Pilgrimage in Place

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.

Chapel of Our Lady of Guadalupe

In Between

I’m not a patient person.  When something doesn’t work, I push buttons rather than thinking things through.  I’m not good at waiting for anything or anybody.  So, now I’m caught in several “in-between” times of waiting.  In the midst of COVID-19 I am waiting for life to return to “normal” again, although it probably never will.  And in the midst of COVID comes another wait for the outcome of the November 2020 election.  I was horrified and disappointed by the inconclusive first night of the returns.  I had been anticipating a Democratic sweep, a repudiation of Trump and his policies.  That was not to be, and I am still weeping.

Then yesterday, the morning after election day following a restless night, I got out of bed to discover a sharp pain in my left foot.  Thinking it would soon go away, I didn’t pay much attention, but after an attempt at an afternoon walk in my hiking boots, which I thought might be good for this mysterious infliction, the foot hurt even worse.  So, this morning I called my podiatrist’s office, waited while someone searched for my records, gave them information that I was sure they must already have, and waited some more, until finally someone was found to see me later this afternoon.  I was also waiting to make a third visit to my audiologist’s office, hoping to get the new tubes to my ear molds right after two previous visits had failed to correct the problem.  We are also waiting for the real estate closing on a small rental house, which turned out to have some serious problems (a woefully in adequate, below code electrical system; and a broken sewer pipe, the repair of which will require cutting into the street). We did get a break from the seller, but we are still waiting for the official closing.

As I drove to the audiologist this morning, I was wheedled out of my impatience by the sight of the golden cottonwoods and surrounding fields along Rio Grande Boulevard, probably the loveliest street in Albuquerque, over which flew flock after flock of wild ducks.  I drove slowly (speed limit is 25) through this little bit of country, a refuge in the midst of urban sprawl, enjoying the variety in styles of housing, ranging from McMansions to simple houses whose original owners once farmed the surrounding fields, to big old estates and horse properties, some which I admired and some which I found tacky, but that was O.K.  Room for all, I say.  The sun was shining, and the mountains were blue in the distance. I spied a couple seated on a bench in their sunny yard, enjoying the fine autumn weather and looking at Christmas lights they must have just set up.

I thought how good life is, and how beautiful our world. I had read a snatch of something by George Will, saying politics should be at the margins of our lives, not the center, and I thought how this morning’s sunshine on the fields, the mountains, the birds, and the everyday lives of my neighbors is what is real and important.  This is the life that goes on, no matter who wins the election.

Then I thought about my foot.  I am a walker.  If I can’t walk, then what?  I thought of Edie Littlefield Sundby, the Mission Walker, who walked the length of California and then the length of Baja, California while battling cancer.  Her philosophy was that as long as she could walk, she wasn’t dead.  I thought about people who have ordinary accidents, illnesses, and pregnancies and who need medical attention during these times when the resources of our health system and its workers are strained to the utmost.  Would I be one of them?  Life, death, and love are more important than politics.

Friends have recently lost their spouses. Yesterday I learned of the death of one of my high school classmates who was also the spouse of a classmate.  On Election Day I learned he had cancer and was home on hospice care. Then the next day the message came, “He is now with the angels.”  We had recently reconnected with this couple, who found each other in their seventies after the deaths of their previous spouses.  Like Kent and me, they were enjoying wonderful and unexpected happiness late in life.  It was a joy to see their delight in each other, and I hoped we would see them regularly in their trips back and forth across the country and our trips to the Midwest.  Now suddenly, within a day of my learning of his illness, he was gone.

As I drove along glorious Rio Grande Boulevard, hoping to get my hearing aid problems straightened out and some answers about the pain in my foot later today, I thought about my friends, and realized that they, my physical well-being, the beauty of the world in its burst of exuberance in face of the death of autumn, are the things that are real, important, and worth treasuring and appreciating.  Despite my sadness and impatience, those are the things that matter. As I heard Bishop Curry say this morning, we must love one another and reach out to those who are different and with whom we disagree, not every day, just today.

Postscript: The hearing-aid problems appear to be solved. The podiatrist, after consulting x-rays and looking at my foot, said there was no sign of a fracture (Kent had joked it may have been a stress fracture, caused by my stress over the election), and that it was a matter of an over-stretched band.  The cure is rest, ice, and a wrapping contraption to stabilize the foot.  I go back in four weeks to see how I’m doing.  Let’s hope I will soon be walking (not hobbling), carefully, at first, and that the election, too, will be settled before the first week in December.  I’ll try to be patient.

Next morning: The foot still hurts, Biden is gaining in the counts of mail-in ballots, and I am thinking how all of life is really a series of “in-betweens,” some more difficult to weather than others.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Mission_Walker

https://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/entertainment/books/sd-et-author-sundby-20170731-story.html

Night and Morning: Being Tucked In

Ditchbank silhouettes

June 9, 2020

After last night’s brisk wind, the morning was fresh and cool as we walked along the ditch banks.  There is often a certain progression in my thoughts as I walk, not guided by me, but seemingly birthed from the motion of my legs, the swing of my arms, the pounding of my feet, and the quickness of my breath.

This morning, thoughts overflowed.  I thought of Philip Young, the gifted English literature professor from whom I took a class on Hawthorne and Melville long ago at Penn State.  One day he said, “I am rich!” referring to his fertile mind.  “I give you a footnote.  Others would write an article, but I have so many ideas, I can give them away in footnotes.”  I was feeling rich myself in those days, newly pregnant with my first child, but I had a hard time coming up with an original and compelling idea for my final paper.  Because I was a librarian, I had done endless research.  What could I say about one of these authors that had not already been said?  At last, pre-occupied and immersed in creativity, I had one small idea in response to Hawthorne’s short story, “The Artist of the Beautiful,” a story about the artist’s creation of a mechanical butterfly (which is smashed by the infant of the woman he loves) and the essence of creativity.  I no longer remember what my small idea was, (probably something about babies, butterflies, and nature versus human invention), but it was enough to satisfy Professor Young

So, this morning, I, too, was rich.  First, as we walked, I shared ideas with Kent about the memoirs of his life on boats, which I am editing.  Then I practiced, as I often do when walking, reciting (1) “The Lord is my Shepherd,” (2) “The Road not Taken,” and finally, (3) “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.”

At the turn-around point, looking over the green fields and t riverside trees to the volcano Vulcan, which along with several others marks the skyline west of Albuquerque, I did my usual standing yoga poses and stretches. It was while heading back, after half-an-hour of motion that, as usual, my thoughts began overflowing.  This is why I think walking is the cure for everything.

I thought about a friend who had gone back to the Catholic Church from the Episcopal church.  I wanted to ask her more about why, and I wondered what differences between the two might matter to me.  “Mystery,” maybe, and “Authority.”  The priest who presided at the Aquinas Newman Center on the Sunday following the dismissal of the Dominicans, had proclaimed, “Church was made for man, not man for the church.”  I despised those words and the top-down practices they represented.  I began weeping a few minutes into the service, left when it was over, and never went back.

Then I thought about the Compline (late night) service I’d attended via Zoom twice in the past week, and how comforting it was, like being tucked in by my mother and my aunts when I was a young child.  “Now I lay me down to sleep…” and “Good-night, sleep tight, don’t let the bedbugs bite.”   I wondered, did I do this for my children – tuck them in with prayers and give them a sense of security?  The words of the Compline service were comforting and soothing in this time of sadness, upheaval and uncertainty.  “The Lord Almighty grant us a peaceful night and a perfect end,” the service began.  And later:

Into your hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit.
For you have redeemed me, O Lord, O God of truth.
Keep us, O Lord, as the apple of your eye.
Hide us under the shadow of your wings.
— The Book of Common Prayer

I think I slept more soundly last night that I had in a long time, like a young chick sheltered under its mother’s wings.  The words and prayers, in the lovely language of The Book of Common Prayer resonated with me.  One of my favorite nighttime prayers, which we didn’t say last night, is from The New Zealand Book of Common Prayer:

Lord,
It is night.

The night is for stillness.
Let us be still in the presence of God.

It is night after a long day.
What has been done has been done;
what has not been done has not been done;
let it be.

The night is dark.
  Let our fears of the darkness of the world
and of our own lives
rest in you.

The night is quiet.
Let the quietness of your peace enfold us,
 all dear to us,
and all who have no peace.

The night heralds the dawn.
Let us look expectantly to a new day,
new joys,
new possibilities.

In your name we pray.
Amen.

I thought of Shakespeare’s “Sleep, gentle sleep, that knits up the raveled sleeve of care.”

Ha! I misremembered, conflating two different sayings, “Sleep that knits up the raveled sleeve of care,” from MacBeth, and “O sleep, O gentle sleep, Nature’s soft nurse, how have I frightened thee. That thou no more will weigh my eyelids down, and steep my senses in forgetfulness?” Henry IV, Part 2.

And, “Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.”  Matthew 6:34

Now, “Morning has broken, like the first morning.”  Eleanor Farjeon

My ideas have bubbled over.  I have a day’s work ahead of me, which I will tackle with energy gained from my walk and strength from my good night’s sleep.  When the day is over, I will no longer have “miles to go before I sleep.”  Night will one day come to each of us.