Friday, December 26, 2014

Day 34 ... a Second Crossing of the Bug

... and still no proper time in front of a computer (and a very slow connection yet again)... a quick note:

Days of slogging rain, I arrived in the silent streets of Chelm for Christmas Eve.  In the pattern of history, where there is a hill of note among flat surroundings, it was sure to be of pagan significance.  Where there was a site of pagan significance, there followed a Christian church.  Being close to cultural borders, the church flip-flopped from Orthodox to Catholic to Uniate to Orthodox to Catholic again,   Once it was in Poland, then Lithuania, once in Austria, then in Russia, and again in Poland - the town might have its own passport.

A kind priest in the convent of Carmelite nuns I had stay in in Siemiatcytze arranged for me to be at this church on the hill for Christmas Eve, so the Benedictine nuns were expecting me.  After passing through many family homes in the cold and rainy days leading up to it, I had small snitches of the annual delicacies with unpronounceable names.  I was told daily of the rich tradition of leaving an extra placesetting for an unexpected guest.  In my hours of slogging through the wet forests alone, I built up the anticipation of a grand feast with the nuns, despite it's being an order I know from experience to be otherwise gastronomically frugal, and generally vegetarian.  But, to my utter deflation, Mother Superior, with whom I conversed in Italian, showed me a room in the spacious - nay - cavernous Pilgrim House and left me to my own.  Later in the evening, she offered a small plate of cold foot, typical of the holiday table, it seems, but meager all the same.  Midnight Mass - actually beginning at midnight - was packed and formal, with an unusal (to my eye) military escort of the Baby Jesus in his crib from the altar to the forecourt, just as the rain changed to snow.  I went to sleep and rejoined my pilgrim trail at dawn, as is my routine.

Christmas Day was quiet - too quiet - on the road to the border town.  There was no respite at all from the damp cold.  At least it wasn't raining.  I found a roof and warmth, and a hot cup of coffee, only at the police station, the only place I found where I could sit, after nearly 30 kilometers.  There I got the required help finding my host for the night.  Being Christmas, the second of the three day national holiday break, I phoned a friend who helped with the pre-arrangement, and found myself in a wonderful farmhouse with four generations of a Ukrainian-Polish family, who had hot soup waiting, and began a feast of various kinds of fish, roast pork and a Christmas goose.  Coffee and cakes and cookies followed, all the fare of the season in front of the roaring fire.  Christmas turned warm and friendly after all, re-learning a few Ukrainian words, speaking in German and English, laughing and hugging all.  No points off for the perfunctory Benedictines...

I made the border crossing easily enough, though they don't permit foot travelers either to leave Poland or to enter Ukraine, so I hopped in the car of an understanding businessman and he guided me through the process with ease.  I practiced my new vocabulary.  He bought me a map of Ukraine.  All's well.  I'm off the Schengen clock after 34 days.  I expect to travel through the west of Ukraine for a few weeks, ringing in the New Year in some small farm village, passing through L'viv a few days later, and then celebrating Eastern Christmas in some other small village as I enter the snowy Transcarpathian Mountains.  Because L'viv is the only city I anticipate, finding a computer may be a bit iffy coming up...
   ,,,so Happy New Year! in advance, to all my friends and family, and in particular to my friends the students and teachers at Legacy Preparatory Academy in Salt Lake City, Utah, USA whom I met in September and hope to see again one of these days.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Day 30 The Bug had to be Crossed

The Bug River had to be crossed and what few bridges there are.  Do ferries run in winter?  I asked many people. No one could tell me the answer with certainty, so I played it safe and headed a bit further to a town with a bridge.  I found nuns there and a very helpful young priest, and helpful young women at the tourist department.  With everyone's help, a route was gathered together with the objective of getting me to Chelm by Christmas Eve.  I'm heading toward some Benedictines.

There's been a bit a rain with the temperatures staying a bit above freezing, but my pilgrim spirits aren't dampened in the least.  I only have a few minutes tonight to log on and send out Christmas greetings.  Merry Christmas, everyone!

Monday, December 15, 2014

Day 23 Landscape Art

In any art museum with a section of Northern Rennaissance paintings or even those from impressionist and expressionist periods, look closely at one of the bigger paintings entitled something like Sunset over a Winter Landscape, really close, maybe along the dirt road with patches of glistening mud puddles in the textured lumpy snow, or at the edge between a stand of birch trees and a stubbly frozen harvested field... there I am!  Can you see me?  The painting can be wet-on-wet watercolor or coursely applied oil, but objects blend into each other with indistinct edges.  I've been walking across these rich images for weeks now.  What a happy pilgrim I am!

As I passed from Estonia to Latvia and Latvia to Lithuania, walking along another ribbon of dirt forest roads for hours since seeing the last farmhouse or log home of the foresters, I entered Poland without fanfare.  This is the wonderful flip-side to the Schengen coin many complain about... no official entry points, no need for passport control, just suddenly - or gradually as it seems on foot - the signs marking the protection status of the forest stands are printed in another language and the culture is a bit distinct.  Easy-peasy, stress-free, like crossing state boundaries in the US.  Excluding the transit day in Helsinki, I've entered the fourth country of my pilgrimage in three weeks of walking.

Fun unrolls before me daily, and each day unpredictable.  I opted for historic Kaunas rather than Vilnius for the more direct route.  Each, I've been told, promote their amber past.  I stayed the night outside of Kaunas so that I would enter it in the morning, enjoy it during daylight(ish) hours, and get myself away from the hustle-bustle before dark.

Arriving in a frigid church to ask the priest for hospitality, the issue was put immediately to the covey of elderly churchladies who are the ubiquitous furniture of any church.  I waited a bit anxiously as they clucked and chirped with remarkable animation, pushing the priest away from their huddle, until one tall woman erupted from the scrum came directly toward me and planted great kisses on both of my cheeks.  She 'won' on unenumerated bases and took me to her home for the night's stay and years of bragging rights that would follow.  Her lovely large and immaculately kept house, where she and her day-farmer husband raised three children and host 'camp grandma' for the five grandchildren's summer holidays, struck my eye as more Germanic than Scandinavian influenced.  Blackbread, farm cheese, salami, and sauerkraut came quickly to the table, all the while mumbling and gesturing that my athletic clothing designed for winter sport is woefully inadequate and will lead me surely to the grip of winter.  She pulled great handfuls of dried apple rings from the garlands draped around the kitchen hearth, and knobs of dried ginger and lemon peel, instructing me to put these in hot water whenever I could to drink the tea they produced.  In fact, I later enjoyed snacking on them dried from my pockets as I walked - far more sensible food-for-the-road than anything that freezes.

That was entering Kaunas, an equally amusing pilgrim passage came on the exit of the city... I got as far as the village of Veiveriai before the darkness was fully engulfing, as the helpful and indulging nun at the cathedral office in Kaunas had advised (over tea and chocolate bonbons).  The priest preparing for the evening service had the idea to call over to the school for someone who might speak English or German.  A charming teenaged daughter of the English teacher came before the end of the service and took me back to the school.  There, more charming girls all able to speak English with strong competence - and distinctly in the American dialect, like, ya know... - found something lacking in my backpack and so adorned it with a long plait of dried rushes.  I'm sure to be the envy of pilgrims everywhere.

Much chattering ensued as to where I would spend the night, and in the end, I was advanced to the next village where the priest lived in a large home and spoke a mix of English and German... in the sense that he spoke words from both these languages in the same sentence without specific assignment.  I have this problem with Ukrainian and Russian myself.  There I passed some time sipping hot tea and listening to a delightful historical tale of the village, perhaps with some validity, as the portly priest, who could play the role of Friar Tuck without a visit to makeup or wardrobe, drank bottle after bottle of the local beer.

The name of the village traslates to 'punish' in English and was at one time the edge of Prussia.  Kaunas at this same time was within the tsarist Russian Empire.  Napolean and his troops were on the push eastward and spent the night in the village.  Napolean himself spent the evening chatting away with the village priest in the rectory while the soldiers made themselves comfortable in the church.  Reveling while they were preparing a dinner roasting pigs over the fire, somehow they ended up burning the church to the ground.  Napolean enjoyed the evening as the guest of the priest and so made immediate restitution for the damaged church with the spoils of war from the plundering across Prussia.  The church there today was the one rebuilt by that parish priest with the trunkloads of booty.  I didn't quite spend the night where Napolean did, because the rectory at the time since burnt down and a new one rebuilt much later.  But I slept in a village where Napolean slept... surely that makes me a participant in the village's history.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Day 16 Great Beauty in Sodden Gray

I'm a happy pilgrim on the right track.  While I missed seeing the yellow arrow blazes on forest trees after passing through Riga, entering Lithuania, I've picked up occasional historical information signs in convenient side-by-side Lithuanian and English.  The valley I've wandered into to avoid the highway with the telling name of Via Baltica has great caches of prehistoric wealth - great glacial boulders with mythological significance and stands of ancient oaks shrouded with pagan lore.  Sprinkled about the hillsides are 17th and 18th century manor houses and farmsteads, and the occasional windmill.  I'm for sure on the Amber Road, the ancient path of this pilgrimage.

Could it be the damp and cold that makes people frown as they hurry by covered to their noses in long-wrapped scarves, bent under the burden of a wool or fur hat, stone silent in their absent greeting... but then, one-on-one, engaged in conversation, these Baltic people light up and are helpful to a friendly fault!  Despite my near constant yet polite objections, I have not managed to avoid carrying such a weighty pantry on my back - chocolate and cheese, black bread and cookies, tea leaves and ground coffee, and a log of some kind of meat product I don't know if safe to eat uncooked or not, and many pots of yogurt... I'm ready to host a candlelit supper to lighten my load, but with whom?  Of course, during the day, it's all frozen solid... and the weather is anyway rather dissuasive for a trailside picnic, so I ironically rapidly grow thin... but people always want to help, and the most obvious way is to give me food.  People are good.  My photo's been taken dozens of times now - a pilgrim, going to Rome - not an every day occasion.

A week to walk across Estonia, another week to cross Latvia, and these first four days in Lithuania will be matched with four more to make three weeks and a day to walk through these varied Baltic States.  It doesn't serve justice.  I think there's a lot to see in these forests and farm fields, but Rome awaits, and Easter's coming, and I'm on the Schengen clock: 19 days out of the allotted 90 have ticked away so fast.  The mad rush is also wrapped around the solar clock - two more weeks trying to keep ahead of the solstice and gain more hours of daylight (if the sodden shades of gray can even be called 'light')

Monday, December 1, 2014

Day 9 And there went Estonia///

Low on the eastern horizon on my last miles in Estonia, the sun emerged for the first time since I landed in Helsinki... an orange orb glowing behind long wispy dark clouds.  Where I was swiftly walking along a low forested bluff not far from the shore, there were persistent snow flurries, but the sky was clear far away as it set over the Baltic Sea.  The clock hadn't yet past the three-quarter hump toward 3 in the afternoon.  Two frigid hours more to walk that day.

Lucky to be a woman pilgrim - when I finally arrived in the small village, the only lights I saw were from a beauty salon.  Without hesitating, I walked on in.  Within minutes, my feet were up, I was reclining on a comfortable chair, a cup of hot tea in hand and a platter of chocolate bonbons, chattering with the ladies there.  Men pilgrims wouldn't likely venture into such a shop, but women take care of each other everywhere.

Estonia is a fine place for a pilgrim to walk.  The small roads connecting the villages, at least in the cold and snow, were not difficult paths, nor heavily trafficked.  People were surprised to find a pilgrim - 'praying wanderer' in Estonian translation - but always helpful with a warm place to sleep.  By chance, I met some women who had made the pilgrimage to Santiago (from France, not Estonia) and were forming an organization to encourage other pilgrims with the hope of marking the trail through their country.

I arrived in Latvia, again under dark and flurried clouds, and noticed almost immediately painted yellow arrows guiding me through the forest roads... could they be the Latvian camino?  Onward to Riga...

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Day 4: Farther than the Day is Long

Brisk is a useful applicable word for the weather, very nice for walking.  I´ve only managed a measly 117 km since walking out of Estonian`s capital Sunday afternoon - the days are short and the nights particularly dark.  There`s a cute and logical obligation here that everyone who ventures out in the darkness must dangle a reflective badge at the level of the right knee so they can be seen by drivers.  Kind folks have given me a handful, including one shaped like an angel.  The sky brightens to a gray drab around 8:30 and dims into the drab clouds around 3.  Time enough to scurry along... through the countryside blanketed beneath a thin coverlet of lumpy snow, packed powder on the sides of the icy pavement and on the bike trails near the larger towns,..  I`m enjoying the discovery of another culture.

The young Italian priest at the Catholic Cathedral in Helsinki was surprised but accommodating in signing and stamping my credenziale and offered the parish hall for me to sleep.  We shared dinner with Italian missionaries who largely serve a foreign congregation.  When I shared my intention of simply asking the ferry company for passage across the Gulf of Finland to Estonia, the priest gave me the fare to save me the effort of finding someone to ask.

In Tallinn, the Italian missionary priest at the Catholic Cathedral there similarly accommodated the request for a stamp in my credenziale and a place to sleep - in the crypt beneath the old church of Sts Peter and Paul - but could offer little in terms of negotiating my way through the country on foot.  With a wish of good luck and a hearty slap on the back, I was sent off.  How does it work for a pilgrim in the countryside of Estonia?  As in most places with a noticable dearth of churches, the municipal office is the place to seek advice.  No problems - there`s always a place for a pilgrim to comfortably stay - hot shower, mattrass, heat, food... everything else is luxury.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Heading for Helsinki

Winter's again nigh.  I'm well-rested... it's time to start walking.  The world is incomprehensibly immense when you travel by foot; there are so many enticing places to visit.  My cumulative pilgrim distance in the past 7 years is equivalent to one paltry lap around the earth... and with an infinite number of paths out there, people to meet, cuisines to savor, wildlife to discover... time's a-wasting!

I've learned more than a few things along the way, not the least of which are that 3 months of daily marathon walks is too short of a duration, 11 a bit long; I don't care to walk in heat - northern climes suit me fine; I like the cultural history of walking to shrines, stopping in at any UNESCO World Heritage Sites I might pass.  I'll turn my head for interesting art and architecture, heritage and nature, and wine and cheese, or for whatever the local tastes provide.

Having turned away from the material world, my method of pilgrimage is as a mendicant pilgrim - so as not to temp anyone to covet my possessions, I carry nothing of value, just a small backpack with a change of clothes, a small blanket and sheet, sandals, toiletries, and rain gear.  My traditional pilgrim credenziale - worthless to anyone else - guarantees the authenticity of my pilgrimage.  Of course, in order to appreciate nature, I'll cover the distance of the pilgrim way by foot, walking every day generally from dawn to dusk.

This winter, I'm inspired to return to Eastern Europe.  Having perused a few old maps, my eye is attracted to the jagged boundary the Danube River presented for many civilizations - south of the east-flowing river were the ancient Greeks, then Romans, who both pretty much declared hic sunt dracones after a few too many barbarian tribes resisted the southern invaders' versions of civility.  Notwithstanding the dragons being there or not, successive transgressions across the Danube by those northern tribes pushed the Roman Empire to ruins and left us with a colorful history indeed.

An intriguing footnote is that the fifth century barbarian clans were generally Arian Christians - not accepting of the Trinity - if I look closely enough as I walk by will evidence of this be hidden in the oldest art and architecture, or has history sidelined this fact to the books?  As a pilgrim in western Europe, for example, I've many times stumbled upon a triangle of three ancient oak trees in poplar or pine forests. These off 'Trinity Oaks' reflect popular Christian devotions and pull a subtle remnant of northern paganism through the ages... what will I see in forests on the far side of the Danube, I wonder...

Rome, being the veritable belly-button of European cultural and western religious history, is hard to beat as a worthy pilgrim destination.  With the set idea of ending the pilgrimage at St Peter's tomb, I was hoping to allegorically bookend the route by beginning it at Saint Petersburg; alas, visa restrictions prevent me from walking freely in Russia. Pity. A small shift to the left puts me comfortably in Estonia, but with remarkably inexpensive flights from the US to Finland, Helsinki wins the honor!  The Gulf of Finland won't likely be frozen over, so the first day out, my walking will be limited to the upper deck of a ferry before reaching terra firma.  Because this part of Europe had such a different religious history than the western countries, what pilgrim culture they had developed much later... western pilgrims were heading to Rome from the 4th century and to Santiago de Compostela from the 9th century. The crusades to the Holy Land opened things up for pilgrims in the 12th and 13th centuries, but the by then, Christianity was just being introduced to the Baltics, right in time for the wars of religion to deter nearly all pilgrims. I'm not sure I'll see many keys or scallop shells carved into old city gates.

Ticket in hand for November 20th, I'm still working on the route, which consists of finding some interesting points along the way - monasteries, abbeys, churches, UNESCO sites, interesting monuments, etc - and then connecting the dots.  At the start, I can expect about 8 hours of daylight for walking, just enough for my standard marathon distance, and as winter passes and I make my way southward, the days will get longer.

We who travel on an American passport are challenged by the condition not to exceed 90 days in a rolling 180 in the EU.  This means I'll keep a quick pace through EU countries and can relax in the non-EU countries.  I want to arrive in Rome for Holy Week, be among the hordes to glimpse pilgrim-friendly Pope Francis, and finish out the balance of my 90 days volunteering at a pilgrim house in Tuscany.

Map to follow, but here's the general idea (non-EU countries in blue):
Estonia-Latvia-Lithuania-Poland-Ukraine-Hungary-Serbia-Kosovo-Macedonia- Albania-Montenegro-Bosnia and Herzegovina-Croatia-Slovenia-Italy

Fifteen countries in 20 weeks and >chin-drooping sigh< 15 different languages.  Brushing up on my very dusty German, French, and Italian, and recovering the pilgrim-vocabulary I learned in Russian and Ukrainian from pilgrimage number three, I'll muddle through amid lighthearted giggles.  I'm looking forward to it, a winter of borscht.  As has become my habit, I'll try to update this blog every week to 10 days.

Friday, May 23, 2014

The last

A Mariachi Welcome!

The end of the Santa Fe Trail

The stone monument in Santa Fe Plaza marks the end of the Santa Fe Trail.  As some kind visitors offered to take this photo, a mariachi band led a wedding party around the plaza... there wasn't exactly a parade just for me, however well-deserved I may have thought it.  Just as I arrived in Santa Fe, passing heavy thunderstorms broke the long drought of the region, prompting great rejoicing for all. My pilgrimage didn't end for another day and a half, but I was again among friends and in a familiar environment.

Now back at the Santuario de Chimayo, I'll be here to help other pilgrims until the end of autumn when I'll be getting ready for the next epic winter pilgrimage - yes, back to brisk winter weather, no snakes, frozen streams easily forded, and snow soft on the feet... more suitable pilgrim conditions.. check back in November.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Past OK yet still in the wind

A long stretch between computer opportunities, but I'm overcoming the persistent strong headwinds and noticeable elevation climb and making great progress across the drought-stricken high prairie of eastern New Mexico.

The topography is more to my liking with distant mesas poking up on the horizons and the snow-covered peaks further in the distance.  I've been staying along or nearby lonely highways in the company of tumbleweeds and bull snakes.  Dots on the state map reveals towns lost to history and water has been scarce - I routinely jump barbed wire fences and push aside cattle to get water being pumped up from great depths by squeaky little wind turbines.  The distance between Clayton and Springer, both historical hubs on the Santa Fe Trail, is a direct 82 miles with only a scattering of ranches in between.  Pretty advanced pilgrim territory, in truth... not for everyone.  I'm not sure this will be a high-trafficked pilgrim camino to Chimayo.

Still, there's plenty of interesting things to occupy my mental time - bison, bull snakes, coyotes, bull snakes, badgers, bull snakes, and plenty of chatty songbirds.  Wagon parts, too, especially around the ruins of melted adobe huts, long abandoned.  Despite the wind and the dust that comes with it, it's really romantically picturesque.

I'm just coming onto a thousand miles on this journey and should be at the Santa Fe Plaza on Friday and then on to Chimayo Sunday.  The end is bittersweetly near.

A Picture of Ann in Wagon Mound en route to the Santuario de Chimayo

Hi Ann…I hope this message finds you well. Thank you for your great company!


Saturday, May 10, 2014

Almost OK

Long stretches of the dusty, nearly-empty highway and lonelier, emptier train line require little focus as I take the last few steps in the windy state of Kansas.  The terrain and vegetation also fail to require much alertness, and the heat has kept the snakes, rodents, and even most of the birds in some shady slumber somewhere out of my view.  The challenge has been to find the side of the grain elevators that shield me from both the wind and the sun at the same time.

After nearly 500 miles to cross one state, and unnoticeably ascending about 2,000 feet of elevation, I'm ready for the few days it will take to nip across the corner of Oklahoma's panhandle to get ready for the challenge of a near-completely unpopulated few hundred miles in eastern New Mexico, ever closer to the goal.

It's looking like early in the last week of May will be my estimated arrival at the Santuario.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Gettin' the heck into Dodge

The rolling hills and the roller coaster dirt farm roads that I enjoyed walking westward flattened out into the Great Plains of the American west... not quite as flat as the great Pampas of Argentina, the flatness still makes for rather visually unexciting walking.  It frees up more time to look at the quick orange-striped little snakes in the grass.

The grain elevators that pop up out of the wheat fields are visible for 10 miles or more and provide the focal points of interest... three or four hours from the time I spot one to the time I can sit in its noisy shade for a rest.

The pilgrimage is going great and I passed the halfway point in Great Bend, where I spent the night with some riotous and indulgent nuns at the mother house of the Dominican Sisters of Peace.  Words like 'soaking tub' sound fabulous to any weary pilgrim, without a doubt, but when the soaking tub is nearly the size of a lap pool, soaking is more like restful floating... pretty heavenly.

Whoever kindly found the controls to the wind and turned it down a bit seems to have accidentally elbowed the heat knob and sent a few days soaring into the upper 90s.  In early May? Now, now... it might drive a winter pilgrim to whine a little, but the local folks have been ready with some lemonade and a chance to sit in the shade a while.

People are kind and good.  Finding places to sleep continues to be fun, safe, and comfortable.  Pilgriming across America is a blast, though not many have heard of the Santuario de Chimayo.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Just blown in...

Even the Kansans are about done with the excessive winds of late.  Constant high winds make the day's distance seem doubled, but what pilgrim doesn't like a challenge?  It's been a great workout for my abs.

The good people of Kansas have been particularly pampering lately... one friendly woman scooped me out of a dry and not-uncomfortable church basement to install me for the night in her warm and loving family home next door - scrumptious dinner, hot shower, laundry, grand conversation filled with joy and laughter, and - jackpot for any pilgrim - a foot massage.  Alighting on cloudlike feet for another full day in the rainy strong wind, I entered the next farmland village yesterday tired and happy, and after resting a few minutes on a bench in the cemetery on the edge of town, two senior women pulled alongside me in a pickup with a cheerful - where ya headin', stranger?  To the church I should think, I'm a pilgrim going to Chimayo (so far, not many have heard of the famous shrine) past Santa Fe.  Okay, on the left up ahead, can't miss it.  How friendly are countryfolk!  The ladies circled the block, pulling alongside again as I continued to walk... would you like to come to my house and stay the night with us?  It'll cost ya no more than a story.  Well, butter my biscuit!  How pilgrim-friendly the people have been since I began this walk back from the Annual Pilgrim Gathering.

In this culture generally inexperienced in pilgrimage, I've been explaining the salient points as I greet people - the credencial, the scallop shell, the peaceful simplicity and tradition stretching back 1,200 years in Europe and existing in all the major religions of the world...  Pilgrims be on the lookout, at least some family homes in central Kansas will be putting scallop shells out on their front door to inform pilgrims of a safe and fun place to pass a pilgrim night.

Just at 500 miles into the journey back to Chimayo now - the halfway point is coming up soon and the rolling hills are flattening out as I step closer to the Great Plains.  

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Snakes and Sails

It's occurred to me that if I only had a sail, I could be blown to New Mexico.  The snakes in the grass are bigger, fatter, and I'm pretty sure more venomous... from my description to locals, I'm seeing more copperheads as I head westward into the historic prairie grass of the Great Plains.  I've just passed through the famous Council Grove, Kansas, where in 1825 the leaders of various native groups and the territorial governor signed an agreement to ensure safe passage to travelers... I wonder if there were any pilgrims among them.  Gotta run,
I continue onward, smiling and with the west-facing hemi-burn known to pilgrims on the Camino to Santiago.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Bountiful History

Rolling along the hillsides and farm fields of the Santa Fe Trail has proved more interesting than the flat rail bed of the Katy Trail.  These pilgrim days have been a lovely slow-moving roller coaster ride in a fascinating amusement park of history.

Leaving Boonville (there I am to the left) and the Katy Trail behind after the soggy snowy rain, the scents of the moistened flowers and blossoming trees have made up the pleasantness of days, truthfully interrupted by the more acerbic aromas from the freshly manured fields.  A late spring has made for delayed field preparations for what will be in a matter of months oceans of corn and soybean.  To keep company with the workings of the nose, the ears are assaulted with the orchestra of tirelessly busy birds and ground critters.  The European look of the land - green and rolling fields and forests, streams and rivers is soon to give way to the enormity of the foreboding 'West' that the pioneers in their oxen-pulled wagons faced 150 years ago.  The anticipation builds with each mile toward the afternoon sun.

Traveling in the method I do, I focus little on the details of the daily stage and let the more global scale guide me.  Consequently, arriving in a village - no, more curiously and correctly, a 'city', population 56 - like Arrow Rock makes for a delightful surprise at the end of the day… quaint, clean, spacious, adorably maintained with pride and care… like a thoughtful pillow mint in the finer establishments that says 'I care.'  Go off the beaten track by whatever means if you ever find yourself in central Missouri and see it.  Lexington was bigger, but similar.  Scattered around the path I've been taking have been stone monuments that I admire greatly - placed by the Daughters of the American Revolution society in 1909 to mark the defunct Santa Fe Trail lest it fall into obscurity.  That was only 35 years or so after the  railroads made the Trail obsolete.  What foresight they had.  Although there's no actual continuous footpath, I know I'm going the right way, and like the early pioneers, the right way had broad latitude.  I avoid the highways by taking the slightly longer and incredibly linear dirt farm roads between fields - tranquil, pretty, full of kind animals, and passing by plenty of farmhouses where I can ask for water.  Simple pilgrimin'.

In response to some comments, I can provide a few details of how I've actually gone about finding places to sleep traveling as the mendicant pilgrim I am… In larger towns, I look for a Catholic church, then some people of the church to explain my pilgrimage to Chimayo.  In St Charles, the very young religious sister who answered the door at the convent of schoolteachers for the adjacent Catholic school, was too timid to open the door for me, and even more timid to take my advice and call the local Archbishop to find out how to handle the situation she'd never encountered.  Without much concern, I simply waited for one of the priests to return, explained everything to him, asked for a stamp in my credential and spent the night on the sofa in his office since all the rooms of the rectory were occupied.  Patience of older people trumps timidity of young.

The next day's walk ended in the small wine-producing hamlet of Augusta where the local Catholic church was miles down the highway, the local Buddhist monastery was similarly miles off the trail, and while a woman I spoke with was calling around to find someone involved with the local United Church of Christ, her elderly mother spoke up that I could stay in her spare room as a favor of keeping her company for the evening.  Everyone's happy.

The next night brought me to a much larger town of Hermann with pleasant Catholic community who adored their priest; the priest, though eager to help and delighted to hear of my pilgrimage, was hesitant to invite me into his spacious home because of perceptions of propriety - pilgrim girls and pilgrim boys have different experiences.  A woman of the parish stepped up and got me settled into the local motel, which happened to be run by a kind Hindu family who fed me dinner, washed my clothes, and set me up with breakfast and fruit for the way… pilgrimage is a huge thing for the Hindus, who know it's poor juju to leave a pilgrim wanting.

Off I went to Mokane, a friendly village with limited offerings, and a Catholic church without a resident priest.  Finding a small meeting of parishioners breaking up, I explained the situation and offered that I could happily sleep in the parish hall where they were meeting - standard kitchen with tables and chairs for fishfries and socials.  They agreed casually, however, to improve upon the option, the woman with the key was also the local lioness and she thought I'd be more comfortable in the Lions Club hall - help yourself to what's in the fridge.  Hotdogs and buns for dinner and again for breakfast, and a few for the trail.  And plenty of coffee.

Thus it goes.  Every day's a new day.  None can be predicted or pre-arranged.  A night at the United Church of Christ basement hall (they don't even lock the door); another at the Methodist Church hall; another at the Baptist Church.  It doesn't matter.   Some priests let me sleep in the guest room of the rectory; others are more persnickety and find an alternate solution to the very simple condition of where the pilgrim will sleep tonight.  I'm never worried.  People are people; people are good.  A credencial is important.

Monday, April 14, 2014

It's already begun...

I've been walking for a week and this has been the first opportunity to update this blog, really.

The Annual Gathering of American Pilgrims on the Camino was a hoot and a half from April 3rd-6th at Our Lady of the Snows Shrine in Belleville, IL.  I began walking on the pilgrimage back to the Santuario de Chimayo on Monday morning along the Katy Trail, an old railbed on the north bank of the Missouri River.  Today, on Day 8 and 170 miles of the pilgrimage, I arrived at the beginning of the Santa Fe Trail in Boonville, Missouri.  The plan is to take it to the end and then another few days to Chimayo by the end of May.

To have a couple of hundred pilgrims send me off on the pilgrim trail was a fabulous start.  I've stayed a few nights with families, other nights in church halls - Catholic, Methodist, and United Church of Christ.  Yet again, my experiences clearly demonstrate that being a pilgrim here in the USA is as rewarding as in Europe.  The idea of walking to a pilgrim destination may not be as common here, but helping someone out by offering a dry, warm, safe place to sleep and a meal is an ingrained commonality of humanity.

The Katy Trail is a wonderful asset to Missourians - harmonious nature and wildlife... I've seen various chatty and colorful birds and waterfowl, sundry ground rodents, deer, turtles, plentiful young snakes some no bigger than a Number 2 pencil, and this morning a noisy skirmish between a large bobcat and redtail hawk.  Episodes of American history are thoroughly explained on information kiosks.

The ease of a well-marked gravel-packed footpath is over for me now; the Santa Fe Trail is a list of historic placenames with the original path paved over or plowed under.  There are markers along the highways stating that the Santa Fe Trail passed nearby, but not having an interest in walking on highways, I'll just find my way across farmfields, so is the plan.

Great shout-outs to all those who have helped me so far, to the ladies at Abigail's Cafe in Rocheport who fed me while the search was underway to find the guy with the key to the church where I slept; to the lovely family at the Hermann Hotel who offered delicious southern Inda-style food and a comfortable bed as an alternative to spending the night alone in a house with a priest; to everyone, of course - everyone who helps a pilgrim becomes part of the pilgrimage.  The world needs more pilgrims!

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Another and Yet Another

While my resolution to be a more consistent blogger hasn't proved effective, I have been off a-pilgriming.

A charming, respectful, and delightful group of of high school seniors from Bishop Machebeuf Catholic High in Denver met me (with their chaperones) on the Southern Ute town of Ignacio last weekend and we walked a total of 113 miles of the Old Spanish Trail.  This is the trail I explored in January and now took to the next level of testing as a proper Camino to Santiago.  Despite the expected assortment of blisters, a positive experience all around, and we even had the pilgrim bonus of meeting someone along the way who spontaneously joined in... always carry an extra credenciale for such an event.

Today, I'm beginning the journey to St Louis where the Annual Gathering of the American Pilgrims on the Camino will start tomorrow evening.  The gathering of several hundred pilgrims can't not be a good time.  The energy and excitement is mounted as the season waxes.  Another film - Walking the Camino: Six Ways to Santiago - has been released about pilgrims, generating even more interest in the growing pasttime of pilgrimage.

I couldn't help but notice when looking into the Gathering, that the venue of Our Lady of the Snows Shrine is just down the road from Franklin, MO - the eastern terminus of the historic Santa Fe Trail.  Interested in exploring caminos to the Santuario de Chimayo as I am... how fortuitous.  As the Gathering buttons up on Sunday afternoon, I'll begin the new exploratory pilgrimage back to the Santuario.  My hope is to take the Cimarron Cut-Off, highlighted in several Westerns, and return to the Santuario by the end of May.  As usual, I'll try to update the blog with my route and a smattering of adventures every week or so.  With the reputed flatness of Kansas, I've prepared myself for monotony of terrain, but open to be surprised.  I crossed the flat pampas of Argentina last year, how different can it be?

Friday, January 3, 2014

New (Mini) Pilgrimage

New Year's Resolution: be a better blogger.

After returning to the US in August, I was invited to the Santuario de Chimayo in New Mexico to help other pilgrims. I have great hopes of exploring many pilgrim caminos to Chimayo and encourage the establishment of a network of pilgrim houses like along the Camino de Santiago in Spain.

More on this as it develops, but in the meantime, today I'm making my way to Purgatory, an old mining town in Colorado, USA to explore a pilgrim camino along the Old Spanish Trail.  Deviating from my norm, this time I'm bringing my mobile phone and will try to send in photos when I can to show the route.

Follow me over on, a page I set up specifically for pilgrimages to Santuario de Chimayo.