Friday, May 31, 2013

Days 6-10, Chemin de Saint Jacques

Day 6. Almost a blizzard! We walked with snow blowing against us all day. Here I am demonstrating our multipurpose gear in action (sheet scarf and sock gloves). Something about walking with my head down against the wind, just putting one foot in front of the other all day made me go into kind of a meditative state. Though at one point I realized my mantra with each step had become, hot cocoa, hot bath. Hot cocoa, hot bath. It's amazing what focus one can have with only basic necessities in mind (I realize I'm including hot cocoa in that category). And what joy one has when they are finally reached. 

Day 7. Transhumance Festival in Aubrac. We arrived in time to see this lively  annual tradition on the Aubrac Plateau - the moving of the herds to higher pastures for summer grazing. Traditional village dancing, music, and food accompanied the successive groups of cows and herders that walked through town. Rachel and I tried some aligot, basically mashed potatoes with enough cheese mixed in to make them stringy, and almost bought donkey sausage because we thought the man who said, "it's like a horse with small ears" was describing venison. 

Day 8. Dropped elevation below the snow level for a gorgeous walk today on a path spongy with wet fallen leaves and the sun coming through ash trees like shades of green stained glass. 

Day 9. We have been passing through some of the most bucolic little villages these past few days. It strikes me that each one is constructed from and so resembles its landscape. Some towns are pinkish red from the sandstone below, used to build the houses and churches, others are built with granite stones, mossy and softened with age. Even the roof tiles change depending on the local resources; in this region all the houses have slate shingles. And in every rural town, the majority of the houses have a huge garden that takes up the whole space of what would have been their back or front yard. Here's a picture of a particularly large one below, replete with lettuces, sweet peas, potatoes, tomatoes, carrots, and strawberries. 

Day 10. Today we met someone from the U.S. for the first time on the trail. Strangely enough, I probably met him once before! Brad was part of a monastic community at Good Earth farm in Ohio last summer, and I visited there during a food and faith conference. Rachel and I were at the point of talking to cows the day before, so we were relieved to have someone else to talk to in English! He has hiked the Camino twice before, and this time started at Taize with the goal of arriving in Santiago in 2.5 months. Wow! We start the Camino in Spain in just 2 days. I'm excited to finally be able to understand most of what local people are saying, and learn more about Spanish culture along the way. 

PS. My mom said some of these pictures are getting cropped off (maybe because I'm using an iPhone?), so if you can't see them then sorry. 

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Days1-5, Chemin de Saint-Jacques

Day 1. Le Puy en Velay; bright-eyed and bushy-tailed!
Started our journey with about 50 other pilgrims in a small town famous for its green lentils and lacemaking. At morning mass, we received a blessing and a special pilgrim passport to show at each hostel along the Way. An ornately dressed statue of a dark mother, or the "black virgin," presided at the front of the 11th century cathedral. I lit a candle in front of a statue of St. Jacques the pilgrim for our journey, and all mes cheries back home. 

Day 2-3. Muddy trails and lots of rain, hard slogging and some steep climbs in the Massif Central, an old volcanic mountain range. Met Denise and Savas, a couple from Australia who are always joking, and really fun to talk with. Stayed at our favorite hostel so far run by a friendly woman named Sonia, who served a 4 course dinner made with products from her family's farm, including more cheeses than I have ever had in one meal.

Day 4.  
Worked our way up to an average of 20 km per day now, about 12-14 miles through lower hill country in Auvergne, a lovely agricultural region known for its cheese and meat. Lowlights: bedbug sightings and my first dog bite of the trail. (It was a sheep dog and just nipped my calf, didn't hurt really.) Highlights: after tiring of baguettes at every meal, Rachel and I bought tuna and goat cheese and made a dandelion salad with greens foraged along the way. Miam miam! (Yum!)

Day 5. Snow!!! This (below) was the view from our window in the morning. We walked through a mixture of snow and sleet all day at an elevation of about 3,500 feet. The locals said this weather was really unusual for late May, and we were unprepared. Denise and Savas, our hiking companions today, laughed at our trail fashion - wool socks for mittens and our silk liner sheets for scarves. Denise said that sometimes the Camino isn't about the journey, it's about the destination. Today was such a day. 

My favorite sister

One of the reasons I wanted to do the Camino was to get to know Rachel as an adult. We are 7 years apart (I'm older, though I admit she is more mature). As we were planning for the Camino, Rachel and I joked that this trail would be "make it or break it" for our sisterhood. So far we are making it (check back next week though)! 

I'm glad to have my favorite sister to walk with, depend on for French, fight with about directions, tell me when my jokes aren't funny, sing My Fair Lady songs, split pastries, and experience this adventure together. 

PS. When I told Rachel my post title, she said, "well, you're my least favorite sister." That captures our relationship. Since she's my only sister. 

What we are doing/ what are we doing??

As you likely know, Rachel and I are hiking the Camino de Santiago, or the Chemin de Saint-Jacques, as it is known in France. The many routes of the pilgrimage end in Santiago de Compostuela, Spain. Along the way, pilgrims rest at hostels spaced out for every night. Some towns have been hosting pilgrims for hundreds of years. 
On the first day of the trail, especially as my feet grew sore, I found myself asking... why are we doing this? We flew thousands of miles to Paris, and then took a train to our starting point in central France that covered a greater distance than we will actually walk during the next month (about 500 km). We are walking a trail that was at its height in the 11th and 12th centuries, all because of Jesus' disciple, James, who purportedly failed at evangelizing Spain and returned to Jerusalem. Soon after, he was beheaded by Herod, and his followers sent his bones to Spain in 44 AD. (In a stone boat, and apparently they only took a week to arrive.) Fast forward 250-300 years, and the Church decided to create a pilgrimage destination out of the place his bones were buried, partly to claim Spain from the Moors for Christendom. 

After reviewing the strange history of the Camino (some old bones? A stone boat? Anyone else incredulous?), it seems a little crazy to walk 6 or more hours a day for a month or more because of a saint who was co-opted by the church-state to essentially bless the Crusades. 

On top of that, Rachel and I actually don't expect to reach the destination, Santiago de Compostuela. So, why again?

It's a nice walk. Really, it passes through some beautiful countryside. And thousands of people from around the world (mostly Europe) hike the Camino every year. Many of them do the pilgrimage as a spiritual quest, though not all. 
For me, walking is both a physical and a spiritual exercise. It creates the space and rhythm for a kind of prayer, and it attunes my mind to my body. I usually don't have a lot of patience for prayer, and I don't like working out that much either. I do like walking, though, so I hope a month of it will make me stronger, and by that I mean both my legs and my soul! Maybe this ancient walk will help me to better carry some questions about where I'm going, how to travel through life more simply and with greater trust, and how to embrace both the gifts and risks I sense God preparing me for. 

And I hope that writing about it all will bring a sense of clarity in this work of walking. I'm grateful for the presence of family and friends who share courage and light. I hope I can use this blog to share a little of the journey with you! 

Sunday, May 19, 2013


Bonjour from France! I am now on a bullet train heading to Le Puy, where my sister and i will start the Camino de Santiago tomorrow morning. 

Here is an overview of the week so far:

1.  Instigating a riot. Just kidding. Apparently Parisians are REALLY into their soccer team, because after they qualified for the World Cup, the streets were chaos! The team was supposed to make a public appearance near where Rachel and I were walking to the Eiffel Tower. 
We had no idea why shouting young men were running into the streets, smoke bombs going off, cars honking, motorcycles doing wheelies stopping traffic, etc. Luckily we slipped by the riot police under the Tower before they released tear gas into the crowd. 

2. The Louvre. Loved it. So much more to see (though we did get to see the Mona Lisa!) 'Nuf said. Here is a shot with some famous sisters (behind us).

3. Jet lag. I think I was supposed to be taking in the sights from the river Seine in this picture Rachel stole ;) 

4. Taize. We spent the last three days at  Taize, an ecumenical community in Burgundy that offered hospitality and refuge to Jews and others during WWII. Now the brothers host thousands of young people from all over the world for retreat, reflection on the gospel of peace and reconciliation, and to participate in their contemplative style of prayer through singing. For example:
It was the perfect place to spend the feast of Pentecost, surrounded as we were by so many different languages. I'm holding onto something Brother Alois said about the Spirit opening us up to go beyond our borders, and trusting in that expansion. 

Feeling rested and ready to start the pilgrimage!

Take care,

Tuesday, May 14, 2013


I was on a plane like this the first time I had a panic attack. 
I bent over to breathe between my knees 
and tears streamed down my face 
as we bulleted ahead at 500 miles per hour. 
It was the Philippines then,
six months committed to an unknown place and people,
35,000 feet above the ground and no turning back. 
It would be one of the best things I ever flew into. 

Now, I hurtle my way into France
and the turbulence over the Atlantic
makes me close my eyes and silently
list all the people I love. 
Do they know I love them?
I pray, "God, I trust You."
With each lurch, "God. God." 

How is it that we throw our lives
so easily at the mercy of the clouds?
Without thinking, I trust my body to this 767, 
triumph of human engineering,
a plastic and metal leaf 
shaking near Greenland now,
tiny bright dot in the dark sky,
with only the promise of an oxygen mask
and a floating seat cushion for comfort. 

I place my trust in computers and in the hands of this pilot,
but humanity is no consolation-
I know the deep exhaustion pilots carry,
the bags under my dad's own eyes. 
Yet he has no struggle with faith
in the mechanical birds he commands,
does not think about the craziness as I do,
just the daily-nightly grind of a job. 
There's a certain peace in function,
in guiding a plane safely home again and again,
the time-tested work and whir
of a million parts lifting and landing together. 
Perhaps that is my only comfort,
my father's faith in flight,
or at least the work of it.