On the Camino Del Norte in Spain, Orio to Zarautz

There’s a reason I don’t usually stop for lunch and drinks while walking the Camino de Santiago and this day was a good example. Sure I enjoyed myself but after spending an hour at the café with my walking companions, eating and sipping Spanish beer, I stood up, and didn’t feel like walking at all. Actually, I […]

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On the Camino Del Norte in Spain, Munioetazar to Orio

I learned something on my first two days on the Camino del Norte that would be a common theme for most of my days  — once you descend to sea level, there is usually a climb right ahead. So I had just completed over a 350 meter climb from San Sebastián to the farming community of Munioetazar and […]

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The Soul in the Machine

Pinned face-down in a tiny tunnel, hands bound, lower body covered in a heavy blanket, immobilized. I could feel drugs move hot across my back, up my neck. My face flushed red, my nose itched, but breathing deeply just made me more aware of the weight pressing on my back. I have nightmares like this, but this was real. This was for my own good. People do this every day, and they don’t break down. They don’t freak out. Just breathe softly, I told myself. Close your eyes. If I wanted to keep breathing, I had to be perfectly still. If I wanted this to end, I could not move. The noise started, ticks and thumps, then a steady beat. Holy holy holy Lord God of power and might,Heaven and earth are full of your gloryHosanna in the highestIt was set to go on for 20 minutes. I didn’t know if I would last that long.  I had to. Early today I had a Magnetic Resonance Image experience at Hospital Rio Carrion in Palencia. I had an MRI before, but it was just my face, my sinuses. This was the whole chest, the whole body-inside business. I was not prepared for the panic. I was not ready to be overwhelmed by irrational fear.  I thought I’d outgrown claustrophobia. But now I see I’ve just developed ways to avoid small, tight spots. I use coping strategies to handle booths and crowded elevators, and crowds in general. They are excuses, dodges. The MRI dropped me face-down and head-first into the horror I keep deep down.  Starting out was the worst. Settling into the bonds. Feeling just how deep a breath I could take without bumping against the arc above my shoulder blades. Feeling things shift in my sinuses, hoping nothing moved in there to block my breathing. These people are professionals, I told myself. They know what to do if you can’t breathe. Stop. Noble thoughts. Prayers. Padre nuestro que estas en el cieloSanctificada sea tu nombreSoon time stopped meaning anything. I had to stop thinking about when it would end, because it might just be starting. If I was going to get through this, I had to stop thinking. I relived the drive down to Palencia, the dawn breaking red and orange over a hillside studded with windmills. There was a pilgrim out there already, hunched in the cold, dark on the path, moving fast. Just at Calzadilla I saw a dog running alongside the road, down on the camino – it leaped and twisted like something joyful. I slowed, hoping it didn’t dart into the road. I looked down and into its face. It was not a dog. It was a fox, with a mouse in its mouth. Its fox-tail was thick and lush, its eyes looked through their white mask and right into mine. Where can I go from your presence?Where can I flee from your spirit?If I go up to the heavens you are there, If I lie down in the depths, you are thereYou have searched me and you know meYou are with me always, even unto the ends of the EarthI thought of my sister Beth, who reassured me this week that this problem is common, she went through this before herself, it hurts but it’s not cancer. Not cancer. Not cancer. That means a lot to ­­­­me, it’s why I am in this machine, so I can find out. So many of our family get cancer, and so many of us are dead now. I don’t want to be dead. I don’t want to be sick, even. I don’t want to hurt. I want to breathe.  I want to walk in big broad steps and wave my arms around and shout at bad dogs, and laugh out loud. I thought of the low bright sun outside, and Paddy probably out on the campo with all the dogs at that very moment, throwing ridiculous long shadows down into the fields. The walk up to the tumberon, all that sky and air and space ahead and behind and above. The music in the house, the morning music, ridiculous witty Cole Porter musicWhile tearing offA game of golfI might make a play for the caddyBut if I do I don’t follow throughCause my heart belongs to PaddyThe music started moving to the pulsing deep rhythm of the machine, and I saw myself dancing to that, like I danced many times in the past, arms and legs, hips and fingers, all in motion all at once, to that music. Techno. Deep house. In my head I boogied down, while my body stayed utterly, perfectly still, while the magnets whirled round my carcass and somehow shot dozens of photos of what’s inside.    Here am I, sitting in a tin canHigh above the worldPlanet Earth is blueAnd there’s nothing I can doAnd then it stopped. And I was freed. And I went home.  On Tuesday afternoon I will know what they saw. Meantime, I will celebrate Thanksgiving. I will walk under the big sky and take great deep breaths.   

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Thunder Dragon Part III

Note to new subscribers:  This is the third part of a series about my recent month long trip to Bhutan.  You may be interested in the beginning of the series at this link: Thunder Dragon Part I. Michael, a Canadian real estate developer, was camping…

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Thunder Dragon Part II

Note to new subscribers:  I recently returned from a month long journey through the Himalayas.  This is the second post in a series that began last week.  You may want to read the previous week’s entry to learn about the beginning of the trip.   During Dinner…

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On the Camino Del Norte in Spain, San Sebastián to Munioetazar

An early start! That is my advice for those walking the Camino del Norte from San Sebastián during the busy summer. As opposed to the Camino Francés, the albergues are not as frequent or often don’t have many beds. If you enjoy walking into the evening, like I do, you just may find yourself out of luck, or […]

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Under A Supermoon, Garibaldi Park at Sunrise

Every once in a while, I feel the need to do something out of my comfort range. While for some, staying overnight on top of a mountain without a tent or sleeping bag is no big deal, for me, it was something I had experienced only one other time in my life. That was an unplanned, […]

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Thunder Dragon Part I

The Druk Air flight from Bangkok, Thailand to Paro, Bhutan, was a daunting introduction to the sacred country.  At the beginning of steep ascent, the captain announced, “Do not be concerned with the planes proximity to the mountains.”  Only 8 pilots are qualified to land…

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November Altar

Once again, my November altar has been set and a candle has been lit. I bring myself to the presence of them as I light a candle. My eyes still cloudy from dreams of the night but my heart, as grateful as it can ever be for they have shared their wisdom of love with me.My father, a gentlest soul I know; Janet, my mother-in-law who taught me to have some fun always though her life on earth was filled with sorrows and heartaches. She always knew the better part of herself; Kyungsook, my sister who left us when she was 39 but never stopped me from being so close to her; Fang, a funniest guy on earth; Teru who lovingly cared for me when I was young, alone and sick in a foreign land; Marcia, my neighbor who kept her grace and dignity throughout her struggle with cancer; Sr Peggy, I still remember catching her rolling eyes over a discussion of one of the Gospels, saying “booooring!”; Bruce, oh, the wildest man from New Zealand; Kathy who died in Assisi, Italy, after wanting to be there for all her life; Deacon John, a sweet, sweet soul; Cindy a hospice nurse, tough and unforgiving on careless mistakes made by those less than experienced staff members (including me!) but is first to lend her helping hands for any and everyone; Janet Perkins, though I didn’t know her in person I remember her beautiful presence when I visited her; Nicolas, a seminarian who’s life on earth was so short. We’d never know why; Cecilia, a fellow choir member who has dedicated her life to resettling of those immigrants; Fr George who never fails to make me smile, his wisdom, humor, incredible insights he carefully kept hidden behind his light but enormous heart!So they will reside on my altar throughout this month. My heart trembles with joy for I know the warm greetings will be exchanged as I go about the day, conversations will flow as I retreat myself to their presence and oh my, all the blessings I can’t even begin to count as I blow out that candle as the night falls….”Go forth with peacefor you have followed the good roadGo forth without fearfor God who created you has made you holyhas always protected youand loves you like a mother.”St Clare

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Gettin’ Down in Party Town

Dear God in Heaven, these people know how to celebrate.Paddy y yoToday in Moratinos me and Paddy attended the “Golden Wedding” of Celestino and Esther. Celestino is a son of Moratinos, the brother of Milagros, the man who opens his bodega in the summer to passing pilgs, the man whose bum knee a couple of years ago was miraculously cured by San Antonio. He is the man who gave us advice on how to repair the bodega roof. The man who told us the tale of the mysterious pilgrim at the bodegas, back in the 1930s. He’s only here in the summer, but hundreds of pilgrims remember Celes as the local who showed them inside a Castilian wine cave, who gave him a taste of the rough local vino and a slice of divine sheeps’ milk cheese.  Celestino is the original Moratinos spokesman. Today, all the family came back to town to celebrate Celestino and his Basque bride Esther, with a Mass and the Coro de Sahagun singing, a huge dinner at the bodega restaurant, a dance in the plaza, and God knows what else after, with everyone dressed up to the nines, the Autumn sun shining, with all the bells ringing, rockets booming, open bar and chorizo and lomo laid on.  We were invited to all of it, even though we weren’t totally sure how much. We dressed up for the 1 p.m. Mass, maybe because we are fond of Celestino, maybe because the whole town was awake and stirring. Esther y Celestino, back in the dayCeles was one of dozens of local boys who left Palencia to seek work elsewhere during the 1950s and 60s. He found work in a cardboard-box factory in Bilbao, where he met Esther, who grew up on a Masia in Basque country, and who spoke not a word of Castilian Spanish. But love conquers all – four years later, in 1964, the two were wed.   Everyone and his sister came to the Mass, even the neighbors who don’t usually attend these things. It did not disappoint. People came who have not been seen here for decades. Tears were shed, the Gospel was read, and impossible notes were reached-for by amateur sopranos.  The couple re-exchanged vows, their daughters and grandchildren read readings no one could hear over the yowling descendents, and then we all said Amen and headed out into the sunshine, out to the bodegas, to taste the vintage, to taste the real wine, brought down from Esther’s native Basque Country.  Celes and Esther, todayWe had a copa, we ate the embutidos, we said “enhorabuena,” we made to head home. But Celestino headed us off at the door – “No no no! You are family now! You’ve been invited since a month! It’s all paid-for!” he said. “I will be crushed if you go now!” So what could we do?So we sat, and so we ate: grilled shrimp, crabs, razor clams, mussels, salad, grilled cuttlefish – all served with a dry white Albarino. Jose and Esteban outdid themselves for their uncle. Then came the meat: lamb chops, chips, dark red Tempranillo. Mas y mas. Paddy dropped out before the wine changed. I stuck with white, but did not last much longer.  a crab who did not die in vain, with CarlosI found my way to the terrace, where little Isabel, “the daughter of Moratinos,” was making an appearance along with the day’s dose of pilgrims. Down in the plaza the dancing started. I shared some vino blanco with two lucky French pilgrims. (I must pay for it on Tuesday.) And then I realized that yes, it was time to head home. I’d lost the feel of my pointy-toe shoes, and another trip to the bathroom in my complicated underpinnings might prove too much for my architectural education. Here at the Peaceable I trust Paddy has fed the dogs – they are quiet. If there are pilgrims, they are equally invisible. And so, after great swills of water and a full milligram of Tylenol, I shall retire to my bed, to sleep the sleep of the righteous, well-fed and watered, como la familia de Celestino.  Como una Palentina de pura cepa – like a purebred daughter of Palencia.   long may they wave

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