Thunder Dragon Part IV

The twelfth day of the hike began with some bittersweet goodbyes. Michael and his wife Donna began the trip with the intention of splitting off and completing the Snowman Trek. Our hike included five large mountain passes. Snowman, which is considered to be the most…

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Outward bound

Thank you Archbishop John VlaznyIt is our tradition to spend the month of November (from All Saints day) turned inward remembering those family members, and friends, who have left this life. It is a season that Robin and I find both healing, and spiritually nourishing, as we allow sadness and grieving the freedom to move to the joyful recognition of lives gifted to all, and cherished for their being. The Thanksgiving holiday is now just two days away, and shortly thereafter we will move into the advent season, and Christmas. A busy time of the year to be sure, and one that often conflicts with lessons learned from our time spent walking the Camino (got to work on that). The emotional path from All Saints Day to Christmas is always journey of discovery and joy. Beyond the usual call to table, and Christmas gifts, there stirs a quiet and joyful anticipation. We await a birth, a new hope, that will forever change those who choose to “harden not their hearts.” It is with this blessing of renewed faith that Robin and I will, once again, set out to walk the Camino. We will be leaving in early January, and will be walking, not towards Santiago, but towards Manresa (close to Barcelona) along the Camino Ignaciano.Camino IgnacianoThe route we will be following is one that was walked by St. Ignatius of Loyola in 1522. Manresa is where St. Ignatius spent several months in a cave gathering his thoughts into what would later lead to the very well known, and still followed today, Spiritual Exercises. We will fly into Bilbao and then make our way into the mountains of the Basque Country and to the Sanctuary of Loyola (in the town of Azpeitia, where St. Ignatius was born). The 400 hundred mile journey will take us generally southward from the Basque mountains down into the vineyards of Rioja where we will swing slightly south of east to parallel the Pyrenees. On the way, after Rioja,  we will also pass through the provinces of Navarra, Aragón, and Catalunya. This is a challenging walk with varied terrain (mountains, hills, plains, desert). It is also a route that is not heavily traveled, especially in the winter. Robin and I do not expect to meet a single other pilgrim, but we will see. I hope to be pleasantly surprised. A little company would always be appreciated. Weather wise, the Basque mountains can be very wet in winter (or ladened with snow). We will have to see where we can pass through and where we might have to deviate (this is not a snowshoe trek). As we move further along the desert area east of Zaragoza can be very cold and windy. Overall, the weather in this part of Spain is probably best characterized as unpredictable. We will just have to take it as it comes. We will be carrying the bare minimum (12.5 pounds for me), but will still be well prepared for the wet and cold. As I recall St. Ignatius set out for Manresa at this same time of year (Jan-Feb). I sort of like that. My packing list is here. I’ll post Robin’s once she gets it fine tuned.Pilgrimage is a call of the Spirit and I am always drawn to a scripture quote from the Book of John that just seems to capture what that means for me.”The wind blows where it wills, and you can hear the sound it makes, but you do not know where it comes from, or where it goes; so it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” John 3:8

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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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