Friday, September 23, 2011


I first heard about the Camino at least 20 years ago.  There was an immediate deep visceral response.  I knew in every fiber of my being I wanted to do this thing, walk across the North of Spain.  This isn't a surprise if you really know me.  Or, it shouldn't be!

Growing up my first heroes/heroines were adventurers.  I remember getting lost reading an entire series of biographies in the elementary school library for young readers. Bios of people like Lief Erikson, Kit Carson, Lewis and Clark. My bedtime reads often included old (I mean 1915!) copies of National Geographic, often all black and white.  Someday, I will go to the Gobi Desert and be surprised that it doesn't smell like old books, that delicious dry, ever so slightly moldy dusty aroma of ancient paper. Ahhh... the dream of travel.

So, now I'm all grown up (lol) and been married for 33 years.  A lifetime!  Married to someone whose idea of vacations is a polar opposite.  Not wrong, just undeniably different.  It can be fun to go to the same shore spot year in and year out.  To see how things change. Or not.  Measuring yourself against things seen only once each year.  However, for someone whose earliest memories are airplanes, airports and autobahns, this can feel at times like an almost imperceptible dying, unless well seasoned with periodic adventures.

An amusing example of our differences is simply in the expectations of where people live after marriage.  His family all tried, at least initially to stay as close as possible.  Five miles was good.  Same neighborhood, even better.  Next county, well that was seriously pushing the envelope.   I pushed the envelope.  My envelope always was bigger to start with.  Thousands of miles bigger.  My childhood impressions of marriage were, you married and moved.  Far.  My maternal grandparents married in Germany and moved to England. My paternal great grandparents married in Germany, and moved to America.  And then back to Germany, to fulfill military obligations during the WW I.  My parents, my uncle and aunt either married and then moved to the US or vice versa.  So if you'd ever asked me as a youngster, what I thought would happen when I married, the answer would have been simple.  Marry and move to the west coast!  Finding myself living within a few miles of where I went to high school, essentially wedded (or is that welded?) to the state university via marriage to a tenured professor, is, well - a shock! 

Even something as benign or boring sounding, like visiting grandparents was a little different. I remember looks of pity when I told other kids I was going to my grandparents for vacation. I just neglected to mention they lived in another country.  On another continent.   I learned early on to fly alone to Germany. Then to negotiate the train from Frankfurt to Nurnberg and then finding my Opa at the Hauptbanhof.  Even at thirteen and fourteen. So traveling, even on my own has been in my blood and a habit for as long as I can remember.

So I've often felt a little out of sync.  It really began to hit me how much my version of travel and "normal" weren't, aren't exactly that.  There have been many times when I've expressed my interest in visiting places that don't show up on shiny travel brochures and gotten such strained smiles.  Comments like "that's not safe" or "we aren't that kind of people"  or "not a woman, certainly not alone...".  A kind of loneliness became normal.  Quiet.  I simply learned to be quiet.

That doesn't mean I gave up dreaming.  Plotting some might call it.  Watching, waiting, a little praying too.  Somehow I knew I couldn't possibly be the only one.  Oh, I knew I wasn't, but it sure felt that way sometimes. 

Then the Camino.  Here were people who quite literally stepped out of "normal" and into another way.  Men, women, young, old, people who weren't afraid to meet the world full on.  To live in ways, many, at least here in the US couldn't (or perhaps I should say wouldn't) conceive of doing. 

Finally, I found home or could I say I found my tribal lands. We are tribe of nomads on the Camino.  For more than five weeks I slept in a different bed nearly every single night. Most of the time, I and my compadres on the road, weren't even sure where we might be sleeping for the night. I ate in different towns, with different people.  Yet in it's own lovely way it finally felt, well, like a home.  Even now, more than two months out, I find a comfort, knowing there are pilgrims out there.  On the road.  Pilgrims who will pick up in a few hours and walk forward.  Where to exactly doesn't matter.  Exactly with whom doesn't matter.  They will get to know still more people.  Tomorrow, on the road.  The tribe will continue.

I'm beginning to realize too,  how many other pilgrims moved with me when I was on the road. Other pilgrims were invested in me and my pilgrimage, without ever meeting.  Every day in Santiago at Mass, prayers of thanksgiving are said for those at the cathedral.  And prayers are said for those still on their way. How many pilgrims at home, were remembering, as I do now, their days on the road and pray for those currently walking.  How many pilgrims, lurk on Internet forums and wonder about those walking.  Wonder will it would be like?  And perhaps pray for those walking.  How many of us say prayers of thanksgiving for advice we've received from those who walked before us and shared their knowledge.  How many feet have trodden those routes over the years?

I almost wonder how much of the dust we breathe in on that road is partly dust of those who've gone before us, the dust of our pilgrim tribe.  Perhaps in a way that was part of what I smelled, all those years ago in my attic bedroom.  Reading my ancient National Geographics under the covers with bedside lamps or flashlights or however I could manage it on that night.  My nose already knew, the familiar smell of the dust of the road.  The smell of homecoming.