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July 30, 2017


By Maryanna Gabriel

     Okay, maybe I overdid it. Overdoing it physically still wasn't good enough. My daily quota has not yet been met. I was pulling my knee braces out of their brand new packages. The black one that was more expensive seemed to do the trick. Fourteen kilometers was clearly a stretch. I was supposed to be averaging twenty kilometers a day. What does this portend pray tell? Suddenly the image of hobbling came to mind. My thoughts drift. I imagine my future. I hobbled to Santiago. It is occurring to me I could potentially not be able to manage. The bookings. The conversations. The dream.  My left knee was clearly inflamed. I was at home now. I could rest. On the Camino though? I had to make certain places by certain times for certain reasons. My mind drifts as I try to sleep. So, I think, if I have to get help with transport, that is the way it goes. If I have to come home without finishing then that is the way it goes. So be it.

     It is the continuous physical assault that is the worry, the repeated physical abuse. I remember a conversation with a sweet friend who had walked the Camino and was dealing with a terrifying medical diagnosis with a great deal of courage. I said to him during a visit, "I can't manage a pack." He smiled gently at me. "To each their own Camino. It does not matter. Just go." He continued softly, "Next to my wife and family, it was the best experience of my life." He seemed beatific. Such a lovely man.

Hmmm, I thought.

I am thinking now of this friend who passed away so soon after we spoke - a huge loss to so many. He gives me courage now to not falter. Yes, terrible things can happen yet I need to try. It doesn't matter if I cannot finish. I will at least have taken a run at it. During a recent visit with my family I had a long and encouraging talk with my daughter, who is a doctor. I was asking her about my knees. I expressed my fears. It wasn't too late to change my mind, I said. She and her husband patiently listened. They both helped me to feel I could do this. Sometimes a little encouragement is all that we need. 

July 29, 2017

A Quiet Country Road

By Maryanna Gabriel

It was time to expand my training past 10 kilometers. I selected a

walk that was fourteen kilometers along a quiet country road. It was raining. Even better, I said to myself. Let's test the equipment. It seemed to take forever to get myself out of the house but by eight o'clock I was on the road. I was feeling good. The 10 kilometer walk of yesterday was not inhibiting muscle action and that was reassuring. It was a quiet morning. For awhile I walked past a massive farm. I had known the woman who used to live there. Her children lived there now. I was thinking about her as I walked past. She was absolutely wealthy in terms of land. She could have spent her old age in Florida, dabbling her toes in the warm ocean. She died of pneumonia far too young and worrying about taxes. I saw sheep rally around a pick up truck and then I heard a shocking "Bang!" One huge gun had just gone off. The valley echoed. The sheep were retreating. Good idea I thought moving more quickly. Then another shot. Mutton for dinner? I walked on and knew I was reaching my destination, a most beautiful beach beside which is a stunning garden. I stared at the ducks emerging from a gray rainy mist and ate a piece of cake. I felt inside my pack. Dry. Good. Feet dry. Even better. 

The return was harder. My legs started to complain and I could feel that I had  hit a limit. I told myself I would have to do better and besides which it was only a little further to go. I made it, fourteen kilometers in the rain on level, paved terrain. Clearly more training was in order as I planned to average twenty kilometers often in heat which would be more difficult. Coming into the house was most delicious. Here it was the middle of summer but a cosy fire seemed appropriate with a huge pot of tea. I crocheted and read over an old diary. Chocolate seemed to figure in hugely. Home all felt so precious and dear.


July 26, 2017

The Garden

By Maryanna Gabriel

     There is a remoter area of the island that I have been walking in where I stopped to admire a garden. The energy pulsating out of it was palpable. My. I wondered who the

gardener was? A woman surely. I see a vegetable stand. Impressive. The gardener came out as I was going for a box of tayberries. Knowing that someone who can produce such berries and create such a place must be special, I became quite chatty. The gardener was a tall, lean man, much older than I, from the prairies, who had worked this garden from a wilderness setting. We discussed gardening and my raving paid off with an invitation. I was in. 

     As we wandered the towering aisles of greenery he taught me a few things. Like why the plums are not as plentiful this year. It is apparently a rest for them as they worked so hard last year. "Really?" I ask. "I have never heard of such a thing. It is the first year my plum tree has not produced. I thought it was me." And why hanging CD's from a lower fence keeps out deer. I admired a sink he had right in the middle of everything, so handy for washing up. He said his eggs were quite heavy and his wife agrees. I immediately bought a carton to go with the tayberries. Anybody with heavy eggs is right on my shopping list. He said that a couple of nights ago, raccoons waited until dusk and had recently killed two of his chickens. "I didn't know raccoons killed chickens," I murmur. "They won't be killing anymore," he assured me as he peeled a slice from a cabbage core and handed it to me. It was a delicacy for him. His mother's favourite part and what she used to hand to him when he was a child. Mmmm, tastes just like cabbage. Ideas for my garden, a place I love, came and went as we walked and talked. Such a lovely way to start a day. I said goodbye and left with gratitude and feeling inspired with ideas for my own garden.

July 25, 2017

Devotedly Yours

By Maryanna Gabriel

      Well fine. I have just ordered a new hat. Much to my amazement, I am now flinging my underwear madly about. Could be a bad case of nerves. I have this tidy habit of organizing things in pouches and I am sincere when I tell you my underwear bag has gone missing. I have no idea. I have lost my underwear, I do care, don't want to be bare, have gone to where, in despair, it might have been there, maybe a bear, had a share. Sorry. Or a cougar. What? A cougar? Just as I was trying to deal with this, and taking pride in the fact I was no longer peeing on my money belt in the woods, a friend mentioned there have been cougar sightings on the island. Two cougars it is thought. Sightings on both the south and the north end. Oh really. How very fascinating. Note to self. What does cougar scat look like? 

     Fortunately I am very busy playing with the adjustments on the pack that I have just figured out I can change. It has only taken four months of pack ownership to get to this point. Could just be a way of focusing myself. Like prayer beads. I am grateful I have the water bottle shackled to the pack frame. I am starting to wonder if I should resort to prayer right about now. This is a spiritual journey. Dearly Beloved. Friend. Er. All That Is. Er. Great Spirit. Er. Angels and Guides. Please help me make good equipment decisions and while I know my underwear is probably now gone forever I am hoping we can do this together. Very truly and devotedly yours, Maryanna. Oh boy. I have just found what I was looking for, my underwear, in an obscure pocket. I really do have to calm down. 

July 21, 2017

Spork Blues

By Maryanna Gabriel
     The days whirl by. Why do they? I would just  like to jump on the tail of at least one and hang on to it for dear life with the thought that time might slow. I have been doing careful walks in the morning as I gingerly test my back and I am starting to feel my confidence build. I realize that carrying the pack is an additional 12-14 pounds on my knees which is a strain. Today I found a free flower pot that I would never have noticed from my car. I have also been going up hills to build my cardio. I am noticing that I simply have to keep my pack zippers shut. I have lost my spork. Good heavens. I think I remember where that might have happened. I actually do find the spork when I return to look for it. My pack is a friend I don't know very well and clearly I have to baton down the hatches. For now I move my spork away from the offending zipper.

     In my wanderings I am exploring where I live. I have just found the most amazing place that I never knew existed and I am vowing to return to paint it. Not now. I don't have time. I am trying not to panic and I am feeling that another year of preparation would not be amiss. Then I find I 
have lost my hat. I tied it to the pack. It is nowhere. I return to where I think that might be and I cannot find it. It is a camouflage colour. What I do find instead is another amazing view. I can't keep losing equipment. I just can't afford it. On the Camino it could lead to disaster. What no sun hat? After several days of denial I return again to look for my hat and as I pack my lunch I think now I really have lost my spork. I try not to go into a deep depression. I find my spork in a tricky bag and calm down. I have not had occasion to use the word spork so frequently in one paragraph before. It is sort of fun. I am cheering up. 

July 18, 2017


By Maryanna Gabriel 

     I booked my plane tickets. That was a big decision. The beginning and the ending. I have been told that the Camino changes one. In fact, I was told, it is happening right now. I was noticing that the decision to go entailed an astonishing amount of thought. What to wear. What to pack. Accommodation worries. I was noticing, to be honest, that the thought of this journey was slowly taking over my life. Then there is the training! Oh surely there is lots of time as I try not to speak to people with furrowed brow, glazed eyes and a distracted air.

     The meandering plan was swiftly going by the wayside. As costs mounted and distances calculated, measured, and remeasured between towns I could see I was going to have to draw a line for myself. Enough already. I wasn't going to do this for months, let's be sensible. And what if I am making a mistake with my distances? What about altitudes? What about the weather? Do I take rain pants? What if following the road less travelled on this route is a miserable decision? How do I deal with being lost? People speak Spanish. What is the word for breakfast? Bathroom? Laundry?

hen there were the shoes. What shoes to wear for goodness sake. I researched. Weeks of it. Copious notes on this brand and that. Then socks. What are the best socks? Oi. 

     So many decisions. 

July 13, 2017

The Call

By Maryanna Gabriel

            Was everybody in the entire town here? Shaking my head I parked my car and made my way into the building to hear the speaker who had trekked the Camino, a walk across northern Spain. Pilgrims of the ages had found redemption on the Camino, which literally means “way”,  and now thousands were flocking to it. Here I was considering being one of them. Redemption is not an issue I dwell upon. I made my way through the front door and entered the crowded room.
           “Thank you for all that you do,” I said as I addressed the local organizer before the talk. “I don’t know why you do so much. I have been noticing.” She was a petite and intense looking person. She turned to me.
               “Have you walked the Camino?” she asked.
               “Walk the Camino. You will know why.”
               Her words found their mark. Attentively, I listened to the speaker describe his pilgrimage. He was processing the loss of his wife to cancer. She had told him to go before she died. Many walked the Camino in great travail, he said. They were grieving loss, divorce, some terrible diagnosis. Some were dying themselves. Some were going to the Camino to die. During the month he was there six people had died. Then there was that young woman from Arizona full of promise and hope. During her Camino she was lured with food into a man’s yard. He chopped her into little pieces. Months later police dogs found her, buried in his garden. No, this wasn’t going to be all wine and roses. There was much to consider. I left mulling over all that I had heard.
               Perhaps, I thought to myself, I should make the most difficult reservation. Just in case. I could always cancel. It was the first auberge or hostel, a converted shepherd’s hut, between France and Spain. They only had 28 beds. The route I was considering was called the Camino Frances. It starts in southern France in Saint Jean Pierre de Port and ends in the town of Santiago in eastern Spain at the Atlantic Ocean. It is 789 kilometers.
                “Mom, you are the slowest walker I know,” said my daughter when I told her about it. I had to admit it. I am a dawdler. Rushing about has become antithetical after years of single parenting. I had heard of people who were walking the Camino at a rate of five kilometers a day. They were planning on painting and writing as they went. That sounded about right. To each their own Camino. So they say. Maybe there was hope.
               I waited for the reply from the auberge. Time passed. I was beginning to think it was a sign. To not go. To stay in my comfortable bed. Tend my sweet garden. Sensibly balance my budget. Paint my toes prettily. What was I thinking? I hate crowds. Then one morning, there it was. Mon facture, the invoice. A silken thread tethering me. I felt excitement. I was connecting to this journey in a committed way with its arrival in my email inbox and I knew it. The momentum of it all was catching up with me. I was being swept up and carried away by a tide, a veritable sea of bobbling pilgrims, in a river of churning mud, burning sun, and vino tinto. It was becoming harder now to say no than to say yes. I was being consumed.
               I hesitated. The Camino would be a financial dint. I was troubled by my appliances. I thought of my children. My daughters have really nice refrigerators. I love the way they open so quietly, how they make ice, how the cheese and ice cream stack so nicely and the freezers are placed just so. When I visit, I open and shut the gleaming doors admiringly. If they give me questioning looks I just say I am helping with dinner. Sometimes for variation I innocently ask after the location of the olives. A momentary suspicious stare gives way to a distracted smile and they leave me alone. I offer the same in return, an arrangement that seems to suit us. I could see now that I had to face facts. The washing machine was definitely making odd noises. I feel a wave of guilt. Here I am considering the decision to gallivant across moor, and well, what is the word for vale in Spanish? Definitely time for replacements. I could not do both. I sigh. The washing machine question would resolve itself somehow. There are more things on heaven and earth that are dreamt of than new appliances surely. I had to set the bar, didn’t I? I grit my teeth as I load another wash. “We all have to rinse,” I hiss. “Just hold yourself together will you? At least until I return. Please.” I listen to the groan and squeal of protest as one cycle moves to the next. New appliances will just have to wait,” I mutter as I firmly close the lid. The tub clacks and shudders in reply. 

July 2, 2017

Dem Bones

By Maryanna Gabriel

Saint James
While my bones clatter hither and yon and I struggle to organize them I hasten to assure you I am not off topic. Religions treasure the bones of their saints. Bones are a big ticket item. The Camino is no different. Traditionally it is considered a spiritual act to walk to Santiago. The church grants pardon for one's sins. 

In the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela are the remains of the Apostle James. There is a legend as to how they came to be there and as it goes with this type of thing the story involves the extraordinary. The scallop shell is also his symbol as is the Galician cross. They say that the Milky Way is directly over the Camino and that it is on a magnetic ley line. I am curious. What would it feel like to be there, to walk it, to meet the people who are also walking and to interface with the Spanish culture? What will be my own inner process as I follow the steps of thousands over the centuries? That is if I can. 

Cathedral Of Santiago de Compostela