easy chair or sofa since leaving my daughter’s home in San Francisco three weeks ago!
Who would climb that hill to get to church, I wondered? The back part of the building looked like a fortress. What a strange and beautiful town! The major street through seemed to be a truck thoroughfare, rather terrifying after days on quiet paths and roads. I would think that the traffic would have a negative impact on the village. No grocery, no cafe, but a gleaming butcher shop and a pharmacy with orthopedic supplies in the window were open. We found the closed Auberge Trois Mousquitaires where we would later pick up our plateaus of dinner.
We walked past the gite, with its purple shutters and Via Tolosana mosaic sign on the wall as we entered town, but headed to the Mairie to check in. Agnès met us back at the gite, stamped our credential and showed us around. They’d arranged a room with its own lavatory and shower, and a huge bed with fluffy white sheets and duvet for us. What a treat!
We had time to explore the town, walked past the open, but empty art galleries, up to the locked church. There was a number to call to visit the church posted in the gite, but we had not called.
The dinners were almost more than we could eat, and came with wine— we’d brought my water bottle intending to ask if we could purchase a bit of wine, but it wasn’t necessary.
We were passed by just one pilgrim today, a Parisian who was walking all the way to Castres. The temperature did grow warm by afternoon, compared to yesterday when I walked all day in my fleece. There was no wind, and a pond was beautiful with reflections.
There were quite a few smooth dirt roads, easy enough to lend themselves to contemplation.
I stood on top of one hill, thinking, «Be still, and know that I am God, » and I felt great peace and a good kind of emptiness, no longing or desire, just being. It was everything, and it was enough. I was perfectly content.
I walked on, thinking of Franciscan Richard Rohr, wondering if oneness with God and loss of self is the goal of life. It was very much a Camino day.