Walking Home

reveries of an amateur long-distance hiker

May 22

May 25th, 2016

May 22

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The Santiago de Compostela streets were nearly empty, passing only some last-night partiers who now were early-morning stragglers. The airport bus rolled down quiet streets, retracing much of the path I had walked almost two weeks earlier to finish the primary path of the Camino Frances. The intervening time alternated between the hectic–late night music and food–and peaceful relaxation, backpackless, walking short distances to the beach, sunrise, or sunset. Santiago’s airport is new and open, but lined with weary peregrinos, all making their way back to daily life. I fly to Basel, Switzerland and on to Porrentruy where Bennett and I will commence the next trek: the Trans-Swiss Trail. A quiet day of travel, plane, train, some walking around Porrentruy, then settling into the Hotel de Gare. In this part, rural Switzerland, there are few people who speak English, and my French is abysmal, so it took a lot of good will and my very best miming to secure a room, and settle in for the night. A well travelled day.

T. Hugh Crawford

Sunrise

May 22nd, 2016

Sunrise

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Early on in Walden, Thoreau says, “It is true, I never assisted the sun materially in his rising, but, doubt not, it was of the last importance only to be present at it.” Presence at first light, ever elusive but somehow fundamental. The labors of many people require they rise before the sun, but being up early does not necessarily put one in the presence of the sunrise as an event, the first of the new day. Long-distance walkers are a privileged few as they, like Thoreau, are up and about, doing their daily labor before the sun, and most days find themselves lingering on some path watching the unfolding of yet another rosy-fingered dawn.

In El Gamso on the Camino de Santiago, G–, my trekking partner suggested we get up early enough to see the sunrise from the peak at Cruz de Ferro. Walkers are game for most things, but this was a pre-dawn trek of 15 km including a long steep climb. At 4:00 am, we were up and in a few minutes hiking fast and hard down the path, headlamps dimly lighting the way. It was smooth but still there was the occasional stumble. An advantage of the early time was a sky awash with stars, the Milky Way streaming through the middle, punctuated by the occasional meteorite, but we had to ignore the sight most of the time, focusing instead on our feet. There was less than 3 hours time to cover the distance. Before long a crescent moon rose at our backs, partly showing the way. That time of morning brings new sensations. Birds often unheard call out. Different temperature gradients cross the skin. The earth and plants exhale unique odors. Setting a brisk pace, we made the the next town in good time but then had to climb a ridge in mud and flowing water, all as the horizon began to lighten ominously. Soon anticipation gave way to near despair. Pushing on through the just-waking village of Foncebadon, we crested the main ridge, still short of Cruz de Ferre but finding an ideal place to see the morning in. Sunrises happen every day but they are never the same. This day some low clouds ran interference as the orange intensified along the horizon, then a brilliant flash of yellow light turned our retinas purple. Soon the sun’s rays touched all around and, though we had not materially assisted in its rising, we had contributed our mite and received everything in return. It’s a strange feeling to have been up and toiling long and hard only to recognize that a new day has just commenced. We got up, stretched, and made our way to the Cruz de Ferre, an iron cross atop a tall wooden pole surrounded by a huge pile of rocks brought by peregrinos from all over the world. I found a rock by the path and pitched it over my head onto the pile, while G– retrieved the one she had carried from some far away place. Anticipation frames a moment, but the moment always exceeds it.

That morning while watching the sunrise, I could not help but recall Hölderlin’s hymn, “The Ister,” and Heidegger’s commentary in a book of the same name. I kept repeating the opening lines:

Now come, fire!
Eager are we
To see the day.

Command, presence, inevitability, anticipation, anxiety. Sunrise is but one in 24 hours of moments, but it is a singularity, an edge, a precise point. It predates industrial time and is measured not in seconds or minutes but in duration–a taunt, stretched now that extends from the first bit of pure light to the emergence of the sun as full body. Heidegger, ever the interrogator, questions Hölderlin’s opening line: “Yet if “the fire” comes of its own accord, then why is it called? The call does not effect the coming.” He is pursuing a broader philosophical point, but his questioning uncovers the walker’s dilemma, one phrased by Thoreau differently but essentially asking the same thing: what calls for presence at a sunrise? Eager to see the day, we pause watching colors, the false dawn, then the moment of pure light. Our eagerness calls on the sun to come, but it was the sun all along that brought us to this ridge. Presence at sunrise questions Being in ways few other quotidian actions can. The most temporal of events calls the caller out of measured time into dureé. It is time as a thread stretched to absolute thinness. Clocks do not tick at sunrise; time expands, filling the horizon.

But fire can bring destruction, and to think the now is to think its end. Not far from the Cruz de Ferro is the Galician Atlantic coast and Finisterre, the end of the earth in the Medieval world, the place where the sun goes to die. On the Costa de Morte there once was the altar of Ara Solis dedicated to that daily dying sun, something pilgrims witness with each sunset. Sunrise is both inevitable and not, prompting questions of the end rather than the beginning. Ben Schneider (of the band Lord Huron) asks, “what if the world dies with the sunrise?” Not an anxiety strongly felt by those called to witness the beginning of the day, but a thought that lurks in the background. To anticipate an event is to entertain the possibility of it not happening. Heidegger also calls the now the “time of poets.” The sun calls the poets to write. It calls walkers differently, not to give words but more fundamentally to mark the surface of the earth, to write paths with bootsoles. To be present at the sun’s rising, the way is trod, the ridge is climbed. To participate in the now of that moment is to be part of a longstanding community with feet maintaining the way and naming the history of the land’s dwellers, sometimes going back millennia. The pause on the ridge gives the sunrise a silent voice. An event made reverent by the act of stopping to pay attention, to attend. Deleuze asks of Leibniz and Whitehead “What is an Event?” He then produces a multiplicity of answers, or, to put it the same way, his answer is a multiplicity with some convergence. An event is a gathering to an intensity, a set of forces singled out and directing attention. It is, in Whitehead’s terms, a concresence of elements, the active creation of the new and, I would add, the now which is always novel.

Sunrise calls out a particular now for our attention, showing by implication the production, the concresence, of all nows, however unremarkable others may be. Sitting there on that hill in that moment was an event. We did not materially assist the sun in its rising, did not wake the birds’ songs or paint the full palette of colors on the sky or cause the mist to rise from the plowed earth or bring both light and shadow to play across the land. But we were there attending and anticipating. Already wide-awake from a long, hard hike, we were there to begin the new day.

T. Hugh Crawford

May 21

May 21st, 2016

May 21

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The Camino brought some surprises on the last day. I expected most of the walk to be through the Santiago de Compostela suburbs but instead found myself on some narrow roads winding up and down through classic Galician villages including A Ponte Maceira, a town divided by a swift river crossed by an arched Roman bridge. I’ll miss the narrow stone streets twisting between houses, barns, and stables, all built to last centuries and showing through marks, additions, and gardens the history of the lives within. I’ll also miss those many villages circling their church tower and so clearly home to the people living there. The other surprise the way brought were old friends. First Elena and Michele, two peregrinos from Italy I had met early on my trek only to re-encounter them on the very last day. On saying goodbye to them, I immediately bumped into another early fellow hiker, a man from Germany who I had walked with the first four days. He had hurt his knee but after some rest had finished his Camino and was on his way to Finisterre. I usually tend to walk alone (as is clear in the earlier months of this blog), but the many peregrinos I was fortunate to spend time with made this a much different kind of trek. Although conversations were often limited by language(s), clearly communication took place. For that and the friends I made, I remain grateful.

T. Hugh Crawford

May 20

May 20th, 2016

May 20

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Today I kept telling myself that this was the last good long day through the Galician countryside (tomorrow is just 22 km into Santiago, much of that suburb street walking). It was a day of farms. The farmers are plowing and planting feverishly. I regularly stepped off the path to let the tractors pass. Much of the day was road walking though often the path would plunge into the woods a bit, and there remains the riot of wildflowers that is the Galician spring. A poignant moment came when my friend Patrick and I crossed paths. We had parted in Pamplona but met back up on today’s path, stopping for pictures, then Patrick produced a bottle of excellent Belgian beer which we split, toasting a good Camino friendship. Today’s path ended in Negreira, a forgettable town that had room in the Albergue but not much more. Tomorrow in Santiago my Camino ends.

T. Hugh Crawford

May 19

May 20th, 2016

May 19

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My image of the end of the world invariably includes fog, so this morning’s walk out to the Finisterre lighthouse lived up to expectations. The path makes its way up out of the town onto the spine of the ridge that eventually runs down into the sea. Fishing boats were coming across the smooth water of the bay, just within the halo of mist, and once the ridge narrowed I could also see the Atlantic, the opposite of smooth. At the end a building loomed–an old hotel just above the point where the famous lighthouse is stationed. Circling down I came to the blackened stone cross, apparently the scene of bonfires, but also a place that accumulates tokens of the peregrino’s peregrinations: thriller novels, stones, flip-flops, medals, sodden photographs– all a study in human fetishism. My jaunt to the point added 5 km to an already long hiking day, so after a quick and not very satisfying breakfast, I began the long circle along the bay before turning to head inland. Another beautiful hiking day with waves crashing on my right and woodlands full of wildflowers on my left. The path would descend to sea level, then over ridges to the next bay and village. Unlike the primary route of the Camino, this part has fewer villages with cafes, so I carried bread and chorizo to eat while walking. Oddly enough, after all these months of hiking, my feet decided to act up a bit, raising a couple of blisters like a newbie. Walking always brings with it novelty. Late afternoon I arrived at Logoso only to discover the Albergue full. It seems that many of the short-time peregrinos, those who just do the obligatory 100 km prior to Santiago, continue on to Finisterre, so lodging is a problem. The owner of the Albergue drove me to his sister’s pension where I had my own room and an excellent pilgrims menu, a satisfying end to a physically hard day.

T. Hugh Crawford

May 18

May 18th, 2016

May 18

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After a week of living the life of a tourist–Santiago to A Coruna to Muxia–I once again strapped on my backpack–now solo–and resumed my trek around the world. Today it was from one “end of the world” to the next. 30 km from Muxia to Finisterre, the longstanding end of the ancient Camino, a trip not to St. James, but to the edge of the earth. My legs were clearly fresh as I walked the full 30km non-stop. Not that I was planning to do that, it is just that now, being off the Camino proper, villages with cafes are scarce. I would have been happy to eat a bocadillo and drink a pint at the midpoint, but no opportunity presented. Instead I was treated with a beautiful walk up and down a series of ridges, regularly glimpsing the ocean to the west, but more often surrounded by stalks of just-blooming foxglove and purple/blue columbine. My feet were light and the trail well-made. I encountered many peregrinos making their way from Finisterre to Muxia (the more traditional route), and encountered a few going my direction, but surprisingly, I had much of the trail to myself, a great opportunity for much needed quiet contemplation. Everyone has to hike the Camino they can–starting where they are able, marshaling the support they might need or at least can afford–but the last 100 km from the east heading into Santiago are a zoo. It is not trekking, just dodging people as if you are at an urban street festival. It is a shame that people who make that trek never get a sense of the beauty and pace of the long Camino. Today, I got a memory of that beauty and pace, making the descent into Finisterre (a place jammed with peregrinos) much more pleasant. The sun held long enough to sit for an hour or so in the square in order to write this.

T. Hugh Crawford

May 16-17

May 18th, 2016

May 16-17

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Muxia
Along with Finisterre, Muxia is one of the medieval “end of the earth” points. Looking out from the ridge, it is easy to imagine why they would take that view. The area here is the Costa de Morte, a name drawn from the hazards the rocky coast with its powerful currents, but it also brings the proper foreboding a place at the end of the world should evoke. The shore is steep with rocks randomly strewn to produce spectacular spray when pounded by ceaseless waves. On the northernmost point is a church which was nearly destroyed by waves and fire on Christmas Day a few years ago. It is now rebuilt, stones looking strong but still fragile in the face of ocean forces. The town is anything but foreboding. Set between the larger, newer concrete buildings are two-story stone fisherman’s houses. This is a place of the sea, houses low and strong, braced against the weather but turning to the sun, what little sun there is. The people strong and resilient, facing long, cold, wet winters, and springs of rain with only occasional days of sun. I arrived in Muxia with the rain, but on Tuesday, the Galician holiday, the local drum and pipe band (mostly young children playing so seriously) came out to celebrate along with the sun. They serenaded my lunch, and the sun followed me to the beach, pure white sand dampening the roar of the waves on the rocks. The day of sun here is a day of celebration, whether holiday or not. All was in alignment– weather, holiday, and calendar–as it was also my hiking partner’s birthday. Celebration all around. Muxia is a place of food– chipianas, navajas, percebas, langostinos, and of course, plate after plate of pimientos de padrones. Here you must eat well, to appreciate the labors of the fishermen and to have the strength to stand up to the weather that blasts the end of the world.

 

T. Hugh Crawford

May 15

May 16th, 2016

May 15

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The apartment buildings along the inner harbor of A Coruna are faced completely with wooden window frames standing off the building about two feet. They collect the morning sun and heat, and from the outside look almost as if the structures are draped in lace. The sun finally made an appearance this morning just in time for coffee by the harbor and a short tour of the castle before catching a bus to Muxia. The ride was along the northwest coast of Galicia before turning south to Muxia, a fishing village on the Atlantic. The bus passed through a series of small towns on the coast, each showing their historically strategic importance with a castle and defensive structures. Muxia, like A Caruna on a smaller scale, is a long narrow town filling a peninsula. Instead of the tower of Hercules, it has a small lighthouse and a large church at the point, a place where the seas crash hard on worn, rounded rocks–a slurry of white foam and constant roar.

T. Hugh Crawford

May 13-14

May 16th, 2016

May 13-14

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A Coruna
Now fully in tourist mode, travelled by train to A Coruna, up on the Galician coast to see the ocean but also hear Guadi Galego sing. The weather continues to be Galician sunshine (a constant light rain) but there is something magical about A Coruna. A city bounded by water, a very long history, and subject to very wet weather, the people are incredible– always smiling and helpful. Seems a cliche, but just a fact. Ate twice in an amazing Jamonaria, specializing in old iberica ham (with many hanging from the ceilings) and serving amazing pimientos de padrones — grilled salted small green peppers. The tower of Hercules is an operating lighthouse with much of the same structure built by the Romans in the first century. Was eerie to climb steps and look at a structure that old. Guadi Galego and her band put on an beautiful show. All the songs were in Galician, so I definitely did not understand a word, but the music was amazing. The only mistake was in no checking the soccer schedule as Real Madrid played Coruna Saturday afternoon– would have been fun to see even if the home team lost.

T. Hugh Crawford

May 12

May 13th, 2016

May 12

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Santiago
Crossing cultures. The end point of a trek, particularly a heavily traveled pilgrimage produces a remarkable convergence of cultures. I spent much of my Camino walking with an Italian and a Portuguese, so our words veered between four languages, appetites varied, and just the simple gestures of daily life had different nuance. Santiago is a veritable Babel of voices, facial expressions, and attitudes. This evening I heard a jazz quartet joined by three singers specializing in Galician folk songs–a strange but somehow perfect crossing of musical cultures. The bass player would have been right at home in a NYC jazz club while the singers played pandeiros–square wooden frames covered with a drumskin on each side and played with a stick alternately rapping the wooden edge and the drum head–and would have been welcome in the village square centuries ago. They could coax an amazing set of sounds from such simple instruments. Like walking, the music helps glimpse an older world, one unknown and even unsuspected.

T. Hugh Crawford

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