Sacred Valley

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Vicugna

After a breakfast by a crackling fire in the fireplace, we headed out for the day’s adventure. Wilfredo, our guide from the day before, met us for a tour of the Sacred Valley. This is the beautiful valley between Cusco and Machu Picchu, the holy land of the Inca. We quickly left the city and headed down the narrow winding road into the valley. The first stop was a small animal preserve were we saw llamas, alpacas and their petite cousins, vicugna, adorable creatures with long necks, big eyes with long lashes and the softest fur for sweaters. There were the sacred condor, enormous birds, not very pretty but the great messengers of the gods. High in the corner were puma, another sacred animal that represents power. There were also smaller native cats and foxes, monkeys and a darling speckled black bear just waking from a nap. A bit latter this same young bear escaped his cage and we saw him being shooed back home by the keeper. That was one of Alexandra’s favorite moments, the bear escaped the zoo!

Then back up winding roads to the archeological site of Pisac which featured layers of big green terraces build by the Inca. This was the only way to create farmland from mountains. The Inca were experts at building the walls and making the terraces complete with drainage systems which are still perfect hundreds of years later.

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Next in the agenda was the market in the town of Pisac. Dozens of stalls held beautiful Peruvian jewelry, sweaters, blankets, fluffy llama pelts and all other manner of Peruvian delights. We were delighted to trade our Sols, the Peruvian currency, for our new treasures. I bought a couple of alpaca blankets and a hat and scarf I needed to keep me warm during our adventure in the mountains the next day.

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After lunch, there was a quick stop to see the giant guinea pig statue to lure us to stop and enjoy the delicacy roasting nearby. Since I’m not much on roasted pets, we quickly moved on and headed to Ollantaytambo, a magnificent Incan site that was my favorite from my last visit. Very crowed this time but it gave me plenty of time to take the steep steps up the mountain at about 9000 feet. At the top is the magnificent Sun Temple, a mammoth granite holy site. Back down the mountain was a beautiful fountain

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It was time to take the long drive through the mountains to Cusco. The sun was setting over the snow capped mountains. The pink sky and full moon guided us back to the hotel where my sister and niece Anne were waiting to greet us. They had arrived that day on a different flight.  A supper of wood-oven pizza finished the day perfectly and then we headed to our plush hotel to prepare for the next day’s adventure.

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“Glamazon” woman too tall for the door.

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More lambs with knit hats.

Camp Chesterfield

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Memorial Garden, Camp Chesterfield

The last two years my passport has been tucked away as I have tended to family and refilled my travel fund. Fortunately rural America holds many hidden gems and I’ve traveled the highways and byways in search of the sacred. I’ve visited Vonore, Tennessee, Cullman and Tuscumbia Alabama, Peebles Ohio, Harrodsburg, Kentucky, Vergas, Minnesota, Carpenteria and Ojai, California, and now I have a new place to add to the list.

Last week I was headed to the Great Lakes Retreat in Olivet, Michigan, (a wonderful experience, I highly recommend) I stopped by Chesterfield, Indiana, to spend the night with a friend to break up the journey. About half way up the eastern side of Indiana amongst vast cornfields and tidy farm houses is the historic Camp Chesterfield, a spiritualist community. My teacher Rachael is a spiritualist minister but she comes from the English tradition and so I’ve never heard of the spiritualist camps in North America except Lily Dale, New York. Spiritualism is the communication with spirits and people who have passed away through a medium who is sensitive to the vibrations of the spirit world.

Camp Chesterfield was established in 1890 to provide contact with the spirit world and train mediums. There were many such camps across American during this heyday of mediumship but Camp Chesterfield is one of the last remain. Mediumship has become popular again as TV shows featuring mediums and the need for the comfort mediumship brings to people who are grieving lost loved ones.

In the morning after breakfast in the little cafeteria where each menu item was a dollar, my four dollar breakfast was perfect. My hostess had a reading to do for a friend so I happily headed out to explore on my own. Now if the Magic Kingdom in Disney World decided to make “Spiritualismland” it would have to be modeled after Camp Chesterfield. It is a playground of delights all with a patina of age and history. In the middle of the camp is an extensive park. First, there is a small cathedral and a chapel for services and messages. I poked my head into the little chapel and heard the organist practicing for a memorial service later that day. I moved on to the two hotels. The Sunflower built in 1914 is no longer used but I peaked in to see; it had the smell of a very old building and I would suspect it was very haunted, so I was glad that wasn’t my place for the night. The Western was build in 1945 and still houses the guest that come for classes. In the basement was a long room with two rows of twin beds each with a dressing table. In the back was a rack of dresses in case you forgot yours and needed something to wear for giving messages from the platform—-dress, pantyhose and closed toed shoes are required for the ladies, suit and tie for the men. The upstairs rooms were sparse but very clean. Across the way is a museum that was closed but has spirit art and apports (objects that manifest into physical form during seances)

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I headed into the glen sparkling in the morning sunshine where I enjoyed the American Indian memorial and the totem pole located on Inspiration Hill. The Garden of Prayer is a grotto, perfect for mediation. I walked the labyrinth in my bare feet so I could feel the ground. After that I sat on what was left of The Toad Stools, two dozen small tables and chairs under the trees where mediums gave messages to the campers, an old fashioned psychic fair. The table tops were engraved with the names of the mediums.

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The Toad Stools

I wandered over to the Trail of Religions where there is a memorial to the world’s great religions with a bust of 10 leaders from Osiris to Mohammed. There was a memorial garden with the ashes of many of the mediums that had worked at the Camp. I gave my respects to Quan Yin and circled the outside of the camp where around three dozen summer cottages house the residents. The houses are close together and in every condition from needing lots of love to very pristine. Most have angel and St Francis statues decorating the tiny lawns. Many of the houses had signs in the front indicating that a reader lived there and the type of readings.

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Trail of Religions

The camp was charming beyond belief and I enjoyed the atmosphere of church-summer-camp-meets-the-spirit-world. It is still an active camp in the summer with classes and a seminary. A unique place that has lasted a 125 years producing mediums of the highest training and integrity. There is a great need for good mediums. Over the years, as I’ve had hundreds of readings in my house, I have watched people come through the door broken and grieving and come out of a reading with renewed hope and healing. The loved ones in our lives are so precious and to reconnect without a doubt with the help of a great medium is a gift from Spirit.

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http://www.campchesterfield.net

Ave Marie Grotto

 

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I never quite know where or when the call for the next pilgrimage will come. My latest call came from a place not usually associated with the sacred, The Wall Street Journal. In the afternoon I get a cup of coffee and sit down to catch up on the day’s news. In the personal section there is a monthly column called “Dream Spaces”. The writer was talking about going to a place called the Ave Marie Grotto. The story peaked my interest and I looked it up and realized it was in the neighboring state of Alabama. A few days later my friend Val was talking about her upcoming college tour with her son to Alabama and had some time between appointments. I suggested she look to see how close the Grotto was to her route. Within an hour not only was she going to visit the Grotto but I was too. The hotel was booked and two weeks later I was headed to Alabama on a mini pilgrimage.

Spring had arrived during the night and the pure white pear trees, purple redbuds and the daffodils made the drive a delight of its own. The spring colors were extra vivid against the background of bares limbs and brown grass. I took my time and stopped at my favorite used bookstore. I had found some old cassette tapes in my closet and used this delightful archaic technology to listen to Alan Watts tell stories of the Zen masters. The new spring day and Zen, what a perfect combination.

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Ave Marie Grotto is located in Cullman, Alabama, in the northern part of the state on the grounds of St. Bernard Abbey, a Benedictine Monastery. The Grotto is a four acre park of over 120 miniature buildings, reproductions of some of the most sacred places on earth. It was built by Brother Joseph Zoettl, at first as a hobby but then as a true devotion. Brother Joseph was born in Bavaria in 1878 but came to Alabama as a young man to fulfill his dream of being a Benedictine. An injury kept him from becoming a priest so he was assigned to work in the boiler room. He started to collect rocks and used them to make miniature buildings of Jerusalem. Working only from photographs, Brother Joseph started making elaborate scale reproductions and shrines. The monastery moved the buildings to a nearby abandoned quarry and built a large grotto for a shrine to the Virgin Mary. Children from around the world started to send Brother Joseph objects to include in his creations: marbles, shells, rocks, glass, china.

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The next day was glorious and we had the Grotto to ourselves. The meandering path wound down beside delightful buildings including a fairy house for Hansel and Gretel until I arrived at the hillside of pure enchantment. First, there are the missions of California and then a few steps later you are in Rome, on the other side of the Grotto you walk through Jerusalem. After that, I headed to Lourdes and the tower of Babel and then Fatima. The tiny spring flowers were blooming amongst the tiny buildings and the azalea bushes provided a flaming backdrop. The grotto’s resident cat was taking her morning nap near the statue of Brother Joseph. I had to walk through the park a second time to just begin to take in the magic of this holy place.

Brother Joseph was a tiny man who left a large spiritual legacy. Everyday he tended the boiler and built his dream: stone and shell, found objects and imagination. He left a legacy of pure devotion, a perfect dream space to enter the timeless. When he died he only had one possession, the autobiography of Therese of Lisieux, his spiritual inspiration. She said “May you trust God, that you are exactly where you are meant to be”. No doubt Brother Joseph lived the life he was meant to live, and one early spring morning I was where I was meant, to be inspired by his love and devotion.

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http://www.avemariagrotto.com

Chartres

Chartres

I’d like to have a bumper sticker that says “I Brake for Cathedrals”. It doesn’t matter that there are no cathedrals within 500 miles of my home, I just want to be prepared. Seven weeks in Spain with a daily cathedral fix wasn’t enough to satiate me. I can’t get enough of stain glass, vaulted arches and high alters. So of course when I took Caroline to Paris when she was 17 I had to go Chartres Cathedral that rises majestically above a small town on the outskirts of Paris.

In 2007 Caroline and I spent 10 days in Paris going to every museum in the guide book, she a budding art student and me wanting to relive the month I spent in Paris as a college student. We did take a side trip to Bruges, Belgium and on the way back I struck up a conversation with some fellow Southerners. I mentioned I was going to Chartres on Friday. They said they would be there too and that was the only day the labyrinth was open.

A driver picked us up in a mini-bus along with another family for a morning in Chartres and afternoon at Versailles. I asked if there would be time to walk the labyrinth. He replied the unforgettable words “there is no time in Chartres”. Those prophetic words rang in my ears the entire day as I stepped out of human time into Divine time.

Caroline laid on a bench, a bit sick with a virus I had the day before, and I took the tour. We wandered around admiring the blue stained glass windows that are unique to Chartres. The blue is said to filter the light to make the space harmonious for initiation. No one knows how it was made but the formula was thought to have been brought from Jerusalem by the Templars. I marveled at the enormous pillars that had held the soaring ceiling for 800 years and toured the choir and alter. Chartres had been the home of a mystery school a thousand years ago and was built on holy underground streams.

The tour guide and other family wandered off to find some breakfast and I headed to the labyrinth. I had dreamed a long time of that special labyrinth. The circular walkway weaves in and out, back and forth, teasing you with the center so close just to take you back out to the edge and then magically you have arrived. I had never walked a labyrinth before, I wanted to save that first experience for the holy mother of all labyrinths at Chartres.

The labyrinth is in the nave and normally covered with chairs but on that Friday the chairs were moved to surround the magic space and several dozen people were seated watching the walkers. I’m normally a very self-conscious person and that would be unnerving to have people watching me, but I didn’t care, I had a task to do that I had waited a lifetime for. Just as I was about to step on to the path I saw my friends from earlier in the week just a bit ahead. We were the only ones walking, we smiled knowing that we had come back together for this sacred moment. In the center we met and hugged, never said a word, because to speak would have broken the spell of that infinite moment.

I slowly walked back out so happy to have that small break in my life to walk this internal pilgrimage to the heart, to come back out with the gift of a moment of eternity. There was only one thing I could do and that was to go sit in the chapel of Our Lady of the Pillar, a beautiful statue of Mary and baby Jesus dressed in golden robes and crowns. She is the black Madonna, the earth goddess, a reminder of the druid shine that was on that land two millenia before. I sat there and gave thanks for my morning of perfect sacred timelessness.

Our Lady of the Pillar

http://chartrescathedral.net/

http://www.labyrinthos.net/chartresfaq.html

Sequoyah

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Not far from my home, about a 30 minute drive, is the birthplace of a remarkable man, Sequoyah. I often go there and take friends to this peaceful little museum and park tucked away in the coves of a man-made lake. The tiny museum, with an entrance fee of $3, has displays and a movie chronicling the history of the Cherokee people and Sequoyah.

If you’ve never heard of Sequoyah let me tell you about this genius that changed the lives of the Cherokee. Born in Tennessee around 1776, Sequoyah was a silversmith. Although he was illiterate he was fascinated by what he called “talking leaves” the white settlers used to communicate. So he set out to create a syllabary made of 86 symbols representing the syllables of the Cherokee language. It took him about 12 years from 1809-1821. The museum says that he received great inspiration from listening to bird sounds. He taught his young daughter to read and used her to prove his system worked. He asked the local councilmen to tell him something to write and then had his daughter to read back their words. Despite having endured ridicule for his endeavors, his system of writing was quickly embraced by the Cherokee nation and the majority of the Cherokee people were literate within months, surpassing the literacy of the local settlers.

No person had ever before singlehandedly developed a syllabary and Sequoyah was able to do this without being literate in any other language. His system was so well developed that is was fool proof and easy to learn and his syllabary is still being used. Newspapers and books were published with this new syllabary and it was essential for helping preserve the history, culture and spiritual practices of the Cherokee. Sequoyah went on to be a diplomat and statesman and was awarded a silver medal of honor by the Cherokee National Counsel which he wore the rest of his life.

Sequoyah is a modern day Thoth, the Egyptian god of writing and language. Sequoyah saw that written language empowered people and wanted his own nation to have this same autonomy. Unfortunately the Cherokee were brutally removed from the eastern US to Oklahoma during this time and Sequoyah worked to reunite the tribe and helped create a syllabary that would work for all the Native American languages.

Like Thoth’s caduceus in the library and Quan Yin holding the energy in the garden, Sequoyah’s presence has been in my home for over 30 years. A lithograph of his famous portrait hangs in the front hall along with other notable Native Americans. My father-in-law collected these portraits because they were produced by someone with our same last name and he also loved history. I prefer to think that my land and home welcomes the learning and wisdom exemplified by this great man and I’m honored that he has a special place in my home.

Sequoyah birthplace

Replica of Sequoyah’s home in Tennessee

 

The Great Serpent Mound

the great serpent

Although I have traveled quite a bit this year I haven’t gone to any traditional sacred sites. Obligations and finances aren’t allowing for an extended pilgrimage this year but that doesn’t mean my heart doesn’t long to step on ancient sacred land. Fortunately for me one of the greatest sacred sites in North America is just a half a day drive from my home. So my friend Val and I came up with a plan for an equinox pilgrimage to southern Ohio where the mighty Serpent Mound holds the light between heaven and earth. We have dear friends who were in the holy land of Peru for equinox and we wanted to connect the sacred lands with our presence.

We headed out early, I waved goodbye to the luminous field full of round bales of hay, braved the early morning traffic and finally came to the open road through the lush mountains and rolling hills of Kentucky. My mother-in-law is a coal miners daughter from Hazard and her connection to this land is strong, her memory has faded but she still wants to go home to Kentucky. I can see why, it is beautiful, peaceful land and the journey is as joyful as the destination. The strong sun of the summer is starting to fade and the magic that is Autumn makes the sky a deep blue and the fading leaves glow.

Just past Lexington we head down a rural road to Adams County Ohio, past tobacco barns full of the harvest, open to let the air dry the hanging leaves. The old stack stoned fences, along side the black board fences, define the land, keeping the horses safe and the past alive. Old homes that have seen much stand next to new metal homes. The charming town of Paris is like stepping back 50 years in time.

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After crossing the Ohio river we are in Amish country. We stopped by an Amish market and picked up food and baked goods as well as sandwiches on fresh baked bread. A quick look in the rock shop full of fossils from the area completes the journey for the Serpent is waiting for us just over the hill. I have been here several times in the last 15 years so it is like visiting an old friend.

The Great Serpent is an ancient effigy mound around 5000 years old. Its mouth is open ready to swallow the cosmic egg and its body is 1300 feet of coils ending in the spiral tail almost like a labyrinth. The body is a few feet high of perfectly molded earth covered with a skin of grass. The curving body lays on gently rolling land giving a look of living velvet. Each of the seven coils points to a different place in the heavens. It is a living observatory of the equinoxes and solstices, moon phases and constellations.

Perfectly aligned with the constellation Draco, The Dragon, the Serpent mirrors the universe on earth pointing to the former pole star Thuban. The sacred geometry of this giant creature makes it aligned to other great sacred observatories, Stonehenge, the Inti stone at Machu Picchu and the Great Pyramids of Egypt. Like the Mayan god Quetzalcoatl, another winged serpent of wisdom, it is believed to have had wings in the past. I also am reminded of the Egyptian god Thoth, god of Wisdom, who holds the entwined snakes of the caduceus. Wisdom in the message of this Serpent, knowledge of the Universe, understanding of what is timeless in our world.

I walk around the serpent, climb the near-by tower to get a birds-eye view, lay on a bench and feel the cool breeze come off of its body, look over the cliff to the meteor crater below and connect to the heavens in my mind. I thank the Serpent and leave a small offering to further connect the sacred lands of Peru and Egypt. I know I will be back again to ask for more wisdom and healing.

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http://www.greatserpentmound.com

The Mystery of the Serpent Mound by Ross Hamilton

Advent

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Entrance to the labyrinth.

I have a very busy and fun Christmas this year, full of family and friends.  My parents are visiting for a least a month and Alexandra is home from college and preparing to move to Los Angeles in January.   I have my usual big Swedish Smorgasbord planned for Christmas Eve and a large family reunion the weekend after Christmas at my home.  Whew.  I’m looking forward to all the festivities but I do try to pace myself so that this time of the year is a joy and not just exhaustion.

So last week I took a morning off to celebrate Advent/Winter Solstice.   A friend and I met for coffee and then headed to the local college to a secret labyrinth hidden in a corner of the woods.

This labyrinth is made of brick set into the ground and is invisible until you are practically standing on it.    All bundled up to keep warm on an  overcast, crisp morning, I headed into the labyrinth.    The path was narrow and sometimes hard to see with the matted grass and leaves which matched the brick.   I slowly wound my way in, back out, back in, around, out, in and then I’m always surprised when I finally make it to the center, the heart.   I waited for my friend to get to the center and then I retraced my steps and carefully unwound my way to the beginning.   I then wandered the grounds a bit, looking at the empty trees with just a few berries hanging on.  It was so peaceful and I felt that I had my moment of contemplation for Advent, this gentle time of anticipation.    Nothing to prepare, nothing to gather, nothing to plan,  just the quiet grey day and me.

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I’ve always planned to put a labyrinth out on the farm and this spring is going to be the perfect time to build one.   My father-in-law left us his beloved old bulldozer which will be perfect to smooth the old lawn that has become rough with age.   So I’m scouting my own secret location to build my labyrinth while the ground is bare.   I have beautiful old bricks piled behind the barn that will be perfect for defining the path.   All is there just waiting for the day that the labyrinth will be ready for me to wind my way to the heart and bring back out the joy.

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Anticipation

 

 

Scotland

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Glen Lyon,  Perthshire Scotland

Scotland has been in the world news the last couple of weeks and it has also been in my personal news too.   I followed the vote for independence not because I hold an opinion, I don’t have enough information to form one, but because I have a personal reason for knowing the outcome, I own land in Scotland.   Yes, that’s right; I have my own piece of heaven, the Motherland, as Hamilton and I think of it.  Alexandra’s middle name is the family clan, McKay.  We love to go to the local highland games to see our people.

Last month a friend gifted me my own personal picnic spot near Oban.   I hope to go visit and enjoy my tiny spot.  But more importantly the land comes with a title.  I’m now legally able to be referred to as Lady Evans.    Thank goodness my status in the world is finally recognized.   I’ve put up signs to remind my staff of the changes in my social standing.

In 2009 Hamilton and I went to Scotland for the first time as part of a whirlwind tour around the UK.   We each had a list of sacred sites we wanted to visit.   Rosslyn Chapel was on the top of my list.   That enigmatic site didn’t disappoint.   I sat quietly soaking in the magic while William, the chapel’s cat, lay on my lap peacefully napping.

We visited Edinburgh Castle, the memorial to Sir Walter Scott and the art museum before heading toward Inverness and Loch Ness.   On the way to Inverness we spent the day in Perthshire to see the sacred sites of Glen Lyon.   I had contacted Barry Dunsford to take us to some of the hidden gems in this magical world.

We saw an ancient yew tree, Roman bridges, hermit caves, stone circles, crystal Fairy Mountains, Druid sites and mysterious chapels.   Hamilton enjoyed being able to just gawk at the scenery instead of driving the narrow roads. My favorite was the St. Mary’s Grail Chapel which has a beautiful painted ceiling with the lineage of Christ and mysterious Grail Knights.  In the center of the ceiling was a large painting of “The Judgment” tarot card.    It was unmistakable and a clear indication of a sacred place of esoteric knowledge.

Judgement Panel

Judgment

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Grail Knight

Later in the week we went to the stone circle of Kilmartin and took the ferry over to the island of Islay.   Here we visited Hamilton’s sacred site the Lagavulin distillery.  On Islay we also visited a tiny church with a special Celtic cross.  In the grave yard the headstone of a little girl caught my eye.  She was born September 26 and died ten years later on September 26.  The day we were there was September 26.  I said a special prayer for her.

Celtic Cross   Islay Scotland

Islay

Kilmartin

Kilmartin

Scotland calls me, I have so much to discover and learn there. We just got a taste of Scotland and it is top of the list to revisit especially now that we have societal and financial interests at stake.  I want to go to the holy island of Iona and the stones of Callenish.   One mystery at a time, I want to become part of the wind and the land of my little plot of ground and soak up this sacred land.

 

Barry Dunsford and the Sacred Land of Scotland   www.sacredconnections.co.uk

Land and titles in Scotland   www.highlandtitlesVIP.com

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A gentle reminder for my staff

 

St James of the Field of Stars (Santiago de Compostela)

 

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This month is the 5th anniversary of my Camino walk. The Camino was life changing and I miss it often.  Enjoy this lovely memory with me.  My daily posts on the Camino can be found in the archives in May and June 2014.

My book Pilgrimage: A Modern Seeker’s Guide was inspired by my walk on the Camino and many other pilgrimages around the world and close to home.  The e-book is now priced at $5.99.  Check it out at Amazon. 

It wasn’t until the last week on the Camino that I could even think about Santiago, yet that was always the goal.   Every day I concentrated on the next 20 km or talked about the next big town, Pamplona, Burgos, Leon.   After Astorga, Santiago started to come into focus.   There were rumors about a celebration in Santiago about the time I planned to get there.  That was when I realized that if I arrived one day early I would be in Santiago for Pentecost, a holy day and a guaranteed Botafumeiro, the mammoth swinging incense censer in the nave of the Cathedral.   See a video of the Botafumeiro here.

Pentecost is the graduation day for the Apostles, including St. James, after Christ’s Ascension.   The Holy Spirit came to them in the Upper Room and sent tongues of fire to anoint them to go preach the Gospel.   No more perfect day to finish my pilgrimage and graduate to the next stage of my life.

While Alexandra slept I spent Pentecost with St. James.  I first listened to the beautiful chant of the Rosary.   Next the Botafumeiro made its mighty journey through the Cathedral to the sounds of the organ and choir.  I dreamed of this moment along with the centuries of pilgrims who had dreamed that same dream.   I went to a chapel to celebrate Mass in English with an Irish priest.  He read the story of Pentecost and we sang songs and lit a candle for all of the continents and peoples.     I joined the main Mass where the Archbishop presided over Confirmation.   I was having my graduation ceremony.  I had completed my task.

I didn’t realize how much I was going to need those extra days in Santiago to process my experience.   I saw pilgrim friends I hadn’t seen in weeks and we hugged and congratulated each other on a job well done.   It was special to be at Pilgrim’s Mass with my fellow travelers, a shared experience to the end.    I saw everyone I had hoped to see again and exchanged contact information.

I went to dinner with my friends and we talked about our favorite and least favorite Albergues, tales of the food, injuries and blisters and things we learned.  One pilgrim was in tears because he finally forgave his father, others had come to terms with their past or had new hope for their future. We were all proud of our strong bodies and loose hiking pants.   I cherished every moment of the language of the pilgrim, I miss it so much.

The next day my friends arrived by car with clothes for me and to share my triumph.   It was hard to move out of the pilgrim world.   The first day I put on a new shirt.  The next day I put on different shoes but still wore my hiking pants.  I had to reenter the world gradually.   We went to Mass together and they were treated to the Botafumeiro, and I was glad to see it another time.   We went behind the altar to touch the statue of St. James and went below to the crypt where his bones are kept in a silver casket.

All of my pilgrim rituals where complete and it was time to go.   I left my worn out shoes and some clothes I couldn’t bear to wear again and a piece of my heart in Santiago.

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Worn out shoes

Spain

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Caroline and Alexandra at The Alhambra, Granada, Spain 2001

So what’s with Spain? It has never been at the top of my travel list, that has always been, France, England, England, France, England. But for the second time I’m happily heading to Spain. All the other countries I’ve visited, I just pack a bag, get some cash and board a plane but not Spain. Both times I’ve been required to spend nearly a year preparing just so I can enter the country.

I went to Spain for the first time in June 2001. My daughters were 8 and 11 and were invited to go on a performance tour with a violin school out of Chicago. They had to qualify by December of 1999 by playing a particular Bach piece than they had to learn a large repertoire for the tour. Every note, fingering and bowing had to be perfectly memorized. It was a big task for a Second and Fifth grader but they did it. They didn’t always enjoy the daily practice but they love to perform and tours and violin camps are some of their favorite childhood memories.

We spent two weeks seeing the wonderful sights of Spain and performing for approving audiences. The girls made friends with the other performers and I was thrilled to be back in Europe for the first time in 13 years.

Now another 13 years have passed and I’m off to Spain on May 1 to walk The Camino. My younger daughter Alexandra is going with me. She is no longer the little violinist with pigtails but a grown woman almost finished with college. Instead of violin cases we will be caring backpacks. Starting in Roncesvalles in the Pyrenees, we will walk around 12 miles a day, staying in hostels, for the 500 miles to the Cathedral in Santiago. Pilgrims have been walking to the shrine of St James for 1000 years and now it is my turn.

For this trip instead of daily practice and memorizing music, there have been over 200 miles of training walks, physical therapy for a bad ankle, a Whole30 challenge to lose weight, an attempt to learn Spanish, yoga and lots of study. I don’t camp so I’ve needed to learn about backpacks, quick-dry hiking clothes and sleeping bags. I have to prepare 7 weeks of office work to keep things running smoothly on the farm. Hamilton is learning to cook more and do laundry. Caroline still has finals and an internship at the Physics Dept at UT. The cats will manage somehow.

My plan is to blog often on this trip. Thanks to a Smartphone I hope to send pictures and stories along The Way. I do keep in mind that the Camino has plans for me and I need to be open to the serendipity of each day. I have a hotel reservations for the first and last nights but for 38 days in between my life will be ……????

So the moral of the story is—-be careful what you name your blog. I thought it was about comfortable air-conditioned bus rides to beautiful archeological sites. I had no idea it meant I would have to actually walk. I’m ready to find out what else the Universe has planned.

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Alexandra  Spain 2001

The Camino http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Way_of_St._James