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Blessings – 27 September

2011/10/01

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Boente to Rúa

Whatever divine guiding force is moving us along our way has blessed us exceptionally today. We had quite a good night’s sleep, and left about 30 minutes before sunrise. We walked through the deep forest paths in the morning twilight, and so it was fairly dark. We could see that for the first time since we have been walking there was some cloud cover overhead, and the making of a brilliant sunrise. We have had so many clear skies that there have not really been any colourful sunrises. Anyway, just as the path rose out of the forest to cross the main road, giving us a clearer view of the sky, we were presented with a spectacular view of a brilliant sunrise. We may have had to wait a long time for it, but it was worth the wait, and the perfect timing was something that we could not possibly have managed.

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Secondly, we walked for more than an hour this morning with Anna, one of the young Germans with whom we have been sharing our way, on and off since Larrasoaña – our second day. She is 22, a college student originally studying mathematics, but who found after walking a different part of the Camino through France last year that she was not called to teach mathematics, but to try a different field. So she is now studying engineering and economics. She is also very diligent about being guided by her Christian faith in making decisions and in her view of the world. In many ways, there is more wisdom in this young woman than all the bankers in North America! Maybe she, and young people like her, will ultimately shake up the way in which economics is practised. As I said to her, there has not really been any dramatic development in the field of economic theory for 70 or 80 years, a time during which almost every other field has been subject to radical change. Anyway, we have been touched that these young people seem moved to spend time with us as they walk along.

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Our progress for the past couple of days has been closely supervised by a succession of robins (the small, European ones), who often dart down to the path before we pass, sit on close branches until the last minute, and then dart away, often serenading us as we past. They are a connection with my family, past and present: they have always been a distinctive part of the English countryside, and my sister’s bird table is often visited by them. Also, today we saw – for the first time – some Spanish squirrels. They have brown bodies and black tails. I expect that given the many Spanish chestnut trees that we have passed along the way, and that the chestnuts are edible, squirrels are not very popular with the locals. I’m avoiding thinking of what that might mean …

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I can understand why people are drawn to the Galician part of the Camino. Its forests are varied, but sheltering. They contain many very old deciduous trees, including oaks and chestnuts, as well as introduced species such as eucalyptus. For Kate, this lends a touch of California reminiscence, since the central coast of California is rich with eucalyptus. In Spain, they are fodder for the pulp industry, but their shady nature is much appreciated on what continue to be warm days. And we continue to walk through tiny villages and hamlets some of whose streets look as though they have changed little in centuries. Of course, some of this is attached to a region of poverty and serious population decline: we see many derelict and collapsing building, although there are signs of modernisation and repair under way as the Camino brings ways for the Galician people to support themselves, and reasons for their children not to leave for Madrid, Barcelona or places farther afield.

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Anyway, the day possessed more divine guidance: we stopped to look at the memorial to Guillermo Watt, a pilgrim who died just a day away from completing his pilgrimage in 1993. At that precise moment, a Brazilian couple happened to come along, whom we have seen a couple of times to greet, but not really to talk – until now. He told us of his previous four attempts to complete the Camino, each interrupted for a different reason, and then the story of his dead father, by whom he feels guided on this journey, which he seems certain to complete. He tearfully spoke of having a dream of being welcomed into Santiago by his father, Heinz. I am not sure what moved him to disclose this personal detail with two people who were – until then – basically strangers, but again, the way of Saint James is to bring people closer together, and sharing stories is one way this is manifest.

We were still looking for somewhere to stay, and since the albergues at Santa Irene, where we planned to stay, were full, we had to walk on (whatever Kate’s feet had to say). And there was one last blessing in a random chance: finding ourselves in the same place as Jenny and Dougal, the Australian couple whom we have befriended along the way, coinciding on and off since Puente la Reina. We have not seen them for a week, although we have probably only been about 5 kilometres apart. There was much catching up to do.

There was another sad note to the day. We met a man called Kevin, from Londonderry, completing a journey that his dead wife had planned … His journey has been difficult logistically as well as physically. I wonder whether we will see him again – and doubt it – but we will carry him in our hearts. Grief can take a long time to work itself out, and I hope that this way has given him some comfort and a beginning of peace.

There is one day left to follow the seemingly endless trail of yellow arrows that have marked our way. In some ways, I have a heavy heart as the end approaches, but the journey itself continues to lighten any darkness that we may feel.

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Incidentally, it looks as though some of the pictures from the previous post have been spread rather randomly around the text. Sorry for the illustrative confusion.

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