A Most Excellent Journey

Oops, I think this didn’t get published before when it was supposed to:

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I feel very lucky. Most of all the things I really love are all around me to learn about: nature, agriculture, history, food and culture. I can’t say I really love learning languages. I find language learning really challenging. But challenge is good. What a curriculum the Camino lays out all around us as we walk. It is incredibly engaging. And then there is the physical fitness part . . . . What a great forum for learning! I am so lucky to be doing this with my family, too. Thank you Kelley for being the instigator!

We have been on the trail only one week. Six days of walking since we left Irun. It feels like a month already.

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In Gernika there is a Peace Museum and an Institute for Peace Studies. Isn’t it interesting how places that suffer the horrors of war become focal points for peace? Nagasaki and Hiroshima. It makes sense. Gernika is where the Nazi Air Force practiced saturation bombing for the first time on behalf of Franco during the Spanish Civil War in 

The Last of Bizkaia and into Cantabria

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Since the long day of pavement walking out of Bilbao our feet have all been suffering a bit, except for Daisy whose ankle injury has been better every day.

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Walking as a family is great. We give each other a pretty hard time for our quirks and habits and eccentricities and this usually leads towards mirth, only occasionally going too far and ending up sour. This is more time spent together in close company than we have spent in many years (and very soon we will break all previous records.) It is pretty wonderful to see Linden offering to dress Kelley’s blistered feet and applying the success he is having with his blisters to doctoring his mom. Daisy is the lead walker most times, setting a pace for the rest of the family. We have learned to keep Linden well fed and to have food on hand. His mood goes sour the quickest when hungry. We all get a lot of entertainment mileage out of all the super cute, well groomed and well behaved dogs we encounter, not to mention all the livestock.
We are now 12 days into our trip, ten days walking and two resting and sightseeing in Guernica and Bilbao. We have just covered a little over 1/4 the distance to Santiago, so it is reasonable that we may make it there in our allotted time. Our stamina has really improved – yesterday we walked 25 kilometers (15+ miles) pretty easily except for our foot problems. I’m hoping those clear up, because it feels really good to walk distance, except for the pain. We are beginning to fall into some good routines with all the basics of pilgrim life: food, daily hand laundry, crowded sleeping, showers, foot care, walking. Most days there is not much energy for much more than that.
I’m finding that this is cleaning out my mind in an interesting way. My dream life has gotten vivid, mundane and humorous conversation fills some time, nature observation much more, the physical rhythm of walking . . . . I think I expected to have more self reflective insights or something but what I am experiencing is more clean and blank. This is a bit unsettling, but also very refreshing, when I just let it be so.
Short day into a modern beach town called Noja today and WiFi at the hostel, which is nice.

Humming Moth

Humming Moth

A couple of days ago as we descended the steep slope into Deba in the late afternoon I paused to peer over a tall rock retaining wall next to a modern apartment building while waiting for others to catch up. There were a bunch of Butterfly Bushes (Budelaeia?) twenty feet below all abuzz with insect life. One member of the assembly looked at first like a moth that moved like a humming bird from flower to flower. I called Daisy over and she said, “That is a humming bird!” I said, “No way! It is so tiny!” There were at least a dozen of them hovering and going from flower to flower with iridescent golden backs and what looked like short little black tails. They had long slender “beaks” to drink nectar with, too. One of them flew up a little closer and we could see the iridescence through the blurr of its wings, the body smaller than the tip of my little finger. I said, “It is a humming bird! That is the tiniest bird that could possibly exist!” We called Linden and Kelley over to see our remarkable discovery and they saw the tiny humming birds, too.

Then today I got a much closer look and some pictures. It is pretty obviously a moth in the pictures, but still amazing with its long proboscis and it’s blurr of hovering wing beats. But the uncanny thing is how much it moves like a humming bird. It is amazing how a creature in a completely different branch of evolution develops so identically, down to the way it moves through space in little hover moments interspersed with super quick darts here and there. A bird and an insect developing in form and function toward an almost indistinguishable pattern . . . . .

Drunk Bee?

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Walking by a wayside restaurant in their little flower garden was some lavender. First, Kelley said, “Oh, that poor bee is all drunk on nectar.” I said, “It looks dead. I bet a spider has it by the face.” It took a while for me to see the spider, though. It was almost exactly the same color as the lavender flower it had been hiding in . . . .

Dragon Butterfly

Dragon Butterfly

This iridescent blue creature looks like a dragonfly, and clearly is related, yet when it flies it flits it’s wings in semi-random wing beats much more like a butterfly than the hovering humm of a dragonfly. I wonder if it is a predator. I watched them for quite some time (the rest of my family gets on my case for stopping to look at things so much, so I try to hike ahead to give myself some stop and look time.) I didn’t see any predation, but from holding still so long I got to watch one of the common lizards that we have been seeing everywhere for a while. It had the remnants of an old skin sticking to its legs. No picture of that though.

Spanish Bird Language

The crows here in Northern Spain sound more throaty than the Northwest Crows I’m used to. But walking toward Gernika today I heard a crow call that was almost flutey. It caught my attention as different. It was sitting on a wire. Looking up I saw the sillouette of a hawk about the size of a Red Tail but with a distinct v in its tail. It seemed to be in a hunting pattern, flying back and forth with a sense of deliberacy (is that a word?) over a recently hayed field. A couple more crows picked up a chorus and flew up to perch in a high tree. They seemed to be keeping the usual crow eye on the bird of prey and letting everyone else know about it, too. I suppose the hawk must have been hoping for a young field mouse not privy to the language of the crows yet . . . . .

That’s my story anyway. It occurs to me that a story like that is really just the oral tradition’s version of an hypothesis. Something to share, compare opinions about, see if happens again, argue over, see if it is predictable. I doubt it could ever be proveable, but in story form it is memorable, and that allows for a kind of cumulative testing over time. Plus it is just kind of fun.

One of our families’ pastimes while hiking through this varied landscape is to give the animals we encounter thoughts and voices and stories. Mostly we do this with domestic animals because that is what we see. It is entertaining and sometimes leads to some really good laughs. Two days ago we encountered several groups of sheep. The first group was in a forested area and each sheep was bedded down with its own tree having a good shady chew. Later, in a pasture, there was a group of sheep that stayed completely jammed up against each other. When the leader moved everyone moved as a mob. This became a topic of a political discussion about the “one sheep, one tree” sheep versus the “one herd, one leader” sheep. Agro-politics.

June 16, Irun

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Yesterday we set our feet on the Camino for the first time. It is an interesting feeling in a number of ways. To have a destination 860 kilometers away and know that I won’t be riding in any vehicles for then next month and a half is new. Exciting. A little scary. We met someone yesterday who just completed the trail starting deep inside of France who averaged 45 km per day (28 miles)! Wow. I don’t think I’ve ever walked 28 miles in one day. I don’t really want to travel at that pace but it would be good to know that I could. We are giving ourselves a 10 to 12 mile per day average. Even that makes me nervous day after day.

Then there is the social aspect. It is 6:15 and there is much activity astir here in the pilgrim hostel. The rustling and stuffing of backpacks, low chatter in a half dozen languages of people young and old, the thumping of stocking feet and opening and closing of doors mixes with the morning chorus of the ubiquitous house sparrows. There is an excitement to the first day on the trail with the other pilgrims. Meeting others who are on the trail, no matter what language, creates a bond of respect and curiosity and mutual helpfulness. And there is a sense of helpfulness that poured itself on us from the people of the town as we encountered a closed church and pilgrim passport office on our Sunday afternoon arrival. Two elderly gentlemen coming out of a bar to tell us that the church was closed and where the pilgrim office was in gestures and Spanish and smiles.

Yesterday, crossing the bridge into Irun we encountered our first yellow arrow, the sign of the trail we will be following to Santiago and it stirred a lot of excitement in Daisy and in me, too. For her it was a familiar friend and her practiced eyes picked out the yellow dots, arrows and scallop shell signs easily while my eyes were adjusting to a new set of search images. For me it was the first time that I registered in my gut that I am on a trail traveled by millions of people, with intention, for generations and generations, that I am stepping not only onto a trail but into a tradition. And that tradition, today marked with spray paint arrows, has been tended and cared for for a very long time. The way is prepared. This is a very new experience. Different from knowing that a wilderness trail is maintained and cared for and hiked by many. There is something stirring about this trail that I can’t describe. It is stirring something in my belly that I can feel but I can’t name.

We are also, of course, eating memorable food. Yesterday I had a small single scoop of hazelnut gelato that was truly the best ice cream experience in years. And the pork loin sandwich on a toasted baquette with cheese and roasted green chilies was exceptionally delicious – and that is just ordinary fare. I love Continental Europe for its food!

Oops. Gotta go. Everyone is up and packed for the trail.

(Footnote: first my camera battery went on the fritz, then we have had a real challenge on this trail finding WiFi so posts and pictures are likely to be delayed. Plus, I’m still on a learning curve with the blog site, not to mention time to write . . . . . So far I have found posting pictures on Facebook to be pretty fun so maybe friend me or go to my page if you want to see more images.) Linden and Daisy are more particular about only posting the very best pictures on Facebook but they are shooting more so you might want to check that out, too. I got a new camera battery today so that should help some. aloha from San Sebastián.)