Its pedestrian start is heralded by the crunch of driveway gravel, soon giving way to the dull thud of sole on asphalt. This is not the walk I intended, not the long days of moving through textured Spanish countryside an ocean away. Not the immersion of living the trek — days filled with the path, evenings in the community of fellow pilgrims. Not the undiluted endeavor of traversing a couple hundred miles in three reflective weeks, alone, in a far away land.
But it is the walk within reach.
My local camino — the stand in — is but a few miles each week, spanning the pandemic and spread out in time, while rooting down in place.
The roads of my neighborhood are my starting point, and a far cry from adventure. The blandness of the landscape in contrast to my dreams of Santiago is, at first, ever present. But the mundane has a way of clearing space for something richer: walking kindles a meditative process in which the destination migrates to an internal space, spiraling inward toward True North.
The freedom and independence that my movement relies solely upon my own feet and body is empowering. The feeling of moving through the environment with no barrier of windshield or car frame is often invigorating. And then there are days when it feels like progress to just keep putting one foot in front of the other, days when getting out the door for an hour’s walk is an accomplishment.
In time I become familiar with the curves of the streets, feeling their hills in my body, revisiting them again and again, mixing up the order as best I can. In my Spanish Camino, one day, I will pass through each place only once.
When I slow down, I begin to make discoveries;
The young couple teaching their daughter to ride a bike every day, just before sunset.
Wonderfully deep and wide backyards openly shared among neighbors, while others fence and guard their land.
The weathered cemetery on a hill in someone’s backyard, gravestones towering above its mossy stone walls.
A parked bus that has become a home.
A single bloom in a tangle of undergrowth.
Deep looking can transform the ordinary into the extraordinary. Can I find this in myself, as well? With little access to my life’s work of teaching artistry during this pandemic – which brought vibrancy, meaning, and new challenges – what gems might I discover in the dark molasses of this current daily life?
Through the languor I see a pearl, its glossy surface wearing down to the grit of sand that was its humble beginning. I shed the layers of what once defined me, and wonder what will take their place. Time and the perambulation of my local camino are my oyster, enveloping me while I grow new layers of patina, and begin to shine again.
My steps eventually take me out of the neighborhood roads and into the familiar embrace of the path my husband Thomas lovingly forged through the woods on the back of our property. Here I am cocooned in green in the companionship of trees. My view is narrowed, and in this sheltered space, the boundary between self and environment diffuses.
The bench near the pond offers a spot to be still and unseen, and observe. I notice the cat tails have returned after an absence of a few years, and I wonder at the myriad of life under the green blanket of the pond’s surface. Upon closer inspection, what looks like algae reveals itself to be thousands of tiny leaves. Through this watery jungle, I watch a turtle slowly making its way across the pond, only its head above water.
As these pandemic days turn into weeks, months, and stretch toward a year, the pace is slow but the direction is, if incremental, forward. Like the turtle, there are days when I feel I’m just barely keeping my head above the water. And yet, surviving turns into enduring. Enduring becomes growing. Will growing eventually make the climb to thriving?
My local camino prepares me for the Camino de Santiago, an adventure I hope will become a peak experience and an enduring memory. Yet the everyday moments are the threads that weave the fabric of my life together, and give it strength. And so, as I put one foot in front of the other, I strive to find richness in the pedestrian, looking for the shimmer of the pearl,
and with eyes wide open,
discovering the extraordinary
within the ordinary.