There Oughtta be Ghosts

It’s creepy out there, violent wind and darkness. Big poplars roar above our bedroom roof, and down in the patio the gazebo curtains bow and flutter in sideways rain. The little yellow lamps strung out over the picnic table send a pathetic glow across the patio.In summertime they’re jolly, but the weather’s changed. Now they are weak and sad. They’re no proof against the noisy dark. There ought to be ghosts here. Here in little Moratinos, a paleolithic warrior lies in “the tumberon,” an unexcavated hill tomb thousands of years old. Two of the neighbors use centuries-old stone sarcophagi for animal troughs, heisted many years ago from the ruins of a long-gone monastery. The farmers spare no thought for the abbots who once moldered inside. The St. Nicolas cemetery stands on the site of a medieval leprosarium, where poor souls with infectious skin diseases lived and died for centuries.  Human bones lie scattered in the field outside cemetery walls, turned out to make room for the next generation in the two-person family tombs. Arable land is too valuable to waste on dead people. Cemetery space is tight. This is the final word in recycling.Violent death, the kind that supposedly makes ghosts happen, is no stranger here. Out on the two-lane beyond the back gate, pilgrims and pets are struck down and killed. Cars careen off the curves and into the culverts and cottonwood trees. Eighty years ago now, a transport truck carrying explosives blew up over where the Villada Road meets the N-120. The driver died, and a mule. A mile west, five years ago now, a French lady died in a highway accident. Two years later, atop the same hill, a bicycle pilgrim was struck and killed.  In the fields, along the tractor-paths where nobody goes, lie buried the bones of those who disappeared in the civil war and the terror that followed. A 16-year-old boy from Grajal, shot in the gut and left to die, bled to death along a road between here and St. Nicolas. He ought to be a ghost, if anyone is.Everybody used to know where the bodies were buried, but now all of them are gone. And before that, the soldiers of Napoleon, the soldiers of England and Spain, even Templar Knights, they marched through town, or stayed around. Some of them were killed, or died along this stretch. Not to mention epidemics, accidents, crimes of passion, slow poisonings, lonely suicides — endings endemic to any place where humans live close together. I have never heard a ghost story here. For whatever reason, the people who pass on from this neighborhood all stay dead. Like the pilgrims who slumber so deep in their beds, the dead of Moratinos rest in peace.  Even if they wanted to wander the highways or huertas, ghosts round here could not compete with the weather. These creepy nights the wind moans and screams louder than a banshee. It hammers on the doors. It throws buckets and brooms around like a poltergeist, it overturns the garbage bins and bangs open barn doors. And when the wind goes still, the owls shriek. Bats flutter and chatter under the streetlights, sending wild shadows dancing down Calle Ontanon. Voices carry from far off across the fields. Snatches of music. A radio, maybe.Or maybe it’s the neighbors, The ones no one can see.

Under A Supermoon, Garibaldi Park at Sunset

There is a large, flat rock on the first bump of Panorama Ridge in Garibaldi Provincial Park, north of Vancouver, Canada. It provides a seat to rest and enjoy one of the best panoramic vistas that I have ever seen — mountains including Mount Garibaldi, Mount Price, and Black Tusk, glaciers including Sphinx and Sentinel, […]

Hiking the Bibbulmun

The Bibbulmun track will be the biggest challenge. I will need to carry my own supplies and somehow keep my medicine cool… Fortunately it is a beautiful hike and there may be a few people joining me here and there. Most people seem to hike from North to South, I am doing it the other way as I like to go from Devonport to Perth, and given we want the last of the summer tailwinds on the Nullarbor and avoid the heat of summer in WA.To understand how beautiful it is have a look at these links:Couple from PNG:’s Walk: Guidebook: official page: is the proposed schedule to date, starting the walk Easter Sunday: DATE FROM TO DIST Saturday, 5 April 2014 Albany Hidden Valley  20 km Sunday, 6 April 2014 Hidden Valley Cosey Corner  15 km Monday, 7 April 2014 Cosey Corner Torbay  2 km Tuesday, 8 April 2014 Torbay West Cape Howe  16 km Wednesday, 9 April 2014 West Cape Howe Nulaki  17 km Thursday, 10 April 2014 Nulaki Denmark 14 km Friday, 11 April 2014 REST REST Saturday, 12 April 2014 Denmark William Bay  21 km Sunday, 13 April 2014 William Bay Boat Harbour  20 km Monday, 14 April 2014 REST REST Tuesday, 15 April 2014 Boat Harbour Peaceful Bay  23 km Wednesday, 16 April 2014 Peaceful Bay Rame Head  11 km Thursday, 17 April 2014 Rame Head Giants 16 km Friday, 18 April 2014 Giants Franklin River  14 km Saturday, 19 April 2014 Franklin River Walpole  18 km Sunday, 20 April 2014 REST REST Monday, 21 April 2014 Walpole Mount Clare 10 km Tuesday, 22 April 2014 Mount Clare Long Point 12 km Wednesday, 23 April 2014 Long Point Woolbales 17 km Thursday, 24 April 2014 Woolbales Mount Chance 20 km Friday, 25 April 2014 Mount Chance Dog Pool  19 km Saturday, 26 April 2014 REST REST Sunday, 27 April 2014 Dog Pool Lake Maringup  25 km Monday, 28 April 2014 Lake Maringup Gardner  16 km Tuesday, 29 April 2014 Gardner Northcliffe  15 km Wednesday, 30 April 2014 Northcliffe Schaffer  14 km Thursday, 1 May 2014 Schaffer Warren  21 km Friday, 2 May 2014 Warren Pemberton  21 km Saturday, 3 May 2014 REST REST Sunday, 4 May 2014 Pemberton Beedelup  24 km Monday, 5 May 2014 Beedelup Beavis  19 km Tuesday, 6 May 2014 Beavis Campsite Boardinghouse  19 km Wednesday, 7 May 2014 REST REST Thursday, 8 May 2014 Boardinghouse Tom Road  23 km Friday, 9 May 2014 Tom Road Donnelly River  16 km Saturday, 10 May 2014 REST REST Sunday, 11 May 2014 Donnelly River Gregory Brook  21 km Monday, 12 May 2014 Gregory Brook Blackwood  18 km Tuesday, 13 May 2014 Blackwood Balingup  17 km Wednesday, 14 May 2014 REST REST Thursday, 15 May 2014 Balingup Grimwade  23 km Friday, 16 May 2014 Grimwade Noggerup  22 km Saturday, 17 May 2014 Noggerup Yabberup  18 km Sunday, 18 May 2014 Yabberup Collie  20 km Monday, 19 May 2014 REST REST Tuesday, 20 May 2014 REST REST Wednesday, 21 May 2014 Harris Dam Yourdamung 15 km Thursday, 22 May 2014 Yourdamung Possum Springs 20 km Friday, 23 May 2014 Possum Springs Dookanelly  20 km Saturday, 24 May 2014 Dookanelly Murray  18 km Sunday, 25 May 2014 Murray Swamp Oak  19 km Monday, 26 May 2014 Swamp Oak Dwellingup  13 km Tuesday, 27 May 2014 REST REST Wednesday, 28 May 2014 Dwellingup Chadoora  20 km Thursday, 29 May 2014 Chadoora Mount Wells  15 km Friday, 30 May 2014 Mount Wells White Horse Hill  15 km Saturday, 31 May 2014 White Horse Hills Gringer Creek  18 km Sunday, 1 June 2014 Gringer Creek Bushstop  22 km Monday, 2 June 2014 Bush Stop Monadnocks  20 km Tuesday, 3 June 2014 REST REST Wednesday, 4 June 2014 Monadnocks Canning  16 km Thursday, 5 June 2014 Canning Mount Dale  20 km Friday, 6 June 2014 Mount Dale Waalegh  20 km Saturday, 7 June 2014 Waalegh Ball Creek  18 km Sunday, 8 June 2014 Ball Creek Kalamunda  21 km

Friends of the Bibbulmun Track

Excellent start to a new adventure! Ree and I became an official Bibbulmun Family!Events are posted on Facebook, if you like to keep posted with the organisation of either the Ride or the Hike click JOIN:, negotiations with possible sponsors are taking shape for the Ride and Hike for Cystic Fibrosis. Dates and itineraries are set (in mud).Hardest for me will be leaving Lily behind and find a place for her for a couple of months while Ree comes over to Western Australia.

Riding from Devonport to Albany…  Just a start… DATE TOWN KMS Melbourne 0 Saturday, 1 March 2014 Geelong 80 Sunday, 2 March 2014 Camperdown 119 Monday, 3 March 2014 Warrnambool 68 Tuesday, 4 March 2014 Heywood 93 Wednesday, 5 March 2014 Mount Gambier 90 Thursday, 6 March 2014 Naracoorte 104 Friday, 7 March 2014 Coorong 168 Saturday, 8 March 2014 Victor Harbour 18 Sunday, 9 March 2014 Adelaide 90 Monday, 10 March 2014 Kadina 150 Tuesday, 11 March 2014 Lock 201 ferry 50km! Wednesday, 12 March 2014 Elliston  92 Thursday, 13 March 2014 Port Kenny 70 Friday, 14 March 2014 Streaky Bay 62 Saturday, 15 March 2014 Ceduna 110 Sunday, 16 March 2014 Penong 73 Monday, 17 March 2014 Nundroo 79 Tuesday, 18 March 2014 Yalata 52 Wednesday, 19 March 2014 Nullarbor 93 Thursday, 20 March 2014 Border Village 186 Friday, 21 March 2014 Eucla  13 Saturday, 22 March 2014 Mundrabilla  66 Sunday, 23 March 2014 Madura 116 Monday, 24 March 2014 Cocklebiddy  91 Tuesday, 25 March 2014 Caiguna  65 Wednesday, 26 March 2014 Balladonia  154 all straight! Thursday, 27 March 2014 Fraser Range 117 Friday, 28 March 2014 Norseman 105 Saturday, 29 March 2014 Salmon Gums 97 Sunday, 30 March 2014 Esperance 104 Monday, 31 March 2014 Munglinup 106 Tuesday, 1 April 2014 Ravensthorpe 81 Wednesday, 2 April 2014 Jerramungup 116 Thursday, 3 April 2014 Manypeaks 139 Friday, 4 April 2014 Albany 40

Holy Holy Holy Lourdes

the grotto and spring at Lourdes, with sanctuary up topOutside the throng chants. The ladies are firm but gentle. They pull us one by one through heavy curtains, into a chamber of marble and concrete. Their movements are carefully choreographed. One holds up a blue fabric sheet, another motions that now was the time to strip off our clothes. The ladies do not speak a language I understand. I do not know what to do, where to go next. They wrap the blue fabric around my body, carefully covering everything. My turn comes. One takes my by the wrist and pulls me along through another curtain, to another team of ladies on either side of a long marble tub. My blue wrap is removed, and a cold, wet sheet is wrapped around me as I descend into the frigid spring water. A lady pats me reassuringly on the shoulder. I kneel in the water when I am supposed to sit. The ladies tip me backward, but I don’t go under all the way. They do not snicker. I am not the only beginner here. They must do this a thousand times a day.  Women who cannot speak, walk, hear, or see, and women who do those things too much. Women with missing limbs, failing hearts, broken spirits, withered breasts and scattered wits. They’ve seen us all. We come to Lourdes for health and grace. We come looking for something we don’t deserve. Most of us don’t really expect to get anything but wet. But you never know. The walls of the church above the spring are covered from floor to ceiling with marble plaques engraved with words of thanks, a century’s worth of testimonies to answered prayers. In another time and place, the bath-house ladies would have been priestesses of of a water goddess. But at Lourdes the goddess is the Virgin Mary, her apostle is St. Bernadette, a local peasant girl who saw the virgin in a vision at this spring a bit more than a century ago. Bernadette drank the dirty water, she washed her face in it. A neighbor touched the water, and her withered hand was made whole. It did not take long for word to spread. A building campaign was arranged, a huge train depot installed to connect this remote mountain village to the French rail network. Lourdes took off, the hoteliers and souvenir dealers moved in, and the town is now a Catholic Disneyland. (The shrine complex itself is remarkably restrained, taste-wise. I shudder to think what it would look like if Lourdes happened in, say, Ohio.)    Everybody loves a miracle. Everybody wants one.  And almost everybody loves their mother. Everyone at Lourdes swears they do not worship the Virgin Mary. They worship Jesus, her son, they say. But it was Mary who showed herself to little Bernadette. Mary’s image still is everywhere at Lourdes, with Jesus appearing only in the occasional altar crucifix, or as the bonny baby in the arms of his Most Holy Virgin Mother. In the Catholic world, God the father is so distant, so furious and judgmental. Jesus? So much guilt attached to him – he was so nice, and he died horribly, and every time I sin it’s my fault, all over again. But Mary? Oh, Mary, mother mine, sweetness, kindness, staying God’s angry judgment, crying the same tears every parent cries! Mary is someone truly human, a simple girl, a humble wife, and a mom… without any of the sex and blood and bodily fluids. What’s not to love?It’s heresy to say so, but Mary is the female aspect of the Holy Trinity. Nobody seems to really know or understand what the Holy Spirit is supposed to be… no one really connects to doves much. The original Trinitarians gave Christians a wholly masculine god. But the believers said No. We need a goddess, thank you. And Mary looks real good to us. And so she is, or so she has become, to both Orthodox and Catholic believers, and a whole load of Protestants, too. In the hard-shell pietist Protestant world I grew up in, Marian devotion and Lourdes-type shrines were viewed as the worst kind of idolatry, cynical priests milking money from superstitious souls looking for magic in a mountain spring. But the Bible is full of stories of healing springs. Baptism itself is a healing spring. I thought a long time about taking the waters at Lourdes, if it is something I should do. And the scripture told of a woman who simply reached out and touched Jesus’ robe and was healed, and another woman who Jesus sent away as unworthy, who stood up to the very Son of God and said “No! I need grace, even if I am not a chosen one!” And Jesus gave her what she needed, and wished the Chosen had such faith. I am not a baptised Catholic, not a “chosen one” in Lourdes terms. But I am a needy soul. Maybe even a superstitious one.  And at Lourdes, the superstitious souls smile. They let one another go first at the English-language confessionals, and make sure everyone has a scripture-verse card written in his own language. Jolly children open the taps for elderly nuns, and help them fill their Blessed Virgin-shaped jars with blessed spring water. The handicapped roll right up to the front of the line in specially provided gurneys and wheelchairs and chariots. Uniformed ladies and gentlemen open special gates for them. They lower them into the healing waters. They hold their hands when they cry out from the cold. We don’t deserve it, but they let us go first. They make sure we understand. They open the taps for us. When we stand naked and vulnerable, they do not laugh at us. When we cry out, someone takes our hand. And that is what Christianity looks like.   

Mountain Time

the view from my window: Maison D’Isabe, Arguenos, Haute Garronde, France.  I am on holiday. I am living an American Dream, at least a middle-class fantasy.I am for two weeks living in the Pyrenees mountains of southern France, a 19th century stone farm house hung with ancient family photos and furnished with comfortable antiques. There’s a sunny terrace out front where we take our breakfasts, overlooking a mountainside of bellowing tan cows and invisible, roaring stags. The radio receives nothing but Rachmaninoff and “The Fountains of Rome” and “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.” The fridge is full of exquisite butter, apricots, pears, black-olive confit. There are bottles of Bordeaux and Boujolais and St. Emilion, fizzy water and  apple liqueur (which is nasty.)Miguel Angel For almost a week my daughter and son in law were here with me, on a whirlwind holiday from their busy lives in Washington, D.C. Here, too, was Miguel Angel, my friend from Paris. He was our interpreter — he is native to Mexico, but speaks perfect French. None of the rest of us speaks any at all… or we didn’t when we arrived.We went all together to Lourdes, a Catholic healing spa/Disneyland. We went to Pic du Midi, a heart-stopping drive to the tippy-top of the Pyrenees, where the Tour de France bicycle race comes to a head. We looked into the night sky, and saw the Milky Way. We hiked up the mountain and saw lizards, cows, eagles, a badger. We saw the hand-prints of prehistoric children on cavern walls, (were they humans? Was this artwork what made them into people?) and a medieval church built with the scraps of the nearby ruined Roman town, (sic transit gloria) that in the shadow of the hulking monastic cathedral perched on the hillside above (the monuments to triumphant Christianity now government-run tourist commodities in an extremely secular society.) Thousands of years of humanity, all that remains of individual lives now long lost to history.Libby and  Dave I love Spain, but I must admit to France’s cultural hegemony. It is as cultured place as I have ever been, elegant, tasteful, delicious and expensive.Sadly, even its perfect Autumn days are still subject to the passage of time. Miguel left first. (Such a beautiful man, why do my friends all live so far away?) Today I drove Libby and David to Toulouse to get their airplane home. (dear God, when will I see her again? I love her so much!) I do not like cities, or traffic. I did not linger long.And so they all are gone now, and I am here alone.The maison is no less lovely, or old, or resonant of the family that lived here for generations. If there are ghosts, they don’t bother with Americaines.I can stay another whole week if I want to. Paddy is doing just fine at home.I feel guilty for this. I do not hold down a job. I don’t go to work every day, or have a limited number of vacation days each year. My entire life, in a way, is a holiday. I don’t deserve to be here. I should do something spectacular and creative with this splendorous solitude. I should outline a new story, or start a new book, or draw pictures.But I think I may just think with it.Consider how much time remains, and what is possible. How healthy am I?I must consider the things I dream of, and how much work and risk and sacrifice I am willing to take on to pursue those dreams… am I getting a bit too old to be pitching myself into plans without set time limits?the room where I am thinking I am lazy — maybe it’s that amazing butter. (we never use butter at home, the olive oil is so good!) A friend in Madrid writes with an intriguing proposal, but it looks like so much work… so much shmoozing, so many people..! I am lazy, or depressed. I want to be alone.The clock ticks. None of us knows how much time remains, how long the sun will keep shining on the terrace, how long the Bordeaux will hold out, how soon we have to get back on the plane and head out across the concrete and into the grey sky.Into forgetfulness, into history.

On the Camino Del Norte in Pasajes de San Juan & Pasajes de San Pedro, Spain

After a tough morning on my first day on the Camino del Norte, I was glad to arrive at the crest of the hill just before the villages of Pasajes de San Juan & Pasajes de San Pedro. Walking had been difficult, not only from the rain, but because I was so out of shape. The two ascents to begin the day […]

My Visit With Ptarmigan, Panorama Ridge, Garibaldi Park

The greatest thrill while experiencing nature often comes when you least expect it. That’s exactly what happened to me as I began my descent of Panorama Ridge in Garibaldi Provincial Park on a summer’s evening. After spending hours on the ridge, I had barley descended when a family of Ptarmigan came to visit. To be more precise, since it was their home, I […]

Under Golden Chains, On The Laburnum Walk, VanDusen Botanical Garden

One of my recent fond memories was a Mother’s Day about six years ago that I spent with my late mother at the VanDusen Botanical Garden in Vancouver, Canada. I always enjoy visiting gardens in Springtime, but on that particular day, we witnessed something that we both had never seen — the beautiful Laburnum Walk with the Golden Chain Trees […]