Saturday, April 3, 2010

The way, the weather and the welcome

As I've been walking these last springtime weeks knowing it would all soon come to an end, I've contemplated what makes a good pilgrimage - why some days are so grand and other days such a trial. I've summarized it as the balance of the contributing components: the way, the weather, and the welcome.

The way changes daily, hourly even... an idyllic sheep-cropped broad, grassy path on a ridge offering a spectacular view with a clear perspective on where the path goes - ahhh, what a comfortable way! Or maybe a steep rocky slope of snow-covered scree where one misstep can mean grave injury or worse - uh, oh! Perhaps an unavoidable stretch along a busy, shoulderless highway in the rain where for some ungodly reason drivers are inclined to honk their horns, which causes nothing but alarm and further distress - arrgh! Now an unpaved country lane, a ribbon between harmonious villages spaced an hour's walk apart, one favored by all of the local songbirds and cuddly wildlife - >sigh<. Sometimes the way can be controlled through taking an alternate route; other times not. Sometimes a rough way is easily endured because it's only a short distance. In a daily distance of 30 or 40 kilometers, the quality of the way can change many times or, as in the case of the Ukrainian steppes, it's more of the same flat land of black earth for days on end.

The weather is related to the way in the sense that it's incrementally less miserable to be in a cold pouring rain on a paved, level country lane than climbing hand over hand up an over-vegetated rockface in the mountains. Conversely, it's incrementally more miserable to be on a long flat stretch of unshaded black pavement under a midday sun than it is to be prancing under the interconnected branches of an almond orchard in full bloom. The weather is the weather. The preparedness for being out in the weather can be managed to a degree, but only within the contents of a backpack.

Finally, the welcome. This runs the spectrum on the positive side - fabulous, warm, friendly, gracious... but stops at 'indifferent'. Indifferent is easier to recover from when persistence eventually produces an introduction to a positive welcome. This factor is not entirely random or in the hands of the welcomer. A friendly disposition, no matter how beaten down from the weather or the way, is likely to encourage a friendly welcome; a grouchy demanding disposition in response to the beating from the weather or the way, will more likely encourage a cold welcome - so I've learned. To be certain, a warm heartfelt welcome will trump crappy weather or a difficult way. Meeting the right people can dissolve away anything else. The accumulated aggravation from hours of walking in horrid weather disappear the minute someone taps on the pane and says 'would you like to come in for a cup of tea?'

There are some days, or portions thereof, when the way, the weather, and the welcome all bottom out and hit like a perfect storm - everything seems wrong wrong wrong. Hunker down and sleep it off until everything looks brighter in the morning. One can always have hope. Other days, though, the way, the weather, and the welcome all come together like hitting the trifecta at the derby. Nothing can be better on a pilgrimage than these days - the way is so memorable, the weather perfect, and the warmth and camaraderie of strangers summing up everything that is right with the world. Ah, to be on the pilgrim trail.


Anonymous said...

Love your observations. Especially the one about the welcome! So many times we don't realize the impact we may have on others, and we may never know the ripple effect of our "welcomes" to others! A lovely reminder to pay it forward....always!

I still think you ought to get those boots bronzed and use'em as book ends!

Sylvia said...

Ann! Christ has risen! Indeed He has risen! and YOU MADE IT! WAY COOL! Congratulations! Blessings and peace be upon you for your journey back to the states.

Sylvia -

Anonymous said...

I would be curious to know differences between your journeys in Europe versus this one--as far as welcoming is concerned. You have left an indelible memory along the way, to be sure!

You will now how to turn this pilgrimage into a fab book!

And, yes, do bronze your boots!