Friday, February 27, 2009
Göthe opined in his lasting words that nothing is more difficult to endure than a string of nice days. In fairness, it rhymes rather nicely in German, so doesn't sound quite so cynical. I thought of this as I set off on a pre-dawn start in thick fog this morning in contrast to the crystal clear skies I've enjoyed for a long string of nice days.
The wildlife was out in force and the scents of the fresh vegetation stronger for the moisture in the air. A wobbly vole crossed my path and darted around me for some meters, daring even to climb on the toe of my boot. A pair of handsome weaselly creatures chased each other with spring friskiness along some fallen logs. I paused on some planks across a fast-moving brook and watched a fat trout paddle itself in the same point for a good five minutes, thinking how he'll wind up in a buttery dish with tarragon leaves one day. Carpe diem.
The orchestra in the treetops harkened to all of my monastery mornings listening to the chants of the monks or nuns answer each other from one side of the aisle to the other; now it was the songs of the birds on either side of the forest trail rather than the psalms.
Even in the mist, the punctuated echo of a tapping woodpecker drew me to its vermillion plumage high in a centuries-old chestnut tree... dozens of enormous chestnuts copsed to the same height - how many generations of foresters have maintained this Galician orchard?
Three small deer drank from the stream not thirty meters from me. For a week now, I can't seem to rid my clothes of their lockerroom stench, yet the deer took no notice of me. Maybe I don't smell as badly as I thought.
The trail rose out of the valley at a steady pitch, so it was just a matter of a short hour that I was tucked in with the wildlife. Above a select horizon, the thick fog evaporated under wide blue skies, the sun bursting from the east. For a good quarter hour, I walked through a meadow with my head and shoulders above the white blanket of cloud and my legs obscured in the gossamer swirl caused by the movement of my walk. My string of nice days continues.
Significantly the condensation no longer freezes on my clothes. The day before, when I arrived at O Cebriero, the highest point on my entire journey, it was 20· (72-ishF)! A scorcher. Daffodils and other spring flowers abound. Pink puffs of eager fruit trees peek out above stonewall gardens. Bees and other insects compete with the birds for the higher decibel level. These are unmistakable signs to a winter pilgrim.
And the moreso... eleven of us shared a room last night in the pilgrim house in Sarria. The trail's getting crowded. A few days earlier, in Ponferrada, a busload of Santiago-bound French schoolkids stopped over at the parochial pilgrim house where I stayed with three Spanish guys. Fifty-four ten-year-olds, two class moms, and their religion teacher took over the bunkrooms. With just the one bathroom - well, the sight of a disheveled priest in his boxers standing at the urinal early in the morning as I brushed my teeth, is something no one needs to see. Comical, though, that he took the effort to put shirt and collar on.
Warm temperatures, spring flowers, a crowded trail... winter's all but over.